My 6-month-old baby Nathan has a fit when he's left with a sitter. He screams and cries (according to her) for as long as twenty minutes. Then he falls asleep. The sitter tells me is lively and smiling when he wakes up, and he looks happy when I come home, although he's glad to see me. But I hate to leave him when he's so unhappy, and I worry that I'll cause him psychological damage.
It's always hard to leave a baby, and much harder when you are leaving him in tears. Nathan is at an age when he has definite preferences about who cares for him, and he clearly prefers you. So even if he is used to his sitter, you can’t blame him for letting you know that he’d rather be with you. And crying is the only way that a baby can express negative feelings.
Fortunately, the fact that you are being greeted by a smiling, happy baby is good evidence that he Nathan resolved his feelings for the moment. His joy at seeing you demonstrates his pleasure at finding out, by experience, that even when you leave him you come back.
Nathan may fall asleep after his tears because he's tired or because for him, falling asleep is a good way to make the transition from your departure to the care of the sitter, which he obviously enjoys.
If a baby is left with the same sitter routinely he usually will get over his upset reactions sooner than if the sitter only comes occasionally. Even if you don't have to leave Nathan very often, you could try having the sitter come for short periods of time more frequently for a week or two to help him adjust. You can then return to a schedule that suits your needs.
Some babies who cry loudly when a parent leaves don't get as upset if the sitter takes them for a walk and they leave the house before the parent leaves. You would still say goodbye, of course, but Nathan might do better if you were waving to him as he went off, instead of the reverse.
As tempting as it can be, it’s best to avoid leaving Nathan when he's asleep. Some babies get upset if they awaken and the parent is gone and they awaken to someone unfamiliar. If Nathan’s regular nap time makes this plan impossible, then tell Nathan when he goes to sleep that the sitter will be there when he awakens. Even though he is just six months old, he will learn the routine.
It sounds as though Nathan is coping with your leaving, but there are some signs you can watch for to let you know if he might be experiencing too much stress:
• A baby who is feeling insecure will usually act very clingy with his parents, not just briefly but for long periods. He may start waking up more at night. He may start to suck more at the breast, bottle, or pacifier. Most babies will go through phases of acting this way during any transition time, including going on vacation. But if your baby acts this way for weeks and doesn't improve, look for causes of ongoing stress.
• A baby who is very upset about being left, particularly if he doesn't care for the sitter, may sometimes stop protesting as much and begin to look sad instead of angry. A baby who is very unhappy may look tired, seem less energetic, and perhaps seem withdrawn. A sitter might say that the baby was "good", but that might mean "he didn't cry or fuss". If a baby is acting sad in this way, parents should be concerned and find a different sitter.
In your situation, it sounds as though Nathan is displaying a vigorous, healthy protest and is resolving his feelings quickly. It's hard for both of you to go through this experience but he seems to be coping well!