Avoid sleeping problems through baby separation anxiety
Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD
Baby separation anxiety is
often unrecognized cause of disturbed sleep.
Your child refuses to settle at night or for
naps, stops sleeping
through the night, often wakes up crying, can't self-soothe anymore, etc.
Fortunately you can prevent
problems at night during separation anxiety phases with a
few simple ideas and techniques, right below. But first a quick look at what it is and how to spot it.
What is baby separation anxiety?
Baby separation anxiety is when
your little one fears never to see you again
after you leave.
This can be when you leave her with
another carer but just as much when you go from one room to
the other in your home.
Or when she wakes up at
night and you are not there ...
Observing your child's separation anxiety may be heartbreaking but it is
actually an important development phase. It is how she learns to be an
usually starts around 4 to 6 months and peaks at about 1 to 1,5 years
old. Still, some babies get rid of it completely by 12 months and
others still suffer at 2.
First, as a newborn, your infant knows no better than she will never be
separated from you. On the other hand, at this age, she does not
remember that you exist when you walk out of the room.
about 4 to 6 months, she learns that you and she are different beings
and she also remembers you, even if she does not see you. But she does not have a sense of time
nor the experience to know that you will be back soon. She
thinks it's forever ...
Feeling anxious about not having the security of your presence is only
Needless to say that baby
anxiety at bedtime will make it harder for to settle, or to self soothe when waking at night.
How to recognize baby separation anxiety
The first step to help her through this phase successfully is to recognize her baby separation
Acknowledging her fear will help her overcome it.
may not notice at first, and wonder why she
cries even if you leave
the room for just two minutes. Something she didn't seem to care about
Or if she's in granny's arms, which she enjoys so much, and you take a
few steps out of sight.
Or if she doesn't sleep through the night anymore but frequently wakes
night all upset.
Do not think that she is spoiled and tries to get your attention to
trick you. Her fear is
real. Comforting and reassuring
without dramatizing is the best help you can offer.
How to avoid sleep problems due to separation
first thing we all need to sleep well, is the knowledge that we are
safe and secure. Your goal when dealing with separation
anxiety is to grow her
confidence in being separated from you, namely that you'll be back.
Here's what you can do:
- Play peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek
a couple of months old, start playing peek-a-boo games regularly: hide
your face and then re-appear, very very likely your baby will giggle in delight!
hide your face for a bit longer each time. Also hide underneath the
table, or behind a door. Watch your little one to see how far you can go.
Or it can be her hiding from you. I've never met a child who doesn't adore this game!
Play these games frequently: by seeing you re-appear each time, your child
that you will be back
even if she doesn't see you all the time.
- Talk about what you will do
understand a lot more of what we say than we realize.
Therefore, it is a good idea to tell her what you will do while she
Show her e.g. where in the living room you will be reading a book or in
which part of the house you will be doing chores.
Also, if your little one does not sleep in your room, it is a good idea to make a
visit to your bedroom part of the bedtime
routine. Knowing where you will be at night may be all the
reassurance she needs when she wakes up.
- Don't dramatize
heartbreaking as it may be, do not cry along. If your child sees that you
are confident and that it
is not a
big deal, that trust will grow in her too.
However, if you cry with her, she will understand that it really is a
bad thing if you are not together all the time.
putting her to bed this means: go through the bedtime routine as usual,
and leave the room just as confidently as usual. Do not hesitate but
comfort and reassure when necessary.
tasks with your partner of another carer
it is a good idea to have your partner or another carer regularly take
your infant to bed. This will help her get
used to not being with you
all the time.
if you breastfeed, you may naturally grow into the only person that
brings her to bed. By the time you stop nursing and want to have
someone else put her to bed, the separation anxiety might be at a peak.
You can wait for the worst of the anxiety to pass.
Alternatively, gradually get your baby used to others taking her to bed
by doing it together at first, taking turns, etc.
This is a tiny
but powerful trick, most useful for an older infant of one or towards two
When putting your child to bed, and she feels uneasy, tell her that you
will come back to check on her soon.
And then do go back, but very quickly, let's say within two minutes.
This way she learns that you
do come back when you say so, and quickly.
this a couple of times is often enough to reassure her and you may soon
find her to sleep before you get the chance to go back to her room.
Guiding your child through phases of baby separation anxiety isn't
always going to be easy.
But it is rewarding to help your child in this big step: giving
her the confidence
to be a person by herself, knowing that you are
still there for her, and always will be.