Separation Anxiety In Babies Affecting Sleep
Separation anxiety in babies is a developmental milestone that they hit around six to seven months of age and then there is typically another peak around 18 months. It can be really hard on you, the parent, and on your little one. At around six months old your baby is starting to realize that people and things exist (this is called object permanence), even when they can’t see you. When you leave the room your baby may cry out not knowing where you are or when you’ll come back, even if you just stepped out for a short moment.
Separation anxiety can have a big impact on baby sleep because chances are, you lay your baby down in their crib for bed and leave the room. They may scream and protest because they want you to stay with them but don’t worry, there are lots of ways to help your little one work through this. Most kids outgrow separation anxiety by the time they’re two or three. So… how do you get from six months to two years old without your baby screaming all the time when they don’t see you? Let me give you a few tips!
What Causes Separation Anxiety in Babies?
Separation anxiety starts when your baby learns object permanence as mentioned above. Your baby knows you exist when they can’t see you. When you lay your baby down for bed at night time and leave the room, they know you’re out there, but they don’t know where or if you’re coming back. It’s a concept they aren’t yet old enough to understand. They know you’re there somewhere, but they have no grasp of time so they get upset thinking about you not being there. During this time of great emotional development it’s important to give a lot of reassurance to your baby. Yes, this may impact their ability to sleep through the night, but it’s a phase and they will get through it!
Signs of Separation Anxiety in Babies
- Crying when you leave the room
- Clinging to you in new surroundings
- Fear of strangers or anyone new
- Crying out in the middle of night / during naps
- Night wakings due to sleep regressions can cause night time crying and looking for their parent or caregiver
- Refusing to fall asleep without you nearby or holding them
- Strong preference for you over the other parent
How to Deal With Separation Anxiety in Babies at Night
Solid Bedtime Routine
Having a solid bedtime routine is key to your baby or toddler having a good night’s sleep. A bedtime routine signals your child’s brain that it is time to wind down for bed. When they learn their routine they will know that it’s time for bed and will begin to anticipate the next activity in line before it’s time to sleep. Sticking to their routine during a phase of separation anxiety is key. It gives them a soothing way to say goodnight to you and keeping them on their routine will help give them reassurance and helps your baby understand that it’s time for sleep and you will eventually leave the room.
Don’t Sneak Out
Do not sneak out of your baby’s room at night or sneak out to leave during the day. Even though it can be hard at first, letting your baby know you are leaving the room and letting them see you leave is key to them learning that you will in fact come back. Although it may seem easier to put your baby down in their crib after they’re all the way asleep, as soon as they wake up, chances are they will start crying out for you and get very upset that you aren’t there as you were when they fell asleep.
If your child cries for a long period of time, you will most likely have to go in their room to calm them down and you can get started down an endless cycle of night wakings and crying during the night when you previously had a baby who slept through the night. If you do need to go in to calm them down, try to gently rub their back or pat their bottom, avoid picking them up and rocking them back to sleep if you can.
Practice During the Day
Practice by leaving your baby in a safe place (perhaps their crib or another spot they feel safe) and walking away momentarily before coming right back. This teaches your baby that even though you’ve disappeared for a moment, you’ll always come back. You can also make a game out of it. Playing peek a boo is a great way to teach your baby that even though that don’t see you for a moment, you still exist and are right there in front of them.
Sleep Coaching / Sleep Training
Working with a sleep consultant at this point can come in very handy if you haven’t done it already! If you’re struggling with night wakings and getting your little one to fall asleep on their own let me know, there are many different aspects to sleep training that can go hand in hand with working through separation anxiety. Sleep training helps foster independence in your little one and this gives them confidence and reassurance that they are ok until you come back. Sleep training also isn’t only for babies. If separation anxiety is affecting your toddler’s sleep, I can help you work though that as well.