Baby separation anxiety
often unrecognized cause of disturbed sleep.
Your child refuses to settle at night or for
through the night
, often wakes up crying, can't self-soothe anymore, etc.
Fortunately you can
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
your little one fears never to see you again
after you leave
This can be when you leave her with
anotherÂ carer but just as much when you go from one room to
the other in your home.
when she wakes up at
night and you are not there ...
Observing your child's separation anxiety may be heartbreaking but it is
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
thinks it's forever ...
Feeling anxious about not having the security of your presence is only
Needless to say that
anxiety at bedtime
willÂ 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
her babyÂ 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.
Don't think that your little one is spoiled and tries to get your attention to
Her fear is
. Comforting and reassuring
without dramatizing is the best help you can offer.
9 months old is a typical age when many parents notice a bout of separation anxiety but it can start sooner, and recur at different developmental stages.
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
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
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
. Knowing where you will be at night may be all the
reassurance she needs when she wakes up.
heartbreaking as it may be, do not cry along. If your child sees that you
are confident and that
is not a
, 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
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
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.
Heidi Holvoet, PhD, is the founder of the Baby Sleep Advice website and movement, an award-winning author, baby & toddler sleep consultant with 14+ years experience as well as a certified lactation counselor.
Over the years, Heidi has received several awards inluding a Mom's Choice Award (MCA) and National Parenting Awards (NAPPA) for her Baby Sleep Advice website, programs and books.
She is also a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants of which she was one of the earliest contributors. She obtained her PhD degree in physics at the University of Ghent in Belgium.
Heidi is passionate about helping babies and their parents sleep more and better, with her trademark approach that has been proven and praised time and again by parents worldwide to be effective and truly no-tears. Respect for you as a parent and your baby, is at the heart of Heidi's warm and kind support. Her approach always keeps in mind a baby's needs and abilities at any given age, is based on pediatric science and the most up to date knowledge in infant care and sleep science.