Sleep and Sickness

How can you maintain baby’s schedule throughout an illness?

My littlest one just celebrated his four-month-old birthday...with his first cold.

Sniffles, fever, the works.

And my heart might have broken just the tiniest bit.

We do everything we can do to ensure cleanliness and prevent the spread of germs. Let’s be honest though, with four older siblings, it’s a miracle he’s been healthy this long.

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But a sick baby is nothing to sniff at. He’s miserable and can’t effectively communicate what’s wrong. I become a detective, pulling out my bag of tricks and working to determine exactly where the problem lies.

One of the things I always struggle with is how to maintain baby’s schedule throughout an illness. Here are some tips and tricks I've learned along the way that I hope will help you when you encounter the same dilemma with your little one:

During the Day

Obviously babies need more sleep when they’re sick. But how does this translate to our daily routine?

We’re determined to keep our routine as consistent as possible.

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This means we closely monitor how well baby is eating and continue to feed him on schedule. We realize that he may not eat quite as well and that’s okay.

Monitoring wet and dry diapers is key to making sure a nursing baby is getting enough fluids. If we’re concerned about fluid intake or know a previous feeding didn’t go so well we’re on top of making sure to nurse a bit more often or make sure the next feeding is a good one.

Then comes the ever-daunting question of sleep. We do our best to keep morning and afternoon nap times consistent.

That being said, a sick baby means we break our rule of a shorter morning nap and allow baby to sleep longer. We also prepare ourselves that afternoon nap might need to happen a bit earlier than usual.

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We do continue to wake up baby to offer consistent feedings and promote hydration throughout the day.

Navigating the Nighttime

Our babies are often sleeping through the night when they’re quite young. So when sickness happens, so do the sleep interruptions. Fever, stuffy noses, and just feeling unwell are likely to wake them up.

One of our main rules is to keep nighttime as consistent as possible. We try our old standbys first: a pacifier, a gentle hand on the belly, shushing baby to sleep.

We avoid middle-of-the-night feedings if possible...and typically we can. Usually a small bit of comfort, a nose that needs cleaning, or a gentle touch are enough to send baby to dreamland.

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Of course, each situation is unique.

That cute, stuffy, four-month-old decided to ring in the month with a 103 degree fever, so we broke our own feeding rule. It was a middle-of-the-night bottle to increase hydration, medicines to bring down the fever, and a call to the doctor the next morning.

One of the biggest issues with sickness is that it often leads to a regression in sleeping.

My advice: Do what you can to provide comfort but don’t think that you need to provide a five-course meal for your little one. Beginning a routine of eating during the night after baby has learned to sleep can lead to trouble sleeping in the future.

Be aware of what you offer to baby during these times of sickness and night-waking. Keep your end goal in focus: a healthy baby who sleeps just as well as he did before sickness.

How does sickness impact your baby’s routine?

Disclosure: This article represents the author's opinions and personal experiences. For more information on Baby Sleep, refer to On Becoming Babywise.

Jess Wartinger

Jess Wartinger

Jess Wartinger resides in rural New York with her husband and five children. Formerly an early elementary teacher, Jess currently spends her time loving her kids and holding down the fort at home.

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