Sleep Training When Your Baby is Sick
Just like adults, babies have a hard time sleeping when they’re sick. A sick baby sleeps more than he does when he’s well, but the sleep is broken up with frequent wakings. (Similar to how newborns sleep 19 hours a day but you’d never know it based on how often they wake!)
It’s hard enough to see your baby sick, and when you throw sleep training into the mix it can really feel overwhelming.
Can I go to my baby when she’s crying?
Can I bring her into my bed?
Will I ruin the good sleep habits I’ve worked so hard to build?
The most important thing to remember when your baby is sick is that sleep disturbances are temporary. Once your baby gets better, you can easily fix things. So don’t stress. Focus on helping your baby heal.
Here’s how you can get through your baby’s sickness while doing as little damage as possible to her sleep habits:
Step 1: Where are you in the sleep training process?
You are in one of two places: Before Sleep Training or After Sleep Training.
Before: You’re considering sleep training but haven’t yet begun. OR, you have started sleep training but are only one or two nights in and have not seen much progress yet.
After: You have completed sleep training and your baby usually sleeps through the night. OR, you’re still in the middle of sleep training but are already a week or two into the process and have started to see significant progress.
If you’re in the “Before” Category
If you’ve just decided to start sleep training and your baby comes down with a cold or illness within the first few days, it’s usually a good idea to put sleep training on hold until your baby recovers. His little body is working hard to heal and you don’t want to add more stress. Comfort your baby and treat his symptoms. In a few days, when he’s been symptom-free for 48 hours, you can begin again.
The only exception to this rule would be if the cold or sickness is so mild that you feel your baby is not in any distress or discomfort. In this case, give your pediatrician a quick call and hear his thoughts. If your pediatrician gives the go-ahead and you feel comfortable with the idea, you may choose to continue sleep training if the cold is really that mild.
If you’re in the “After” Category
If you’re a week or two deep into the sleep training process or have completed sleep training and your baby comes down with something, here’s my advice:
- Tend to your baby as soon as you hear him wake. Go to him as soon as you hear him and treat his symptoms. This means Tylenol or Motrin as instructed by your pediatrician, saline drops, and a Nose Frida for a stuffy nose or a cool-mist humidifier.
- Feed your baby at night if she’s dehydrated or didn’t eat well during the day. Do this even if you’ve been working on eliminating night feedings or your baby hasn’t had a night feeding in months.
- Don’t do any physical actions that will help your baby fall asleep (rocking, holding, patting). Do what it takes to help her get better, but don’t take her into your bed or let her fall asleep in your arms. If you’ve brought your baby into bed with you in the past when she’s been sick, you can reverse that now by sleeping in her room with her. Bring a mattress into her room and sleep on the floor next to her crib. This way you can provide reassurance while maintaining some form of independent sleep.
- Let naps go longer if her body wants to. While it’s usually not a good idea to let any daytime nap exceed 2 hours, if your baby doesn’t wake after 2 hours when she’s sick, it’s ok to let her go for another 30 minutes or so. Sleep is medicine! Just make sure to wake her to eat after 2.5 -3 hours.
- Don’t worry about keeping to a strict schedule when your baby is sick. Sleep truly is medicine for your baby, so let her get what she needs. You can get right back on track once she’s better. Keep in mind that babies need more physical comfort and loving care when they are sick- so dole that out in large, yummy doses!
If you want to bed-share during your baby’s illness or want to rock her to sleep, you can: just be prepared to re-train her once she’s better. You’ll be back at square one, which is totally fine if that’s what works for you and your family.
It’s important to know that babies get sick often. It’s normal for a baby to catch seven colds before his first birthday – so hang tight and keep those hands washed. Feel good!