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How Separation Anxiety Affects Baby & Toddler Sleep

Posted by Karen Faulkner on
separation anxiety

This last week I came across a fascinating sleep issue that had arisen out of separation anxiety.

As you probably know, separation anxiety is a normal baby phenomena that occurs at around 6-8 months of age. Not all babies experience this and it depends on your baby's temperament as to what degree you're bub will be affected. It usually lasts up to 12 mths of age and occasionally can last until 2 years of age.

separation anxiety

Why does it happen?

    • They get an internalisation of self, which means they suddenly realise that they are a separate person from their carer.

    • Babies suddenly realise that they have one main carer, so all the other 'mummies' who changed him, fed him, played with him, bathed him etc suddenly become one so as soon as the main carer leaves the room they get panicky and cry. They want to be held and constantly reassured. It's flattering but extremely painful, especially when you need to get things done.

It is important to respond to them and reassure and it will pass.

Some babies can have sleep issues if they awake and their carer is not there. The first part of a baby's sleep cycle is light sleep and this is why we get 'cat nappers'. They find it really hard to go into their next sleep cycle if their carer is not around.

This is what was happening for this little baby, Harry.


You may remember a blog from Wintertime (July 17th, 2012) and Miss Kit and the hat that was causing her eczema.

Well Miss Kit and Master Harry are cousins and so different in temperament.

Harry can self-settle really well and sleeps all through the night without a need for a re-settle.

But those pesky day sleeps well...they're an entirely different matter. Will he re-settle without his mummy? no no and no!

One solution is to go for a walk with baby in the stroller, at sleep time, but what about hot days and rainy days and do you really want to be walking every day for an hour or so???

Another solution is to do Magic Presence in the day and at night for the settle and re-settle.

You basically sit by the cot and model sleep, no direct eye contact, minimal talking and stay with him till he re-settles. To start with he may whinge a bit and it may take up to a week to 10 days to get him used to it. But it's a lot nicer than a baby who can't re-settle and is sleep deprived and cranky!

We'll see how Harry gets on. I'll let you know.

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