When it comes to sleep training and sick babies, I often hear from exasperated parents, “What do I do if my baby is sick?”
This is a valid question since we all know that sickness can make your baby uncomfortable, in turn making sleep more difficult. But at the same time, you’ve worked so hard to get your sleep routines in place that you don’t want your little cherub to completely fall by the wayside during a bout of sickness.
Here I’ll give you strategies to help your sick baby sleep better while giving them all the snuggles and love, too. The goal with more sleep is to get your baby recuperated as fast as possible to get back to their happy and healthy little selves.
How Sickness Can Affect Your Baby’s Sleep
We’ve all been sick which means you can empathize with your baby and what they’re going through. Whether it’s a fever, congestion, a tummy bug or something else, you know it leaves you feeling pretty crummy. And even though you’re exhausted and unable to get out of bed, that sleep often comes in fitful bursts. Consider this when thinking about what your baby is going through (and they likely have a lower threshold for these discomforts than you do!)
Their little bodies are working hard to fight off something and research confirms that most illnesses lead to increased sleep needs. Medical News Today recommends that babies, at a minimum, get in their recommended sleep needs which can be seen in the following chart depending on age:
It’s also not unlikely that your baby will sleep beyond those recommended requirements while they are on the mend.
As a parent you know how important it is to get your baby the sleep they need, but also understand that the discomfort sickness can bring often disrupts sleep much more than usual. We know you want more than anything to help your baby get back to feeling good and that also means helping them get the sleep that is necessary.
So how do you go about getting your sick baby to sleep enough?
What Matters Most When Your Baby is Sick
Babies often have a hard enough time as it is getting into a groove with their sleep that when sickness strikes, it can definitely feel like your baby is reverting back to their old ways.
But even though sleeping enough while sick is super important, we can’t forget how helpful hugs and snuggles are for healing, too.
So, first things first.
Before you get too worked up about the disrupted sleep patterns your sick baby is experiencing just take a deep breath. Having a sick little one can be stressful, so keep your primary focus on keeping your baby well rested, hydrated, and loved (while being sure to take care of yourself, too!)
When your baby wakes up (and I know it’s tough to drag yourself out of bed at 2 am) they want nothing more than to be in your arms. Waking up with fever, body aches, congestion, etc. feels yucky and they will need your ultimate comfort and support.
For these reasons, I always recommend tending to your child if they need you in the middle of the night when they are sick REGARDLESS of where they are in the sleep training process.
- If your baby was a great sleeper prior to getting sick, they will most likely return to their good habits once they are feeling better.
- If you have a less consistent sleeper or are early in the sleep training process, then it’s best to prioritize their health and implement changes when they are no longer ill. (And be sure to consult with your pediatrician before moving forward with sleep training when they are back to feeling their best.)
Now that you know that TLC is number one for a sick baby, let’s talk about my top tips for helping your baby get the sleep they need to feel their best.
5 Ways to Help Your Sick Baby Sleep Better
Whether you’re preparing for cold and flu season or your little guy or gal is experiencing a random bout of sickness, these are my go to sleep tips to help your sweet babe get back to feeling good.
1. Continue with a solid schedule and consistent routine.
Babies thrive off of routine, even when they are sick. In fact, they will depend on comforting habits even more than they typically do (especially when those habits include lots of hugs and kisses from mom and dad!).
Continue reading books, singing songs, and offering extra snuggles to help them feel extra secure.
Do be sure to start that routine on time, if not a bit earlier than normal. That will ensure you’re not rushing to fit everything in before you have an overtired baby on your hands. Because sickness can cause your baby to become tired more easily, you want to start your baby’s sleep routine at the first sign of sleepiness.
For more on sleep cues to look for read: How to Get and Overtired Baby to Sleep
2. Extended naps are fine, but focus on an earlier bedtime.
Children need sleep when they are sick in order to help their bodies recover. Which means it’s not unusual for a baby to keep sleeping beyond the time that their naptime usually ends.
It’s ok to let your baby take a bit longer naps while they are sick, but be mindful that they should also stay hydrated as they rest more during the day. Meaning, you don’t want to accidentally skip any feeds.
For this reason, limit naps to 3 hours, and make sure they are drinking plenty of breastmilk or formula (WebMD writes that babies under 6 months should never be given water even when they are sick., though you may offer a couple of ounces to an older baby.)
Because night sleep is more restorative than day sleep, it’s preferable to implement an earlier bedtime when they are sick as opposed to taking several long naps. This longer bout of sleep will help them rest and recover more quickly.
3. It’s ok to break the rules!
Remember when our babies are sick, we should be there for them! They need comfort and reassurance as well as assistance so they can get back to sleep. This is not the time to be rigid about your baby’s sleep schedule or stress about any out of the norm wake-ups.
While your little one is sick, don’t be afraid to feed, rock, or lie down next to your baby to help them sleep. Normally considered “sleep props” that can interfere with sleep training, none of this applies to a sick baby. If those extra comforts mean your baby will calm down and relax, do it! They’ll likely fall back to sleep faster.
And what if you end up with a baby sleeping on you for nap time? Not to worry! As much as it tugs on our mama hearts to see our babies sick, soaking in those extra snuggles is pretty darn special.
It’s more important to be in tune with what’s going on with your baby at this time than to worry about instilling bad habits.
4. Use further soothing sleep methods.
If you’ve typically had a good sleeper, you may not have had to pull out all the stops to relax your baby to help them sleep. Or perhaps they’ve been on a great sleeping track and it’s been awhile! But now is the time to dig into your mama toolbox to help calm your baby to prepare them for sleep.
Several can be found in the article, “8 of the Best Baby Sleep Aids You’ll Want to Be Using” including these few favorites:
- The Dreamland Baby Weighted Swaddle or Sack - Even though your baby won’t be sick for long, we recommend utilizing a weighted swaddle or sleep sack to help your baby sleep all the time!
- Baby Massage - Though we love this as part of a regular sleep routine, it will be a treat for a baby that’s under the weather.
- Using Lavender Essential Oil - Lavender has calming and sedative effects, making it the perfect oil to diffuse in your baby’s room (or use with infant massage) if they aren’t feeling well.
If you used something in the past with your baby that you know works well (with keeping safety number one of course), we recommend trying it as it will likely be a great way to help your baby get the sleep they need.
5. Talk to your doctor about the best medication or remedies.
You’ll always want to consult with your pediatrician prior to administering any new medications or using new remedies.
Tylenol is often prescribed to help with fever and body aches. Even though Healthline Parenthood advises a consult with your child’s pediatrician before giving them any, they go on to say that most pediatricians encourage the short-term use of Tylenol in younger babies in certain circumstances. That’s because it will ease your baby’s pain or discomfort in turn helping them sleep. Your doctor may also prescribe Motrin if your baby is older than 6 months.
Additional remedies may include a cool-mist humidifier, saline drops, or a Nose Frida. These can help keep stuffy noses clear and aid in breaking up congestion.
This is the time to advocate for your baby and talk to your doctor and their first sign of illness. I also recommend discussing the best methods for keeping your baby hydrated. For a younger baby, it’s usually breast milk or formula, but for an older baby, your doctor may suggest Gatorade or Pedialyte.
What about sleep disruption from teething?
Aside from sickness, the next common concern from parents is teething. Teething can be very confusing because our babies often show “signs” such as drooling, bringing their hands to their mouth, excessive crankiness, or an elevated temperature (notice I did not say fever). Though this is a typical milestone and not a sickness, you will see some similarities to when your baby is ill.
These symptoms do not mean a tooth is about to come through and teething should not be blamed for weeks or months of disrupted sleep. It can however impact sleep the 48-72 hours before the tooth erupts. Keep a close eye on your babies’ gums and look for swelling or a white nub under the surface of the gum. Once you’re certain that tooth is on its way, you will want to offer some relief to your baby.
Here’s a quick solution to help your teething baby sleep better:
I recommend freezing clean, wet wash cloths for baby to chew on when their feeling pain. You can also try putting frozen grapes into the Munchkin Feeder for quick relief. Tylenol or Motrin before bed can help with pain, and as always, consult your pediatrician before administering any medication to your child.
Remember that teething does not cause fever! This a misconception. Teething can cause an elevated temperature (think 99 and change) but anything over 100.4 is a fever and should not be contributed to teething. Additionally, other symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, or refusing breast or bottle are not caused by teething. Please consult your pediatrician if your baby is experiencing any of those symptoms mentioned.
For further help in helping your teething baby sleep, read: “Soothing a Teething Baby at Night: Our Best Methods.”
Post-Sickness Sleep Regression
When your baby is back on the mend it is such a giant relief. It can be concerning and stressful to have a sick baby who can’t tell you what they’re feeling. Seeing those feel good smiles again from your baby are priceless.
But keep in mind that your baby may experience a “post sickness regression” due to the (necessary) disrupted sleep pattern they just experienced.
Perhaps your baby got a little too used to those extra middle-of-the-night snuggles and is now waking up needing to be soothed back to sleep. This can be extremely frustrating for parents whose child was sleeping well before they got sick, however you should feel comforted knowing that a baby who has good sleep habits prior to getting sick has the ability to re-learn them in under a week.
If you had previously sleep trained your baby, I recommend implementing your original method once they are feeling better.
Always make sure your baby is 100% recovered from their illness before moving forward with any sleep intervention plan. If you’re looking for support in getting your baby back on track after sickness, I offer a variety of package options including strategy calls and 1-2-week support packages.
Better Sleep = Healthy Baby Sooner!
It definitely takes some extra work to help your baby sleep their best when they're not feeling well, and disrupted sleep is to be expected. But using the above strategies alongside a whole lot of extra loving care will help your baby get the restorative rest they need to feel better fast.
If you're looking for support through your sleep journey, Lauren offers customized plans and approaches. To learn more about her services, visit her website, Lolo Lullaby, or follow her on Instagram or Facebook @lololullaby for even more advice on sleep training.
More FAQs About Dealing with Sickness:
What is the most common illness for a baby?
There are several common childhood illnesses that your baby may experience during the first year or two of life. Many of these illnesses can affect the quality and duration of their sleep.
Mild coughs and colds are some of the most common illnesses that you can expect your baby to experience in their first year of life. Your little one may also experience viral gastroenteritis (also known as the stomach flu), especially if they attend daycare or another childcare setting.
How can I tell if my baby is sick or just fussy?
Fussiness can be caused by everything from colic or gas to boredom, sleepiness, or hunger.
Therefore, it can be difficult to tell when your little one is experiencing something more than “normal” fussiness like a common childhood illness.
The most tell-tale marker of illness is usually an elevated temperature or fever. Other indicators that your baby might be sick and not just fussy include congestion, trouble breathing, sneezing, coughing, upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting, and signs of dehydration. The presence of some or all of these symptoms is a pretty good sign that your child is experiencing an actual illness and isn’t just fussy.
A change in behavior or sleep patterns is another common sign that your child is sick. They may cry more often, refuse to eat or drink, and sleep more or less than usual. They may become lethargic and experience a decrease in their normal activity levels.
Some of these signs may also accompany teething, so be sure to check your child’s gums for signs of new teeth beginning to break through. If you’re concerned about your baby in any way, contact your pediatrician as soon as possible. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
When do most babies get sick for the first time?
Many babies get sick for the first time when they begin visiting daycare or another childcare setting. It’s common for babies to come down with several illnesses during their first year of life as their immune system encounters new viruses and bacteria. If they have older siblings, their odds of getting sick increase even more. In fact, medical professionals say it is not uncommon for your baby to experience as many as 6-12 infections during their first year.
Can a sick baby sleep on stomach?
AAP guidelines recommend that you put your baby to sleep on their back until the age of 1, although many babies begin to roll over on their own during the night starting around the age of 6 months (or even earlier). It’s usually OK to allow your little one to sleep in this position once this milestone occurs.
But, what about when they are sick?
If your baby is congested, safe sleep becomes even more important. This includes creating a safe sleep environment and ensuring that you are regularly checking on your baby throughout the night. If your child is old enough to roll over on their own (which typically happens around the age of 5-6 months) it should be ok for them to sleep on their stomach even while sick.
Keep in mind that the exhaustion that often accompanies different illnesses could mean that your little one may have trouble regulating their own comfort and positioning during their sleep. If it seems like your baby is struggling to breathe during the night, be sure to take steps to alleviate their congestion or distress and consider rolling them back over onto their back.
Consider moving your child’s bassinet into your room when they are sick so you can keep a closer eye on them overnight, and try to stay close by when your sick child is napping during the day. This way you can catch any troubling signs early.
When in doubt, talk to your child’s pediatrician about how to ensure safe sleep while they are sick.
Is it normal for a sick baby to sleep all day?
Even adults typically enjoy sleeping (or at least resting) all day when they are sick. The same is true when your baby is experiencing symptoms of an illness.
Getting enough rest helps your baby’s immune system fight off their illness and recover more quickly. You should expect their sleep routine and nap schedule to be altered during and even after an illness. Monitor your baby even if they’re sleeping and if you have any concerns, contact your pediatrician.
How much sleep is too much for a sick baby?
One of the most important things to keep in mind during a childhood illness is avoiding dehydration. Sleeping too much can lead to dehydration which can be dangerous for children of all ages but particularly for babies and toddlers.
Therefore, many pediatricians recommend waking your baby regularly (about every 2-3 hours) to ensure they are getting enough formula or breastmilk.
But, when your baby is very ill, it may be difficult to even wake them for a feeding. They may be drowsy or sluggish even when awake, and not as alert or active as usual. These symptoms can be caused by everything from the common cold to a more serious infection like influenza or meningitis. These infections can lead to complications and should be watched more closely. Likewise, babies who become dehydrated may require hospitalization and IV treatment.
So if your little one seems particularly lethargic and drowsy, be sure to check with their pediatrician or consider a visit to your local emergency room. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your baby’s health.