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Sick Baby and Navigating Sleep: 3 Ways You Can Help

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

When you have a sick baby and navigating sleep feels impossible– we got you!

As seasoned moms, we get it. After 2020 and 2021, WE GET IT.

We often get asked questions about when baby is sick and sleep:

  • My baby is struggling to take their pacifier when they’re sick. What can I do??

  • Is it okay to let my baby sleep more than usual when they’re ill?

  • What do I do when my sick baby won’t sleep?

  • How do I get my baby back on track with sleep after being ill?

Maybe you’re a first-time mom and your little one is experiencing their first cold. We’re here to tell you, unfortunately, that it’s probably the first of many.

Maybe you’re a seasoned mom like us, and just hate when your little one is sick. You’re looking for any tips or tricks you haven’t tried, and, of course, solidarity.

Regardless of which camp you fall under, we hope you find this post helpful. We’ve got a few ways you can help.

Preventative Measures & Providing Comfort When Baby is Sick and Not Sleeping

If your little one has a cold, there’s not much you can do to help it along besides keeping them well-hydrated and well-rested. We know, easier said than done when they’re so uncomfortable!

So, what CAN you do?? For starters, prevent any uncomfortableness that may worsen when they’re laying down. Use a humidifier in their nursery. Before you lay them down, use a saline spray or drops to loosen any mucus and suction their nose well. Try Zarbee’s Soothing Chest Rub to help them breathe a bit better. Make a steam room out of your bathroom to provide extra comfort as needed. Take shifts with a partner holding your little one upright so they can breathe easier and sleep longer. Rest is key for healing. Offer the breast or bottle to keep hydrated. If your baby is sleeping more than usual, that’s okay, but make sure you wake them up to feed because you don’t want them to get dehydrated.

They may have a fever and be uncomfortable. Dress and undress as needed to keep the fever at bay and to keep them cool or warm, depending on what they need. To help with a high fever, you can use room temperature washcloths over their body to help cool them.

Do what you can to keep them comfortable and safe.

Have Lower Expectations for Sleep When You have a Sick Baby

Accept that their sleep will be disrupted when they’re sick. Sleep is important for getting better, so take shifts with your partner to tend to your baby as needed.

Your baby may need more help than usual to sleep, and that’s okay. Offer medicine, comfort, and snuggles to help. If the pacifier is causing more discomfort than comfort, just ditch it for the time being, and help your baby to sleep another way.

If it’s feasible, follow normal routines, but know that it’s okay if you can’t. You can always get back on track with sleep when your baby is feeling better.

Sleep heals! It’s okay if your baby sleeps more than usual when they’re sick, as that’s when their body is fighting whatever little bug they’ve got. Let them sleep and wake them for feeds as needed.

If you’re finding that it’s getting later in the day and your little one is looking like they could use another nap, you can always opt for an early bedtime.

Be Proportionate with Your Response to the Illness

If your baby is REALLY sick, it’s okay to bend or break rules when it comes to sleep. SLEEP HEALS. Do what you can to help your little one sleep and keep them comfortable.

However, if it’s just a few sniffles, you aren’t going to need to pull out all the stops. Stick to your schedule. Try not to help too much. Really read into your baby’s behavior and respond accordingly.

Sleep will be impacted by illness. The less you need to change your behavior to get through it, the better it will be when it’s all over.

Let’s say your baby had a cough that worsened when they were laying flat, and you needed to hold them more upright to help keep them comfortable. You took shifts with your partner. Now your little one is used to having mom or dad hold them for sleep. This was necessary at the time, so it’s okay! Just revert back to your regular ways and expectations when everyone’s feeling better. Accept that there may be some tears because your child has feelings about the change to their sleep situation. It’s okay to have feelings. It’s also okay to make healthy sleep a priority again.

If necessary, you can always do a “reset” and revert back to your sleep training method of choice to get them back on track, or even to start teaching some independence with sleep if this hasn’t been a thing yet.

We do have a mini-course on Teething and Illness if you’re interested in checking that out too – it’s a part of our Raising Happy Sleepers Membership or you can purchase it, A La Carte, for $25.

After using this teething and illness bundle, you will be able to confidently navigate…

  • Helping your child stay rested and supported through minor illnesses.

  • Helping your child stay rested and supported through more major illnesses.

  • Teething- how to identify and handle to keep sleep on track through teething.

  • Survival strategies for when your little one is under the weather.

  • Getting back on track after illness and teething.


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