What do I do about sleep when my baby is sick

Having a sick baby can be incredibly stressful. Not only are they unwell, which in itself is terrible, but being sick can also upset a baby’s sleep, both day and night. Once the baby has recovered, however, the terrible sleeping can often continue.

Ailments like fevers, colds and gastro can cause a baby to wake regularly and be unsettled overnight. Babies are generally nose breathers so if they can’t breathe normally through their nose because it is blocked or just stuffy, they will wake frequently, sometimes as often as every hour. Other illnesses that make them feel awful will also cause them to wake. And when a baby is sick, we obviously have to do what we can to soothe and comfort them.

Babies over six months, are more likely to get attached to a new sleep association very quickly. For example, if your baby is sick and you introduce something new to the settling, like picking up and rocking to sleep in your arms or if you start to feed again overnight when you had previously dropped it, then the baby can get really used to that and continue to expect a feed overnight, even after they are well again. Of course you need to do whatever you can when they are sick, but it is a good idea to be aware of what can happen.

It is a good idea (if you can) to try not go too far backwards. So, if your baby needs some medication or pain relief, then you should of course give them that. If they are very distressed then you should pick them up to settle them, but try to get them back into their cot before they are sound asleep. If you have dropped overnight feeding and you are not concerned about your baby’s hydration, then I wouldn’t feed. If you are concerned about their hydration, then of course give them a feed, or some water, if appropriate.

The key is to not cause too much disturbance to their sleep routine so they can quickly return to their routine before they were sick. Once your baby is feeling better, gently get back to having them fall asleep in their cot and if they wake overnight then resettle without feeding (if they weren’t having overnight feeds previously). You can do this by patting and soothing your baby back to sleep. It might take a while for the first few nights, but generally I find if you do this for a few nights then those wakes should pass quickly and you should be back to where you were.

So, try to remember you need to do what you have to do to make your child as comfortable as possible when they are sick, but try not to reintroduce things you have dropped. A sick baby is stressful and exhausting so make sure you are looking after yourself as much as you can so you don’t also get sick. There is nothing worse than being sick yourself when looking after a sick child!

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.