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The 8 month sleep regression & separation anxiety

I made my thoughts about labelling moments of great developmental progress for your baby with such a negative word such as ‘regression’ clear in my previous blog on the four month sleep regression.

Annoyingly, this is still the term most people use when looking for information on this milestone, so I’ll concede and use it for this blog so more people can get the help they need.

The eight month sleep regression is undoubtedly a biggie for most parents. So let’s take a look at why it happens, what sleep changes you might see from your baby as a result of it and go over my top tips to help you survive it - other than just consuming copious amounts of caffeine (which I don’t actually recommend!).

Why does the 8 month sleep regression happen?

It may seem like you’ve only just got over a bout of unsettled sleep at the four month mark, you may have been riding a manageable sleep wave since and then BOOM - your baby approaches 8 months and it all goes to pot. It’s for this reason it can be a very frustrating developmental milestone for parents, sometimes seeming as though you're being thrown right back into the realms of newborn sleep.

The fact of the matter is, there is so much going on for your little one at this age and they have to process it in some way. They may be:

  • Babbling more

  • Learning to crawl

  • Trying to pull themselves up onto things

  • Teething

  • Eating more solid food

Unfortunately, more often than not, sleep becomes collateral damage to this processing that takes place. So as a result of all this you may notice your little one:

  • Refuses to nap

  • Wakes up soon after falling asleep

  • Resists going to sleep

  • Wakes more frequently at night

  • Rises early

  • Wakes up more upset than usual

I know it can be hugely disconcerting that these things have taken a knock, but please be reassured your baby has not ‘lost’ these abilities - it’s simply they’ve taken a step down in priority while they focus on all the major learning they’re doing. Rest assured, it will come back, it may just take a bit of time.

Separation anxiety

One of the biggest things you might start to notice around this age is your little one becoming more upset when you leave the room and becoming a lot more clingy. This is totally normal separation anxiety - but it can have an impact on their sleep as you can imagine.

If your little one gets upset when they can’t see you just when you pop to the loo, imagine how hard it is for them to process you leaving them alone in a dark room for a prolonged period of time.

This separation anxiety, like a lot of things, is actually a big leap in your little one's development as they are beginning to develop the concept of object permanence.

Before about 7 months, if something is out of sight or touch for your baby it has ceased to exist - you leave the room, but they’re still happily trying to shove their fist in their mouth.

But at around 7-8 months, when they start to understand that when you’re gone you still exist, they start to worry where you’ve gone, when you’re coming back and if they’ll ever see you again - even if you’ve just gone for a quick wee!

Annoyingly, this massive developmental leap can often coincide with parents returning to work after maternity leave here in the UK, only exacerbating the problem - as we know any big changes for your little one could have an impact on their sleep.

Get your peek-a-boo game on

Alas, there are some simple things you can do to help with the separation anxiety element in this perfect developmental storm:

  • Peepo or peek-a-boo games. To support their learning of object permanence try some peek-a-boo games. You could start by hiding behind a cushion, then the sofa, then moving further to the door as their tolerance for your absence improves.

  • Practice saying goodbye. Do this at a time when you don’t actually need to go anywhere, so that hopefully it will be easier when you do. Try just leaving for a couple of minutes initially and then work on building this time up.

  • Lift the flap books. These are fab at this age and definitely one to add to the birthday or Christmas list.

  • Hiding toys under a blanket. See if they will search for them, fun game if nothing else.

All super simple and easy activities to do with your little one, definitely give them a go.

Dropping nap drama

As if your little one learning to do all these new wonderful things and grappling with separation anxiety wasn’t enough - they will often need to drop their afternoon nap around this age too.

You’ll often know if your little one is ready to drop this nap if they are hard to go down for it and then they’re also fighting bedtime.

They can however struggle when you drop the nap to make it through until bedtime without being super cranky. So you may need to fiddle with your nap timings to make the lunchtime nap a bit later and the bedtime a bit earlier so they don’t get too tired and then resist going to bed.

We know the effect naps can have on nights, but take a read of my naps blog if you haven’t already for some nap basics.

My 5 steps to surviving the 8 month sleep regression

I know this stage of development with your baby can be very challenging and exhausting. Below are my top 5 tips to surviving the 8 month sleep regression:

Step 1 - Try and stay calm

Babies pick up on your anxiety and this can only make the situation worse. If you’ve tried for a nap and they’re having none of it and it’s making your blood pressure rise - stop. Do something else and come back to it again in half an hour when you’re both more calm - sleep is never going to be the end result of such a stressful scenario.

Step 2 - Don’t make any big sleep changes

If you’ve been wanting to move your little one into their own room, or stop co-sleeping, or get rid of a dummy - trust me, now is not the time. You'll be facing an uphill battle. You’re much better to bide your time, get through this developmental leap and tackle any of those things if you still want to when your little one is in a more settled and happy place.

You’re much better to try and maintain your same calm, predictable routine - even if it feels futile, this predictability will be very reassuring and calming for your little one.

Step 3 - Introduce a comforter with your scent on

If you haven’t tried this already, it’s worth a go. This is especially helpful if you’re returning to work and your child will be spending time with someone else during the day. I know this is difficult currently with Covid if your nursery is not allowing anything like this into the setting. But have a chat with them, it may just be it needs to be taken home and washed - in which case maybe have a few in tow you can circulate to make your life easier.

Step 4 - Have a predictable goodbye routine

Don’t be tempted to go in for one last goodbye out of your own parental guilt, equally don’t just sneak off without your little one knowing as you think it will be easier for you. As you can imagine based on the above explanation of object permanence - this can be hugely confusing for your baby and just make matters worse.

Step 5 - Cuddle, cuddles and more cuddles

It’s an outdated and refuted concept that by giving your child more closeness and connection you will be making the situation worse. This couldn't be further from the truth. At a time when your baby is struggling with something as massive as separation anxiety, it’s even more important to give them all the closeness and connection you can. If they feel safe and secure in your presence, they’ll eventually feel confident enough to be separated from you, knowing you will in fact always come back.

Practice self-care

Finally, be kind to yourself. Acknowledge this is a difficult time for you and your baby, but that you will get through it. Lean into your support network where you can. You may not be able to have someone take the baby as easily while you get some rest at this stage if they are being very clingy - but if someone is offering to do a shop for you, put a load of washing on, or cook you a hot meal - take the help.

As always, if you feel you would like my one-to-one help, check out my sleep support packages, or hop on your free 15 minute introductory call. Or in the meantime, head over to my Instagram page for all my latest free help and tips.

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