separation anxiety in infants blog post, teddy in basket

My challenge this month what with it being February the shortest month of the year was to bring you a blog that was essentially short and sweet but with advice that could really make a difference to you and your little one.

I decided that for inspiration I would look to my clients and identify a common theme that seems to appear time and time again!

And no, it isn’t negative sleep associations because firstly for those of you who know me and have spoken to me, I don’t believe that there is such a thing but secondly because there is something far more common than sleep associations and the impact they have on sleep and this is “Separation Anxiety!

Separation anxiety can be one of the biggest causes of night wakings

Yes, believe it or not, separation anxiety is one of the biggest causes of night waking’s in the first two years of your little one’s life and guess what, it is a completely natural part of infant development.

It occurs initially somewhere between 6-9 months once your little one becomes aware of object permanence and the idea that once you go you are gone. The problem is unlike older infants they are unable to picture you in the room next door or downstairs having supper and when you leave at night, they understandably get very upset because they think you have gone for ever!

From an anthropological perspective this is totally to be expected because in the wild the moment a baby was to become more mobile around 6 months, the need to keep their primary caregiver close would have increased as otherwise they may have run the risk of death.

So, what can you do to help with this common sleep issue?

1. Use bedtime and naptime to check in and out of their bedroom

Use bedtime and naptime to check in and out of their room whilst getting them ready for bed. This way they get used to being on their own while you quickly pop out to grab a glass of water or another bag of nappies. It is really important that when you leave the room you let them know where you are going and assure them that you will be back and equally it can really help to talk to them while you are out the room as it helps them to understand that that although they cant see you, you are still close by.

2. Make sure you have quality playtime during the day

Have a period of quality play time during the day during which you play games of peek a boo, which again emphasise the fact that when you go you will always return – make sure that when you do return you always have a big smile on your face so they associate positive feelings with your disappearances. You might also like to take one of their toys and hide it under a blanket only to have it then reappear.

3. Create a bedtime book using pictures of your toddler’s bedtime routine

As they get older and separation anxiety reappears between 12 and 18 months of age use the development in your baby’s cognitive ability to your advantage. A great way to help with anxious toddlers is to create a bedtime book – this way they will be able to see themselves at various stages of their bedtime routine, the penultimate picture is taken when they are in their bed at night and the final one when they wake up in the morning. It can also help to add in an extra picture of where you are when they go to sleep. Again, helping to cement the fact that when you leave their room at night you are still very close by.

As you know I love more than anything to help families with their individuals sleep problems so please do get in touch if you think a personalised sleep plan would help you and your little one to get a better night sleep.

Remember to follow me on Instagram @helpbabysleep where I provide regular sleep tips and updates.

There is no doubt that your baby’s sleep is highly individualised.  This is why sometimes it can be helpful to have a personalised sleep consultation.  I also offer a trouble-shooting call service. 

Find out more about my packages here.


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