Sleep Training A Baby With Separation Anxiety
At one point or another, it’s likely that your little one will experience separation anxiety. In general terms, separation anxiety in babies is a fear that their parent will leave and never come back. While separation anxiety can create stress for you and your baby, it is a healthy stage of emotional development.
Still, this leaves many parents with questions about how to help with separation anxiety in babies, how to sleep train a baby with separation anxiety, and even how to deal with separation anxiety in general. Keep reading to find out how to best manage separation anxiety with your baby… and don’t worry, you will all get through it!
When do babies feel separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety can start as early as 4 months, but by around 8 months, your baby will come to understand that people and objects exist even when they can’t see them. This means that if you leave the room, your baby will notice, especially when she can no longer see you. This can cause upset and even some tears until you return.
This realization is known as object permanence. It’s this concept that makes peek-a-boo a fun game for babies. They believe that you’ve made yourself disappear simply by covering your face with your hands… and then you return in the blink of an eye! As she develops, peek-a-boo takes on a different meaning as she begins to understand that you’ve been there all along.
How to help a baby with separation anxiety?
As with most new developments your baby will experience, lead with love. This means give her all of the comfort and reassurance she’ll need to realize that when you go away, you’ll always return. Here are some suggestions:
- Have some brief separations – if baby leads, even better. Meaning, when she crawls out of her room, as long as she’s in a safe space, don’t follow her immediately. Let her see that she’s okay on her own, even if for a few minutes.
- Talk about what you’ll do together later – let her know that when you get back after her nap, that you’ll read a book together… or go for a walk… or share a treat. This gives her the reassurance that you’ll be back.
- Have a comfort object – this can be a blankie or lovee or toy. Something familiar that she can use to soothe herself until you come back.
- Create smooth transitions – whether introducing someone new to care for her, or leaving her with the grandparents, spend some time together first, don’t be in a rush, and be positive about leaving her behind – ie: you’re going to have so much fun!
- Keep your promises! –come back when you say you will and be specific, ie: I’ll be here when you wake up! This creates trust and can help ease anxiety down the road.
What are signs of separation anxiety in babies?
By the time she reaches 8 months, your baby may be showing signs of separation anxiety. She may be clingier than usual, or cry more often. Remember, this is a typical developmental stage that she will outgrow, usually by the time she’s between two to three years old.
How does separation anxiety affect babies' sleep?
Sleep is such a precious commodity when you have a baby that most parents will try anything they can so that everyone under the same roof can get some zzz’s. If your baby is being extra clingy at nighttime or waking up throughout the night – chances are your baby is feeling separation anxiety at night. Here are some things you can do to help sleep train a baby with separation anxiety:
- Have a consistent bedtime routine
- Offer extra cuddles but be clear when it’s time for lights out
- If there’s a door to her sleep space, leave it open so she knows you are close
- Create and keep a calm environment in baby’s sleep space
How long does separation anxiety last at night?
Every baby is different but it’s typical for separation anxiety to occur from about six months and again between ten and 18 months when babies become more aware of their surroundings. By the time she reaches the 2 year-mark, it’s likely that separation anxiety has gotten better.
The crying jags and clinginess can last from two to three weeks however, so it’s good to have a plan in place for when this inevitable developmental milestone occurs.
Can you sleep train while your baby has separation anxiety?
Sleep training refers to the variety of ways that parents help their baby learn to sleep on their own. Some methods seem gentler, like the chair method (aka pick up /put down), while others, like cry it out, may seem a bit harsh. It’s hard to know which method will work best as every baby and family is different. Most babies, however, are ready for sleep training as early as four months. If this timeline works for you, that could help as your baby will likely experience separation anxiety at around 6 months old. If they are “trained” to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own, it’s possible that separation anxiety won’t interfere with their nighttime sleep. This said, your baby’s sleep habits will most likely change so often throughout those early developmental years, that you’ll probably have to “re-train” during bouts of separation anxiety.
If you’re finding sleep issues particularly stressful, and/or separation anxiety as well, it’s a good idea to consult with your pediatrician or trusted resource. There is comfort in sharing your experience and getting some expert advice can be helpful.
What helps separation anxiety at night?
Because separation anxiety can happen at nighttime, too, it’s important to create a calm sleep environment, stick to your bedtime routines, and be consistent. Another thing you can add to your sleep toolbox is a Dreamland Baby Weighted Sleep Sack. Weighted sleep sacks are proven to calm your baby with Deep Pressure Stimulation to help them relax and sleep soundly. This practical, wearable blanket, could also be a great comfort object that baby will associate as a sleep cue when nighttime comes around.
At what age does separation anxiety typically emerge?
Separation anxiety may give you (mom or dad) anxiety, but rest assured, it’s perfectly normal. Most babies begin to experience separation anxiety around eight months old. Shortly after (around ten and 18 months) the anxiety can worsen or peak, but should resolve by the two-year mark. Babies can demonstrate separation anxiety in the form of fussing, crying, tantrums, clinginess, nighttime awakenings, or some combination of these. Just because your baby has separation anxiety at a young age does not mean it will stick with them long-term. However, if your baby begins to display signs of separation anxiety at an older age (for example, preschool age) when it’s developmentally inappropriate, this could be a separation anxiety disorder. Separation anxiety disorder is different from separation anxiety in babies.
What triggers separation anxiety?
Infants can experience separation anxiety as a result of a lack of understanding that something (such as their parent) exists even when they don’t see or hear it. This is known as object permanence. In response to separation anxiety, you should do your best to continue life as usual. Limiting or foregoing separations can compromise the child’s maturation and development. To ease your baby into separation, make goodbyes or good nights as quick and seamless as possible. You can also try to distract your baby. Dressing them in a weighted sleep sack or blanket, depending on what’s age-appropriate, can help calm their anxiety and mimic a hug once you have left the room.
What are the stages of separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety can worsen during specific time frames during a baby’s life. Here’s an overview of the stages that separation anxiety can circle in and out of your baby’s life.
- Separation anxiety (3-7 months): The first time separation anxiety makes a grand entrance in your baby’s life is usually around three to seven months. During this time, it’s usually the result of object permanence. Around this age, babies start remembering objects, even when they can’t see or hear them. Therefore, they start to miss their parents when they are not around. Playing peek-a-boo can help teach your baby that you can go and come back, plus you can enjoy some giggles and bonding time, too. Additionally, sleep training can help prepare for this window of separation anxiety. A consistent bedtime routine and surroundings can help your baby associate positive thoughts with bedtime.
- Separation anxiety (9-10 months): Around nine to ten months, your baby can grasp a greater concept of time. This can cause separation anxiety as they begin to understand how long you leave for at certain times, such as bedtime. During this time, they can also recognize their mother, father, or both as their primary caregiver. Therefore, leaving them with a sitter or family member can be harder because they will begin to understand they are not you. To reduce separation anxiety during this stage, keep goodbyes short and stick to a routine. Sleep training can also help your baby maintain a healthy sleep schedule despite the separation anxiety.
- Separation anxiety (12-18 months): Babies around twelve to eighteen months can start to feel more independent as their psychological development continues to progress. With a new sense of confidence and understanding of what’s going on, babies may protest more when they know their parent(s) will leave. If you leave your baby with a caregiver, try overlapping time so your baby can learn that you trust the caregiver. This can help reduce separation anxiety. Additionally, you can switch off who is performing the bedtime routine to allow your baby to get used to going to bed without you there.
What happens if separation anxiety is left untreated?
Babies don’t necessarily need treatment for separation anxiety, as it’s normal in babies under two years of age. If it continues or develops at an older age, you may need to seek professional help.
Is it normal for my baby to cry when I leave the room?
Beginning as a newborn, babies may cry when their main caregiver leaves the room. Once they get older, you can help them understand why they are feeling the need to cry and help them learn to self-soothe. Until then, do your best to create a calm sleeping environment that helps reduce anxiety. Using a sound machine and weighted swaddle or sleep sack can help your baby feel safe and secure for bedtime.
Can you stop separation anxiety?
While you may not be able to stop separation anxiety, you can turn it into a positive experience. After all, our anxiety is what protects us. You want to be sympathetic to the feelings your baby feels and why they are feeling them while helping them learn it will be okay. Focus on helping your baby acknowledge and understand their feelings. Help them understand that you will come back and they will be okay while you are gone.
Should I ignore separation anxiety?
How you handle separation anxiety is a personal decision. However, most professionals recommend you don’t cater to separation anxiety. While you’ll want to comfort your baby, you should avoid babying your baby when they’re experiencing separation anxiety, as it can make it worse. To help reduce separation anxiety, stick to a consistent routine and prepare for periods of separation. For example, if a caregiver will be caring for your child, spending time with your baby and the caregiver to show them the caregiver is trustworthy.
Can weighted sleep sacks and swaddles help separation anxiety?
Weighted sleep sacks and swaddles made by Dreamland are proven to help reduce anxiety to help babies fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. At Dreamland, we specialize in user-friendly and baby-friendly weighted sleep products. Featuring our CoverCalm Technology, our sleep sacks and swaddles evenly distribute the baby’s weight from their shoulders to toes, helping to reduce stress and increase relaxation naturally. Our warm sleep sacks and swaddles hold your baby and keep them warm, just as a human hug would do. 100% of parents achieved up to 4 hours of additional sleep a night using Dreamland products. Dress your baby in appropriate weighted sleep aid products to help them sleep even when experiencing separation anxiety. Knowing your baby is safe and secure (and sleeping) can help both of you get a better night’s sleep - which is well-deserved.