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What age are babies most clingy?

It’s natural for babies to be clingy and prefer the company and comfort of their parents. However, there are certain ages when babies are especially clingy. In the first few months of life, newborns are completely dependent on their parents and need constant care and comfort. Around 6-9 months, separation anxiety kicks in and babies become more clingy as they realize their parents are separate beings. The 12-18 month stage also brings heightened clinginess as babies start walking and losing their balance, so they rely more on mom or dad for stability. While clinginess can be frustrating for parents, it’s a normal part of development. With patience and understanding, you can help your clingy baby become more independent while still providing the care and affection they crave.

0-3 Months: Total Dependence

In the first 3 months of life, babies are completely dependent on their parents for food, comfort, and care. Newborns spend most of their time sleeping, eating, or crying when their needs aren’t met. At this stage, babies display instinctual clinging behaviors to ensure their survival. When held, infants will root around, suckle, and grasp onto their parents. This tight clinging promotes bonding, security, and the fulfillment of basic needs. While exhausting for parents, this total dependence is essential for infant development.

Key Points

  • Newborns are hardwired for clinging behaviors like rooting, sucking, grasping
  • Total dependence on parents meets baby’s basic needs
  • Frequent holding and close contact promotes bonding and attachment
  • Clinging is normal but can be tiring for new parents

4-6 Months: Stranger Wariness

Around 4-6 months, babies become more aware of the world around them. They start to recognize faces and become wary of strangers. Babies will turn away, back arch, or cry when held by someone unfamiliar. They prefer the comfort of their primary caregivers. At this age, separation anxiety begins to emerge. Babies may become distressed when mom or dad leaves. Crying when put down is common. To cope, babies become extra clingy towards their parents.

Key Points

  • Babies start discriminating between familiar and unfamiliar faces
  • Stranger wariness and separation anxiety emerge
  • Infants prefer and cling to primary caregivers for comfort
  • Crying when put down and separation are common

6-12 Months: Separation Anxiety

Between 6-12 months, separation anxiety intensifies. Babies are increasingly aware their parents are separate beings that can leave. Yet, they are too young to understand that their parents will return. When separated, babies protest by crying and clinging. They may throw tantrums when parents try to put them down. Some babies become clingy even when parents are present, following them everywhere. This phase can be stressful for parents, but it’s a healthy sign of attachment. To manage, give lots of reassurance and make separations brief.

Key Points

  • Peak of separation anxiety from 6-12 months
  • Babies don’t understand parents will return when they leave
  • May cry, throw tantrums, and refuse to be put down
  • Healthy sign of attachment but stressful for parents
  • Provide reassurance and make separations brief

12-18 Months: Independence Struggles

From 12-18 months, babies become extremely clingy again. At this age, they start walking and want to explore independently. Yet, they are wobbly on their feet. Babies realize how much they rely on parents for stability and to prevent falls. They also understand parents can leave but lack confidence in their own abilities. This makes them anxious and clingy. Separation tantrums peak around 15 months. Babies may cry when parents even leave briefly. Giving choices and toddler-proofing homes can help build confidence.

Key Points

  • Walking brings instability and fear of falling
  • Realize reliance on parents for stability and security
  • Lack confidence in own abilities so separation anxiety returns
  • Hitting peak independence yet still very clingy
  • Give choices and childproof home to build confidence

19-24 Months:Preference For Parents

From 19-24 months, most babies outgrow separation anxiety as independence increases. While less clingy, they still prefer parents for comfort and security. Strangers may be frightening. Some babies become clingy when tired, sick, or in new environments. Supporting their preferences helps build confidence. At this age, separation tantrums are less intense but may persist if leaving causes distress.

Key Points

  • Outgrow separation anxiety as independence increases
  • Still prefer parents for comfort and security
  • May be clingy when tired, sick or in new environments
  • Supporting preferences builds confidence
  • Less intense separation tantrums may persist

The Takeaway

It’s natural for babies to be clingy, especially in the first year. Separation anxiety peaks around 6-12 months. Another clingy stage emerges at 12-18 months as they struggle with independence. While frustrating, clinginess reflects normal development. Staying patient, responsive, and loving will help clingy babies become more secure and independent. If extremely clingy behavior persists past 2 years old, consult your pediatrician.