This can be such a challenging time for mama, dad, and baby. Separation anxiety will pull you in all different directions emotionally - but rest assured it does get better!
Separation anxiety usually occurs throughout a child’s first few years of life, but you may notice it starting for the first time between 3-4 months. It is very common to see separation anxiety heighten around sleep regression periods, which will have you second guessing all of your sleep successes thus far. With a child who does very well at self soothing, and being put in their bed drowsy, but awake you will see a complete behaviour change. They will begin to fight this at all costs, wanting mom or dad to be right beside them until they fall asleep. You will notice your baby will suddenly start crying every time you leave the room, or they will cling to you for dear life prior to their regular sleep routine, or when you must leave them with anyone other than mom or dad. We often see this happening with one parent or the other as well - and this is completely normal, so please don’t take it to heart!
Oftentimes situational separation anxiety can be brought on by a sudden change in a baby’s regular routine. Whether it’s moving houses, bedrooms, new babysitter - the uncertainty and lack of understanding can cause the irritable behavior and clingy response to parents leaving or being out of their sight.
Regressions as mentioned above can be a temporary trigger and cause for separation anxiety due to the rapid growth and developmental changes happening in a baby's brain at this time! Everything is a lot for them to process during these times, and you leaving the room can trigger an emotional and clingy response which is completely normal.
Spend lots of EXTRA quality one-on-one time playing with your baby throughout the day. Cell phone free if possible, and just focus on the needs of your baby while they are awake. Fresh air and a game of hide and seek can really help with separation anxiety. Playing Hide and Seek in their crib allows the opportunity for them to not see you for a moment or two and return to their view happy and content! This will provide a positive interaction with their sleeping environment and you leaving the room.
Provide your baby with a security object like a lovey or pacifier as a comfort item during these phases. This will help them become attached to something other than you during these times. Remember you shouldn’t have anything in the crib (other than a fitted sheet or pacifier) with your baby until they are over a year of age, but even providing a lovey during awake time and their bedtime routine will help. Eventually your baby will learn the concept of object permanence more clearly and will know that even though they can’t see you - you are still there.
Extend your bedtime routine. This will give your baby more time to separate from you at nighttime. Take more time during bathtime playing, and read more books than you normally would during storytime. Rocking your baby and snuggling them longer than you normally would is totally fine too. You will want to start bedtime 15 minutes or so earlier than normal so you don’t push their regular bedtime later.
This season can be emotionally draining on mom and dad, because watching your little one go through this can really pull on your heart strings. The best thing you can do is build them up and provide them with lots of love and confidence during this time. Continue with your same sleep schedules and daytime routines while providing extra comfort when needed. Separation anxiety heightens during the times I mentioned above, and will come and go throughout your little ones life. Remember, it is so normal and a big part of development. With your support, love and guidance this phase will pass in no time!
Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant