How To Help a Baby Sleep With Separation Anxiety

How To Sleep Train 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. The weighted feeling is like a hug – it helps to increases serotonin (the feel good hormone) & melatonin (the sleep hormone) both of which encourage comfort and relaxation during nighttime or naptime. This practical, wearable blanket, could also be a great comfort object that baby will associate as a sleep cue when nighttime comes around.