Expert Opinion

Sickness and Sleep

Sickness and Sleep

Let’s be honest here, winter always brings a new round of lurgies ready to pounce on our little ones and bring us days and nights of grumpy, upset, overtired and sensitive little people – all totally understandable, of course.

So how do we, as parents, deal with nights and day sleeps when our little ones are unwell?

Firstly, for context – if your little one has already been a great sleeper and it’s all gone south because of illness, know that it is temporary, and they will get back on track.

If you have been working on their sleep and they’ve become unwell, and you are unsure whether to keep working on their sleep or pause the process, a great way to answer that question is this. Ask yourself, “If they were in childcare, is their sickness such that would you still send them, or would you keep them home”.

If you would still send them – the answer is you quite possibly can continue forward on their sleep. If the answer was no – you would keep them home – you would probably need to pause any work on their sleep right now until they are well enough again. (To note – I’m not saying you send sick kids to childcare – it is purely hypothetical for the point of this scenario).

Ok, so baby is unwell – what now?

Well, some babies fare better through illness compared to others, so don’t NOT keep doing what you already know works. However, you may find that the baby needs more assistance to go off to sleep, they may not nap as well, and there may be some night wakings.

As an adult, when we are sick, we can understand how we feel, we can decide to take some pain relief, and we can sleep when we need to sleep, BUT even our sleep is disrupted. Now imagine being a little baby and not having the means to communicate this feeling.

So, firstly always seek medical advice, of course, but your baby is likely going to NEED more cuddles and comfort overnight, that is totally ok – DO it. Give them extra cuddles, and provide them with the comfort they need.

They may also need extra hydration overnight, particularly if feeling unwell has meant not enough solids or fluid intake during the day. Offer them water if they no longer have milk, or give them an extra breastfeed or bottle if need be.

It really is a do whatever you need to do kind of scenario. They may prefer to be held to sleep rather than settle independently, and you may find they, overall, will need more sleep, so I generally say that during the day, you may choose not to wake them. Sleep is part of how we recover, so it isn’t a negative thing. If they are struggling and sleep better doing contact naps, then the couch and cuddles it is.

But when do we determine when they are well enough to get back on track? Well, we go back to the hypothetical childcare situation and ask that same question – are they well enough to go back to childcare – if the answer is yes, then they are well enough to get back on track in the sleep and setting scenario. So, you start tapering off the assistance you’ve been offering. As their appetite increases during the day, you can start offering fewer calories overnight. Some babies will naturally go back to great sleep once they have recovered with very little help from mum or dad; others may be a little more difficult to get back on track – Choose your hard. You have to remember that nothing is a problem unless it is a problem for you.

About the author

Lisa is the founder of Cherish Your Sleep, Co-Regional Director (Australia/Pacific) of The Association of Professional Sleep Consultants, an experienced certified baby/child sleep consultant and a mother to 3 young children.
She has always loved children and has worked in the industry for over 20 years as a qualified child care worker, working primarily with children aged 0 – 3yrs.
A successful outcome is not only good for the parents and children, but also giver Lisa a sense of satisfaction and happiness – there’s nothing better than hearing from a parent who finally got their first full night sleep since having a child.
Becoming a mum and meeting and seeing other mums struggle with their babies and children’s sleep made Lisa really want to reach out and help. She doesn’t see that there is a one size fits all to helping families – sleep is almost like a Puzzle – you need all the pieces in place to achieve the full picture and those pieces are what she shares with families.
Lisa uses a holistic approach to sleep, focusing on emotional wellbeing of families and ensuring the parent child connection in not only maintained, but enhanced. She knows how easy it is to become overwhelmed and frustrated, so it’s her passion to help find solutions that will work for you, your baby and the rest of your family.
Photo by Artem Podrez