You spent hours and days setting your baby up on a successful sleep schedule, but a cold arrives. Now, your sick baby won’t sleep.
What can a parent do?
The reality is that ALL parents face this. Sick babies need plenty of love and care rather than forcing them to sleep – it doesn’t help.
My kids have had colds, an ear infection, tummy bugs, and all sorts of problems. This especially is true once they start going to daycare or the big sibling goes to school during the flu season.
Whoa buddy – so many germs!
This is a time when your baby REALLY needs you. It’s easy to understand why sickness disrupts sleep so much – even adults struggle when congested to get a good nights rest.
Don’t worry; being sick won’t change your baby’s good sleeping habits forever. Right now, you have to focus on getting your sick baby who won’t sleep as much rest as possible, so their little body can heal and fight off the virus.
Do Babies Have a Hard Time Sleeping When Sick?
Babies have a hard time sleeping when they’re sick, even though sleep is the best medicine when illness strikes. The more sleep they get, the better their body fights sicknesses.
The problem is that babies tend to wake more frequently when they sleep. This typically happens because of congestion, ear aches, or belly aches.
Your baby went from sleeping through the night to waking up in the middle of the night several times.
Think about when you feel sick. You might have a stuffy nose, a sore throat, or a cough that won’t stop. All you want is to sleep, but as soon as you get to sleep, you feel like you can’t breathe and wake him up!
What Do You Do When Your Sick Baby Won’t Sleep?
The first time I had a sick child, I didn’t expect to lose so much sleep. Common colds will disrupt your baby’s sleep schedule rapidly, turning a good sleeper into a newborn again.
It’s like sleep regression, but the good news is it only lasts for the course of their illness. With the right tricks, you’ll be back to getting a good night’s sleep and no more night wakings shortly.
Here are some of the most important things to do when your sick baby won’t sleep.
1. Maintain Normal Bedtime and Nap Routines
Your little one’s body recognizes your typical routines for bedtime and nap time. These cues help your baby know that sleep is coming, helping their body wind down.
Now isn’t the time to change your routine. Stick to the same routine each day!
If your baby typically wears a sleep sack or a sleeping bag, continue that, and using lotion or taking a bath before bed are all helpful when your baby is sick.
2. Let Your Baby Nap Longer
If you notice that your sick baby wants to nap longer, that’s okay! It’s normal to cap nap times when your baby isn’t sick because you want them to go to bed at their normal time.
Sickness is different.
Our bodies need sleep to heal, so if you notice that your child needs more sleep during naps, let them sleep!
Of course, if you notice that he is napping longer than three hours, consider waking him up so he has plenty of awake time before the next nap or bedtime.
3. Consider an Extra Nap
If your baby is down to one nap, it’s possible they might need more than one nap per day when sick.
Sleep helps your baby get better, and staying out of a sleep debt increases the speed of their recovery. If you have to add another nap, stay away from sleeping too close to bedtime.
4. Let Baby Sleep in Your Room or Camp in Her Room
This is a parental decision; neither is right or wrong. Remember, the AAP recommends room-sharing for a minimum of six months but upward of a year offers reasonable benefits for your baby.
I know I always want my sick baby near me, and I realize they sleep better.
For some babies who sleep in their room, transitioning back to their own room is hard. So, some parents sleep on a mattress in their bay’s room.
That prevents the sleeping environment from changing, but you can keep an eye on your baby.
You also might prefer to put your baby in a co-sleeper, bassinet, or other safe sleeping surfaces in your room. This is a personal choice – decide what works for you and your family.
5. It’s Okay to Rock or Pat to Sleep
If your sick baby won’t sleep, it’s okay to rock or pat them to sleep. I noticed that my babies often didn’t want to lay down and go to sleep on their own.
Sick babies are different!
You might have to rock or pat their backs; that’s okay!
6. Nighttime Hydration is Important
Depending on your baby and his age, he may or may not still take a bottle or nurse in the middle of the night.
However, when you have a sick baby who won’t sleep, hydration is vital. Not only does hydration help thin out mucus, but it also helps with calories and get better faster.
This is true even if you have a night weaned baby!
7. Run a Humidifier
One of the things that really helps my sick babies who won’t sleep is a cool-mist humidifier. These really help with babies who are congested and coughing.
All you have to do is set it on a dresser or a flat surface in the room with your baby.
A cool mist dehumidifier helps your baby breathe easier, decreasing the chances of waking up in the middle of the night.
8. Clear Out Congestion
Congestion is what makes sleeping so difficult at times. Aside from the humidifier, you can try a few other things.
- Use saline drops and a Nose Frida to suction out mucus.
- Stay hydrated!
- Take a warm bath before bedtime. Warm water and steam helps to clear our congestion. It also soothes achy muscles from being sick.
- Sit in a room with a steamy shower!
9. Try Vicks BabyRub
Despite what you might have heard, Vicks BabyRub is safe for babies as young as three months old up to five years old.
It really helps your baby stop coughing when they go to bed. Apply it before bedtime, and they’ll be ablate breathe easier.
10. Medicate if Needed
If your baby has a fever, Tylenol or Motrin are safe for babies, depending on the age. Make sure you talk to their pediatrician to get the right dosage amount!
Always keep an eye out for a high fever that would warrant a trip to the doctors.
11. Cuddle All The Time
Sometimes, the best remedy when your baby is sick is all the cuddles possible.
Science shows us that skin-to-skin contact for young babies helps to speed healing. Give your baby plenty of cuddle time throughout the day.
Avoid too much overstimulation, and if you notice your baby needs a quick cat nap, let it happen. Sick babies easily get overtired.
Should a Congested Baby Sleep in an Elevated Position?
Some parents have their baby sleep in an elevated position while sick. Make sure you speak to your baby about this before doing so because it’s generally not recommended for safe sleep.
The only time elevated sleep is safe is if the parent is awake and holding their baby. Otherwise, these aren’t deemed safe for infant sleep.
You might see a suggestion to lift the head of your baby’s crib or use a sleeping wedge, but it’s best to consult with your pediatrician. We know sleeping on a flat surface is best for infants.
How Do You Get Your Baby Back on a Sleep Schedule After Being Sick?
Don’t stress; your baby will get back to their sleep schedule after being sick.
The first thing you have to do is make sure your baby is totally better. The last thing you want to do is start working on their schedule only to realize that your baby is still sick.
An average illness lasts two to five days with your baby typically starting to mend by the three or fourth day. However, if your baby has a high fever, those illnesses might take longer!
Here are a few tricks.
- Stick to their bedtime and nap time routine throughout everything. This will greatly help you when your baby feels better.
- If you brought your baby into your room to sleep, start naps back in your baby’s bedroom before moving them back at night.
- Expect a few more night wakings as your baby adjusts to life again.
- You might have to go through the sleep training process again if your baby feels totally better a week or two after their sickness.
Ideally, you’ll prevent illnesses in the first place. That’s not always possible, nor is it as simple as it sounds.
This is so true when your baby goes to daycare, has play dates with other babies, and crawls around on the ground – hello, germs!
Here are some basic groundwork steps to preventing illnesses to the best of your ability.
- Keep their immune system healthy breastfeeding and, once introduced to solids, ensure they eat plenty of fruits and veggies.
- Stay a habit of hand washing early in life.
- Keep toys clean, especially ones that go into their mouth daily.
- Have a sick policy for daycare, and try to keep your kids home if there are tons of sick kids at daycare or school.
- Skip playdates when you know your friends’ kids have signs of sicknesses.
If your sick baby won’t sleep, you aren’t alone. All parents face this when their baby ends up with viral infections, ear infections, or other sicknesses. Use these tricks to help your baby get a good night’s rest and vital restorative sleep they need to get better faster.