While you may think that infants are too young to be affected by divorce, they're surprisingly intuitive. Even a 6-week-old can sense that his routine has been altered -- he no longer sees both parents daily, he's suddenly eating at a different time or sleeping in a new room. Schedule changes can be particularly anxiety-provoking for babies. "They need structure and continuity to feel safe and to trust that all is right with the world," says M. Gary Neuman, author of Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce the Sandcastles Way.
It's least disruptive to keep an infant at home and have the noncustodial parent visit frequently for short periods -- an hour a day, for example, or two hours three times a week. "For the first three months of my son's life, I had his dad come to my house whenever he wanted to see the baby," says a mom in Chagrin Falls, OH, who split from her child's father before giving birth. If the baby must move back and forth between households, try to maintain the same naptime, feeding schedule, and bedtime rituals in each place. While you needn't re-create the nursery down to the Pooh Bear nightlight, purchasing two sets of identical sheets or bumpers can make an infant feel more at ease. Always make sure any favorite blankie or stuffed animal travels from house to house.
An infant can sense if you're depressed or angry and may also interpret hostility, sadness, or withdrawal as a reflection of your feelings for him. This can erode his sense of security and confidence, so it's crucial to deal with your own personal demons. "See a counselor, a rabbi, a minister; join a divorce support group; lean on your friends," advises Neuman. Be extra demonstrative with your baby, both physically and emotionally -- you can't hug him too many times a day.
Then be prepared for some fallout: Babies whose parents are going through a divorce may cry more often and sleep less soundly than those living in intact households. This is a natural reaction to stress and should subside within a couple of months, after they've adjusted to the new routine. They may also experience more severe separation anxiety (which typically crops up at 8 or 9 months). "When something is taken away from you, in this case a parent, it's natural to want to hold on tight to what you have left," says Arnold Stolberg, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond. Until his anxiety eases, every time you leave your child with his other parent, be sure to reassure him that you're coming back. While he may not understand the words, he'll pick up on your soothing tone. The good news about splitting up while your child is a baby is that, all other things being equal, he may ultimately suffer fewer adverse effects from a divorce than an older child, since he won't remember his parents ever having been together.