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Monday 27 June 2016

Did I trigger my child's separation anxiety?

separation anxiety, arthurwears

Those of you who follow my social media pages will perhaps have gathered by now that at the (current) age of 17 months, Arthur has never once slept a whole night - and as a result, neither have I. At every 'milestone' we have waited and hoped that 'tonight will be the night'. We have looked for reasons as to why he may have had a difficult night: teething, growth spurts, development milestones, over-stimulation, shorter daytime naps, longer daytime naps, too many naps, not enough naps...everything feels like a possible reason when you are sleep deprived and desperate.

One thing that has become obvious to us lately though, is the fact that Arthur CAN sleep, just not when he thinks he's alone, and we can pin point the EXACT day this started and the possible 'event' surrounding this change - which leaves me wondering...is it all connected? Did I trigger this separation anxiety?

Before I go on, this really isn't a 'pity me' post. I am so grateful for the child I have, even at 12, 3, 5am (and every hour in between), even on those days when I've counted on his one nap in order to get a job or two done and it hasn't worked out. (see "naptime cheat - why it's okay to cherish the moment" here) I will never resent the time I have had to dedicate to helping him to sleep and I don't view his sleeping patterns as a 'problem'. We've definitely been through trickier night times when he was a baby and suffered badly from colic and reflux (see "Dealing with colic and reflux" here) and things are a breeze now in comparison!

I would like to understand the idea of separation anxiety better though, and what I can do to help if this is indeed where the difficulties lie - Arthur has crossed so many development milestones at an earlier stage than I expected (crawling at 5 months, walking at 10 months etc) that I am not convinced that we are just waiting for him to grow and learn how to sleep like a toddler rather than a baby...

separation anxiety, arthurwears

Before the 'separation anxiety' really kicked in at a few months old, Arthur had started to move away from the 2-3 hourly feeds (completely normal for an exclusively breastfed baby) and regularly had a good 6-8 hour chunk of sleep at bedtime between 6pm and 12 or 2am (after that he would wake frequently - but this 'chunk' was great progress for a non-sleeper).

So....I had started to feel pretty confident about his chunk of sleep at bedtime - just in time for our first ever NCT girls evening/dinner out on the 30th July 2015. Arthur was 6 months old. He was crawling, eating some solids, he'd cut a few teeth now and finally he was sleeping in the evenings for long enough for me to have a few hours to myself...

I had it all planned out - hubby would hold the fort at home without me, leaving Arthur happy, sleeping and with a familiar face if he did happen to wake up....except hubby got called away on business for the night leaving me stuck. Luckily, my younger sister ( who lived a couple of hours away) volunteered to babysit for the evening. Hurrah!

If i'm honest, I was nervous. I'd been feeling nervous about leaving him for the first time anyway, but even more so leaving him with my sister as he had only met her a couple of times when he was much smaller and I knew she wouldn't arrive until after he had fallen asleep - so he wouldn't even be aware that she was there. The best I could do was hope that he stayed asleep like he had been doing and wake up once I got back home!

So I got myself ready, expressed a bottle of milk just in case and headed out for an evening of friends, food and a little fizz - baby free. I even took a couple of photos just to prove it really happened:

I had a wonderful evening, and although I checked my phone a million times - everything was fine. My lovely sister obviously knew I'd have run back home at any hint of an issue so she only told me after she had managed to get Arthur back to sleep that he had even woken up. Apparently this wasn't long after I had left the house and as he was understandably very upset (and probably a little confused!) she took him downstairs and showed him photos of me on her phone until he calmed down and eventually went back to sleep an hour later.

All's well that end's well right?? 

Except that wasn't the end. From that night onwards, and every night since - almost a year ago now - as soon as Arthur got even a hint of us leaving the bedroom at night time, he was up like a shot! Screaming uncontrollably, crying and sobbing until he stopped breathing properly. Even if he looked like he was fast asleep when we went to leave, some sort of baby sixth sense kicked in and he just knew.

It became exhausting. After 2 weeks of spending almost every night in and out of his bedroom trying to settle him and make him feel secure, I was so sleep deprived I almost fell down the stairs whilst carrying him and we decided enough was enough...

No, this is not where I tell you that controlled crying solved my problems ( I am fiercely against this form of sleep training for many, many reasons - but that is for another bog post! If you are desperate for info though, I'd recommend following Sarah Ockwell-Smith from Gentle Parenting and the Gentle Sleep book).  I don't believe though, that even if I weren't so against the 'crying it out' method, that this would be the answer for a baby who was worried about being left alone. Security and being responsive as a care-giver breeds confidence after all  - you can't teach a baby that they don't need to fear your absence by being absent and ignoring their attempts at communicating...I think all this really teaches them is that there is no point in trying to call for you because you wont come.

The answer for us was (and still is) co-sleeping, or more accurately, bed-sharing. After the initial couple of hours in his own room, once Arthur fully wakes from his sleep cycle and becomes upset about being alone - he comes into our room and we all get more sleep this way. It makes night feeds much easier, and if he wakes whilst he is in our room, he usually touches my face with his hands to check I am still there and then goes back to sleep.

separation anxiety, arthurwears, co_sleeoing, bed sharing

There are worse things than waking up next to this little face in the morning!!

Coming up to a year later though, I think about that evening ALOT and I do wonder - If I hadn't gone out, if he hadn't have woken up and neither I nor his Daddy were there - would he be so anxious about being left alone?? Or was it just a huge coincidence that it started on the same night?

We are at the stage now where we are thinking about the possibility of baby number 2 sometime next year. I'm not sure how well co-sleeping and pregnancy or co-sleeping with a toddler and a newborn would work out. We have just turned Arthur's cot into a toddler bed and my only plan B so far is to put an airbed next to it and sleep beside his bed when he wakes up to try and get him used to being in his own room all night...but I don't relish the idea, and I am a little worried I might just be starting another habit.

Have you had experience of separation anxiety, or do you co-sleep/bedshare still with your toddler? How do you manage and what worked for you?

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Why not read some of my other posts:

For all the Mummies going back to work...this one's for you

Having a baby - the things they never told me about pregnancy, labour and motherhood

The diary of a 9 month old escape artist

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