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Stranger anxiety? Advice from Babble’s Parental Advisory, by the “From the Hips” experts.

Our four-month-old daughter started exhibiting extreme stranger anxiety – wailing when anyone aside from my wife or I picked her up – at the unusually early age of two months. She is slowly getting better, letting some of our friends and relatives hold her for short periods of time. And she’s always been fine when we’re holding her and others are talking or playing with her. She’ll smile at them and interact, and only start crying if they actually pick her up. The exception is my mother-in-law, her grandmother, who comes over at least once a week to help my wife (who is still on maternity leave). It’s like the baby has taken an intense dislike to this dedicated, loving woman. The baby cries at the very sight of her. What can be going on here? It’s hard enough to have a baby who’s unable to be held by anyone aside from the two of us, but it’s making life very difficult that the baby seems to hate the very person who’s most available to help. – Don’t Be A Stranger

Dear Don’t Be a Stranger,

Who knows what your baby’s thinking? Maybe she’s freaked out by your mother-in-law’s perfume, or her hairdo. Maybe she doesn’t like the way Grandma holds her. Or maybe your baby has caught on to the fact that when Grandma comes, you go. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know exactly what’s behind your baby’s reactions – at four months, she’s a long way from conversation.

Although your mother-in-law feels like family to you, your baby might not be feeling the love quite yet. Once a week, for a sixteen-week-old, is far from an intimate bond. At this point, each week is a lifetime, and those six days without her are like years. She may need more time to get comfortable with the situation.

Your baby may be more sensitive to strangers than some, at least at this point. But despite the universal proclamations, babies do go through different levels of attachment at different times. Yours could just be an early bloomer. Whatever the cause, chances are good that her rejection will not be permanent. Stranger anxiety generally gets less intense when babies feel more at ease with their bodies and place in the world. Grandparents (and parents, for that matter) click with kids more or less at different ages and stages. It’s still so early.

But waiting for these things to happen may not do you much good right now, when you’re dying for date night or a cup of coffee or a romantic excursion to the laundromat. If you really want (need) to get out of the house, there are a few things you can try. One way to reduce stranger anxiety is to get other people (strangers) more involved. You could try giving your baby more time with your mother-in-law (if she’s willing and her ego is not too bruised). Another idea is to ask the people your baby seems to have some tolerance for to babysit for short periods. This could help your daughter start to feel safe with others in general. And then there’s a third option: trial by fire (or tears). Though your baby may not be happy when you leave her with Grandma, she’ll probably get over it quickly. Plus, if you gotta get out, you gotta get out!

Have a question? Email parentaladvisory@babble.com

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