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My Sick Baby Won't Sleep

Babies and children get sick. It’s one of those unpleasant facts of life. And now is the time of year for colds, fevers, upper respiratory infections, strep throat, stomach viruses and the list goes on.

As a mom you know the drill, call the pediatrician, tell the nurse your child’s symptoms, get an appointment, sit yourselves in that “sick” waiting room…And the two things we want more than anything when our kids are sick is that they get better as quickly as possible and that they sleep. Our wish for sleep when our babies are sick is not a selfish one, it’s that we know that sleep is needed for the body to fight illness and recover.

I want to give you some tips for handling sickness so that you don’t derail all of your sleep progress for a child who has been sleep like a champ before sickness hit. There are a few things that you do need to keep in mind.

The first is your baby is going to wake in the night. Even an adult who is ill does not sleep as well as they normally do when they are feeling healthy. We tend to have two, five, even more nighttime wake-ups from congestion or upset stomach or body aches.

It is realistic to expect that your sick child is going to have some night wake-ups too. How you handle those wake-ups will make all the difference.

One of the big mistakes parents make is that they start to intervene in their child’s sleep skills. Meaning they go into the nursery and rock or feed again. They try to lull baby to sleep in their arms or go back to all their old sleep props.

I understand why parents do that because we all want nothing more than to comfort our baby when she’s sick. I’m not saying you shouldn’t comfort her. You can absolutely can and should.

Have a short cuddle, wipe her nose, give her a drink of water, whatever you need to do to offer some comfort, but you don’t want to interfere with her sleep skills.

You should not rock her back to sleep. You should not feed her back to sleep . You should not reintroduce any of those sleep props that you have worked so hard to overcome.

The only time you would ever go back to a nighttime feed, obviously, is if your doctor suggests it. If your baby has had a high fever for several days, your pediatrician might recommend that she needs some extra fluids through the night. In that case re-introducing a night feed is ok.

You want to make sure that those doctor recommended night feeds only happen for a few nights though. Three is my rule of thumb. If anything happens for more than three nights, then there is the danger that your baby is going to now expect this new routine and start waking up looking for feeds even once the sickness is gone.

Another big mistake I see parents make when their child is sick is that they bring their baby into bed with them. Again, I understand it. My second son had chronic ear infections for at least a year of his life.

I understand where that desire comes from. As a parent all you want to do is comfort your sick child. If you are really concerned about your child through the night though, it is much better for you to go to him than to bring him to you.

Throw down an air mattress or a sleeping bag if you have to. Spend a night or two in his room to keep a close and watchful eye on him. I give this advice with the caveat of remembering my rule of threes, try not to do it for any longer than three nights or you might find yourself six months later still sleeping on the floor beside his crib.

If everything falls apart during the sickness, cut yourself some slack and give yourself grace. Sometimes it happens. You are human after all. Know that as soon as your baby is well again, just get right back on track with independent sleep skills. This means no sleeping in your bed, no feeding to sleep and no rocking to sleep.

Just start again. You know that she can do this. It is just a matter of proving to her that she needs to use her own skills once again.

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