Updated: Oct 28, 2022
Babies have a deep need for attachment. They cannot properly function without physical
contact and closeness. Many sleep challenges also have to do with the need to connect and be close. If baby is not feeling connected to their parents, all they will be able to think about is achieving this closeness. This is similar to when you are hungry all you can think about is food, all they can think about is physical connection.
Attachment instincts are already present at birth (mainly surrounding feeding) and separation is an extreme threat to the newborn. When facing separation, baby will go through three emotions: pursuit (trying to restore proximity), alarm (children rely on their caregiver to be taken care of and may avoid any separation that alarms), frustration (we will be moved to fix the separation problem). So when you use tactics that promote separation (saying “bye” to get your toddler to come with you, leaving the room during sleep training, telling your child you are going to leave if they don’t lie down, etc), you may get the response you want, but this is only due to the fact that your child is trying to avoid separation. They are also being placed in a state of alarm and frustration.
In their first year of life, babies are only able to attach through the senses. This means that if they cannot sense the parent is there, they are facing separation. They need to be able to smell, hear, touch, or see the parent. Therefore, sleep is the biggest threat of separation. By creating a calming association with sleep, you can help your little one learn that sleep is a safe place. You can also help bridge this separation by sleeping with your baby’s sheets or sleep sack so they smell like you. Roomsharing is also beneficial here as baby is still able to remain close to you during sleep.
Babies cannot become too attached, and only through dependence can you build independence. Our babies first have to rely on us and build strong attachments to move through the attachment stages and become an independent individual. You also cannot spoil your baby, so soak up all the cuddles!