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Sleep Training While Baby Is Sick

It feels like it never fails. You decide it’s time to get serious about sleep. Three days in, things are going okay, and your baby starts to cough, spike a fever, or get an ear infection. Come on, universe! Why?? So now what do you do? Can you sleep train while your baby is sick? Let’s talk about the difference between these two things: Taking a pause and calling it quits.

Sleep and Sickness

When your little one gets sick, parents go into survival mode. We want to help our baby feel better, but know that one of the best things for sick kids is sleep, so here are a few tips to stay on track. If you’re in the middle of a sleep training method, please take a moment to pause. This doesn’t mean throwing everything out the window. It simply means adding extra steps to ensure your little one stays comfortable. 

  1. Comfort is Key: Focus on providing extra comfort and soothing measures. This might involve more cuddle time, gentle rocking, or allowing your baby to nap in your arms.
  1. Flexible Routine: I know that I say be consistent like it’s my mantra, but when your little one is sick, be open to adjusting the sleep schedule. Your baby’s body is working hard to fight off illness, and flexibility can alleviate additional stress for both of you. You may notice your baby wants to sleep longer or go to bed earlier. Honor their body’s signals. My only caution is to cap day sleep at around 4 ½ hours if under 12 months old. Much more than that may disrupt night sleep. If your toddler is over 12 months old, cap day sleep at 3 hours. 

My Baby Has a Cold

Always consult with your doctor if your little one is sick, especially if they have a high fever, signs of an ear infection, a rash, or are refusing food. But as a mom of 4 and a long-time sleep consultant, here are a few tips to get you through the common cold.

  • Hydration: Ensure your baby stays well-hydrated. Offer breastmilk or formula more often. They may only be able to eat a little at a time, especially if there is lots of congestion. The mucus in their belly can make them feel full. Eating smaller amounts more frequently can keep them hydrated and keep their calories up, which may help prevent an uptake in overnight feedings.
  • Humidifier: Use a cool-mist humidifier in the nursery to ease congestion and promote better breathing. I also use a diffuser with some essential oils. I like eucalyptus and peppermint oils to promote open airways. You can also speak to your doctor about using Baby Vicks for a cough or stuffy nose. 
  • Avoid Elevating the Sleep Area: I do NOT recommend elevating your baby’s mattress. Talk to your pediatrician if any changes need to be made to your child’s mattress or sleep environment. 
  • Natural Remedies: Consider using natural remedies like saline drops for the nose or a warm, steamy bath, depending on your pediatrician’s advice.
  • Go to Them: If your little one needs to be monitored overnight or they are restless in their sleep, I always recommend parents sleep in their child’s room not the other way around. Keeping them in their own space encourages better sleep and avoids unnecessary disruptions. Pull out a small mattress and crash on their floor. When they feel better, you can head back to your room, and they can stay right where they are. 

Managing the Stomach Bug with Kids

The stomach bug is the worst, and I’ve never met a toddler who could make it to the toilet before they barf, so there’s usually a lot of cleanup involved. Here are a few things I’ve learned from many bouts with the stomach flu.

  • Drink First Food Later: When our kids stop eating, it can feel panicky, but if they’re throwing up or have diarrhea for a day or two, it’s okay not to push meals. Offer lots of breastmilk, formula or clear liquids high in electrolytes. This will keep their blood sugar up and keep them hydrated.
  • Share the Room, Not the Bed: As mentioned above, it’s way easier to move a parent out of a room than to move a kid out of a bed. I have spent many nights laying on my kid’s floor with a bowl to catch puke.
  • Ideas On Liquids: Start with ice chips for any child drinking water, typically over six months. If they can keep down ice, move to Pedialyte diluted with water. Toddlers may like diluted Gatorade. You can also make pedialyte popsicles and have them in the bath.

Getting Back to Normal After Sickness

Knowing when to return to normal can be difficult. Coughs are tough because they can last for weeks. Some basic back-to-normal signs are no fever for at least 24 hours, keeping food and drink down for 24 hours, three days on antibiotics, and being cleared through a doctor. So once you feel they are doing better and you’re ready to resume sleep training, take a deep breath and get back to it. It can feel like a setback, but if you were making progress before, you can make progress again.

  1. Slow Reintroduction: Ease back into the routine slowly. Start with one aspect of the sleep training, such as a consistent bedtime, before reintroducing other elements.
  1. Reestablish Consistency: Children thrive on routine. Reestablish a consistent sleep schedule, emphasizing the familiar cues your baby associates with bedtime.
  1. Comfort Objects: For children over one-year-old, introduce or reinforce comfort objects, such as a favorite blanket or soft toy, to provide reassurance during the transition.
  1. Patience is Key: Recognize that your baby may take a few nights to readjust fully. Be patient and offer extra comfort as needed.

Getting back on track after illness is possible, but it can feel overwhelming. Book a free call with me if you’d like support! 

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