5 Tips on How to Handle Your Baby’s Separation Anxiety

night wakings routines separation anxiety Sep 30, 2022
5 Tips on How to Handle Your Baby’s Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety can be a difficult phase for parents and babies alike. However, it is a completely normal developmental milestone! In fact, most children will experience it at some point during their first 3 years of life [1]. I know, on top of trying to get our babies to sleep through the night, now we are also worried about this separation anxiety creeping in, too! It can feel like a lot but know that you’re not alone. 

Separation anxiety generally develops around 9 months (but you could begin seeing signs anytime between the ages of 5-12 months [2]), and will typically resurface again around 18 months. Most often, this anxiety will peak and extinguish by 3 years old, once your child has developed a better sense of autonomy, as well as an understanding that their caregiver will return [3]. 

It can be tough on us as caregivers to watch our little ones struggle with this, but there are ways you can handle this new phase to help your baby adjust and feel safe.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Separation Anxiety in Babies

When your baby is a newborn, your own separation anxiety from your little one can be a lot harder on you than your little one. Whether you’re leaving them with another caregiver for just a quick minute to run an errand or going on an overnight trip, it’s normal for these feelings to be triggered. It isn’t until your little one is a little older though, that these times away from one another will have an impact on them. 

Once your baby has developed a sense of a secure attachment to you, this is likely when signs of separation anxiety will emerge. 

Some of these signs may include:

  • Becoming more clingy - possibly even crying anytime you leave the room.
  • Showing preference for one caregiver
  • Protesting at bedtime
  • More night wakings when they had previously been sleeping well

How to Handle Separation Anxiety in Babies

While this new phase may not seem like a good thing, it actually is! It means your baby realizes the strong bond the two of you have, and feels safest with you. I know how overwhelming a clingy and crying baby can be tough; here are 5 ways to help you cope with your baby’s separation anxiety:

  1. Add quality time

Even if you don’t have EXTRA time to spare (maybe you are going back to work and have less time at home), make room for QUALITY time being present with your little one. Even just spending 5-10 intentional minutes together is meaningful and can make a difference! Tips for this include putting your phone away, engaging fully in whatever activity you decide to do with your little one, and let them lead the way. 

2. Don’t sneak out

It might feel like sneaking out when your little one isn’t looking is the easiest way to leave and avoid tears, but it can actually cause your baby to feel more anxious. Keep your goodbyes brief, but do tell them goodbye to let them know when you’re leaving and that you’ll always come back!

3. Extra cuddles 

Even if your baby has been sleeping well and falls asleep independently easily, it's common for them to begin protesting bedtime and wanting you near as they fall asleep. While you don’t want to introduce anything new to help them fall asleep during this time (as it could lead to them developing a sleep association), try making time for extra snuggles and comfort during their bedtime routine. 

You may find that reading bedtime stories isn’t as important for a couple of nights as it is to hold your little one in the rocking chair for an extra 10 minutes. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

4. Include other caregivers

Whenever possible, try including others during routines with your baby, and spending time without you. It may be helpful to even do a few practice runs with other caregivers so that your baby can get used to being with others. If you are the only person doing everything for your baby when this phase hits, they will have a more challenging time separating from you. 

5. Be consistent 

Consistency and predictability are especially helpful to remind your baby that they are safe and secure during this phase. If we become unreliable and significantly change our own behaviors or responses to their behavior, then they will become uncertain about what they can expect. 

I often talk about how successful sleep training and getting through difficult phases rely heavily on the responses of the caregiver. It’s best to stay as consistent as possible and hold the boundaries that you normally would. Our children learn we are capable of handling their big emotions and that their feelings don’t scare us. They are allowed to feel upset and we have the opportunity to remain calm, reassure them, and stay consistent with our behaviors as much as possible. This actually reinforces their feelings of safety. 

It can feel like this phase is one that lasts forever! But by working on these strategies and sticking to your daily routines (as well as naptime and bedtime routines!), your little one will feel more confident, at ease, and the goodbyes will become easier for both of you.

If you find yourself still struggling with your little one’s sleep, please know that you are not alone and that I am here to help. Check out my FREE Sleep Tips or for comprehensive help, download one of my comprehensive sleep guides for step-by-step support. 


[1] [2] [3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560793/

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