Ask SIFTW: Separation anxiety and needing a little grownup time

Oona writes:

My 9 month old daughter is going through a phase, yes the dreaded phase of waking up every half hour if I’m not in bed with her.  She’s also gotten very picky about which boob she wants.  We co-sleep which I really don’t want to change, and I don’t really mind the night nursing which she mainly sleeps though as do I.  What’s killing me is that I put her to bed at 8:00, nurse her to sleep with few problems and then she wakes up usually by 8:45 and thinks her 8:00 sleep was a nap.  She’s ready to rock and roll, sleeping is for the weak willed, just ask her.  She’ll go back to sleep at 11:00 but by then I’m exhausted and cranky.  The problem is that I leave for work at 6:00 am and need some grownup time between 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm when I come to bed.  Is there some way to get her to resettle herself until I come to be at night or is it unrealistic to expect that I can still co-sleep and night nurse but only after I come to bed?

Oona ends her email with a big sigh (understandably) and I think I’m going to start my response with a big sigh too (understandably).


Oona, you sound like you already know what is going on here – it is a phase. A horrid phase, but yes a phase. Babies are always changing, so if they are doing something you don’t like just wait a few weeks, but the same goes if they are doing something you just love, also just wait a few weeks. You’ve also beautifully identified the issue to me. It’s not the co-sleeping, it’s not the night nursing, it’s the lack of adult time and space.

If you’re enjoying the co-sleeping and the nursing, I don’t see any reason to change that. Instead you might want to brainstorm how you can create a little time for yourself or time with your partner or whatever you need. Can you steal a bit of time in the lunch hour to do something for yourself? Or can you take a bit of time on weekends to do something you enjoy? I find even an hour to pop down to the farmers markets on a sunday with a coffee makes me a much saner person and mother than before i set out.

I’m not quite sure how you can reclaim that 8-10pm valued grownup time though right at the moment. I do know how precious it is though to eat dinner in peace, sloth in front of some bad tv, catch up with your partner or write your blog … I know that some people who co-sleep put their child in their cot or bed for the first part of the night and then take them into bed when they first wake up. However, if your daughter is waking after 45 minutes, then this may seem completely ludicrous. My only thought is to get her used to settling in her cot for a bit and maybe it would go better. But in all likelihood, the waking and getting up would persist and you would be getting nowhere fast. So may I suggest my favoured alternative…

The alternative is to hang on until it passes. And it will. 9 months is classic separation anxiety so it doesn’t surprise me that you daughter is clinging onto you for dear life at the moment. You are her world and she’s not letting go until she’s very very sure that you will be coming back. She may also want to maximise time with you if you are away from her during the day. None of this is bad, it’s just how it is at the moment. The Imp still goes through sessions of this periodically, but not nearly as bad as that 9 month episode.

I have one other practical thought amongst all the consolatary waffle. Maybe you could revisit her nap schedule during the day. Perhaps she’s not tired enough in the evening, or perhaps even too tired. I think at about 9 months the Imp went from 3 naps to 2 and there was a bit of transition involved in that. Just a thought.

Whatever you do though, it will pass soon enough.


3 Responses to Ask SIFTW: Separation anxiety and needing a little grownup time

  1. swizzler says:

    Waking up after 45 mins happens a lot with us as well. I’ve found that I can sometimes get Loudboy back to sleep and then he’ll do a good couple of hours. If not, I get him up and let him run around until we go to bed. He goes through phases when he does this a lot, then he’s back to sleeping from his bedtime until the time we join him (we co-sleep as well). 9 months was a particularly bad time, so hang in there.

  2. pnut's mom says:

    Please consider an earlier bedtime. I moved my pnut’s bedtime from 8pm to 7pm and eventually 6:30-6:45pm. She actually sleeps sooooo much better with the earlier bedtime. Just give it a try — nothing to lose, right?

  3. Julie says:

    Wow, I can’t believe I’m reading your post, because it’s my story exactly. How funny to find this so randomly. I posted a whole story about this on my own blog. Basically the short version: sleep training. I found I was going absolutely bananas without my evenings free. It was making me upset and cranky. We used the Sleep Easy Solutions book. But like you, I was co-sleeping, so now I miss that. I wonder if you might want to try an approach I found recently. I couldn’t use it, because we’d already done our thing, but it’s Bob Sears’ way. Here’s a video link. It looks like a good way to get the baby comfortable with sleeping in a crib until the first waking, and then you can take the baby to bed.

    Honestly, I do think it would be a good idea to do something to help your baby learn to sleep solo for at least part of the night. Now that I have my evenings back, I am a much, much happier person and a better mom for it. And I don’t think for our baby, the waking without a parent beside him would have passed. It seemed like we were reenforcing a habit.

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