The days of the flu and cold season are upon us. Run and hide… in your own beds. That includes your baby who should stay in their bed too.
You have worked so hard to get your baby sleep trained. And along comes a cold to ruin all your hard work. Having a sick baby is hard enough as it is. Knowing that it might erase all your efforts and you might have to start all over again. Or are you in the middle of sleep training and at a loss about what to do while your baby is sick?
Read on for some simple tips for dealing with your sick baby and their sleep.
Sleep During Illness
Now isn’t the time to start…
If you just started sleep training, you will probably want to stop. You can resume sleep training when your child is completely healthy and symptom-free. Make sure to get your pediatrician’s ok once you are ready to start again.
Do not start sleep training while your baby is sick. They will need extra care and comfort during this time to meet their needs. This is not the time to teach them to be an independent sleeper.
But keep going
If you have already made tons of progress with sleep training you might not want to abandon it. In that case, you can continue the sleep training process with a gentler touch.
Avoid re-introducing sleep props
No matter whether you are abandoning sleep training or continuing – try to not re-introduce sleep props. If you have managed to remove their pacifier, stop rocking to sleep, not give an extra bottle – there’s no reason to start again.
Reintroducing a sleep prop after you have managed to remove it might make it harder to get your baby to give it up again.
It is vital that you attend to your baby’s symptoms while they are sick per your pediatrician’s recommendations.
If your baby is dealing with congestion you can use saline drops to help them breathe easier.
As for coughing, many babies actually do well sleeping through their cough, so don’t assume they need help. To minimize coughing you can run a cool-mist humidifier in the baby’s room.
If your pediatrician approves fever-reducing medications make sure you are giving those on the recommended schedule. If your child needs extra hydration give them extra milk and try to keep your baby awake while you do so. This helps ensure that they do not begin (or restart) associating feeding with falling asleep.
Offer comfort & extra sleep
In addition to treating your baby’s symptoms, you will probably want to comfort them more when they are sick. So go ahead – console, hold, rock – just don’t do it to the point of them falling asleep. This helps ensure the sleep training efforts you have put in so far do not go to waste.
Your baby might require extra sleep to get better. So don’t worry if they want to sleep more often or longer than usual. Sleep really is the best medicine. So let their little body decide how much sleep they need – both for the day and night. You don’t need to worry about maintaining a schedule during illness.
Above all, trust yourself. You know your child best. You know what they need.
If your baby knew how to fall asleep on their own before they got sick they still do.
Your child’s ability to fall asleep independently does not disappear just because they are sick. Your baby needs comfort. They need their nose cleared. They might need medicine or extra milk. Most sleep-trained babies do not need help falling asleep even while sick.
On the other hand sickness and discomfort that comes with that can make it more difficult for babies to fall and stay asleep.
If you’ve tried more hands-off approaches and your baby is still struggling, you may need to give them a little extra help. Rub their back in the crib or pick them up for a little bit to soothe them and then put them down again.
Try to maintain their ability to fall asleep independently no matter what else you have to do.
Keep baby in their own bed
It can be so tempting to bring your child into bed with you when they are sick. It is easier to comfort them and they are closer to you. But stay strong. As I said above, if your baby was falling asleep on their own before they got sick, there’s no reason to have them join you in bed.
If you want to keep a close eye on them you have two options. You can watch them on a baby video monitor. Or you can join them in the same room but sleep separately on a mattress, another bed, or a couch while keeping them in their crib. That way you are close. But not too close.
Don’t rush in
Your sick child will probably wake more during sleep than they do normally. Being sick does that. It’s what you do to handle those wake-ups that will make the biggest difference.
If your baby wakes up – let him try to put himself back to sleep on his own, just like you would normally. Give your baby a few minutes to settle back down before you go in and try to help. They might not need it. And you will have avoided putting yourself between them and their sleep.
Sleep After Illness
Once your baby is healthy again, reassess where you are and proceed.
If the illness was brief and you managed to maintain most of what you taught your baby… carry on. Continue encouraging your baby to fall asleep independently and maintain their skills.
You can always retrain
If you did ‘fall off the wagon’ and wound up helping your baby fall asleep by rocking, feeding, or shushing – don’t worry. You didn’t ruin everything. It’s always possible to retrain your baby back to being sleep trained after they feel better. Check in with your pediatrician and proceed once you have their ok.
If the transition back to independent sleep is taking longer than a few weeks it might be time to reach out for some help. We are always here to help with sleep training, whether you are trying to get back on track or just starting the process. Click below to schedule your free call.
Rest, Recover, Restart
When our child is sick it can be hard for us as parents. We want to hold them and make them feel better right away. The best thing you can do for your sick baby is allow them to get the rest they need while supporting their good sleep habits. You can always restart sleep training once they feel better. But it will be easier if you don’t have to.
I am…a sleep coach who has helped thousands of children find better sleep over the last 10+ years. My team and I have witnessed babies who went from waking every hour to sleeping a solid 12 hours all on their own. We’ve seen toddlers find consistent napping schedules, easier bedtimes, and learn to stay in their beds all night. And I know what those exhausting, sleepless nights feel like because I was there once too. If you’re new here…welcome! You can learn more about me and why I’m so passionate about helping parents get their children sleeping here.