It is impossible to prevent our children, or ourselves, from getting sick. Unless we wrap up in cotton wool and stay at home with no one to see or to socialise with, we are bound to pick up bugs from time to time. Babies and young children are particularly prone.
[Yes I know we did all this during lockdown not too long ago – but I’m sure we can all agree it didn’t present desirable circumstances for happy, thriving human beings. Not only that, our immune systems have paid a heavy price and we are all far more vulnerable to germs than we were before the pandemic.]
I have lost count of the numerous parents I’ve mentored over the years whose baby developed a cold/tummy bug/ear infection/teething, etc. while sleep training. It’s not a matter of ‘if’, it’s ‘when’.
“What happens to the sleep training programme if baby gets sick?”
This is one of the most common questions I get asked.
I get it. For many it has taken time, effort and quite a bit of anxiety to embark on a sleep training programme.
A few weeks have been especially planned and set aside so the right people can be around in order for the routine to be consistent. The perfect room has been established to create the right mood for sleeping and waking, etc. (For more details on how to establish the perfect sleep training conditions click here: Blog: Where do I start?)
Fear not! Your sleep training efforts are not sabotaged the moment baby comes down with a sniffle.
Focus on the positive!
So much of the hard work has already been done. Your home is ready and your head is ready. Believe it or not that is half the journey done.
All it means is we have to alter the sleep training programme to accommodate your baby’s needs.
Remember that no two babies are the same. If baby starts coming down with something we simply assess the situation. We might need to delay, or we might need to restart once baby is better. It depends on the severity of the illness. I take it on a case-by-case basis.
Special Note: I never attempt to sleep train a baby with reflux or colic that is untreated. These conditions first need to be brought under control as it can cause baby a great deal of discomfort.
Either way, you will still be able to:
- Comfort your baby, and
- baby will still feel very nurtured, loved and supported.
2 Steps to Sleep Training a Sick Baby:
Are you a), b) or c)?
- You are just about to start sleep training and baby has come down with a temperature, etc.
- Baby starts presenting with symptoms within the first 48 hours of the sleep training programme.
- You have been sleep training for more than 48 hours before baby presents with symptoms.
If you are a) or b)
- Delay the sleep training for a few days till baby is better. (Ask your doctor or paediatrician to give you the clear if you are not sure.)
If you are c)
- Continue with the programme
- Take note of Step 2
- Make sure you have the right medicines for help to alleviate baby’s symptoms. Check with your doctor, paediatrician or pharmacist if you are unsure.
- Continue with the programme and remember
- You will be able to provide baby with plenty of cuddling and reassuring. My sleep routines provide a great deal of time for baby to feel connected with mom or dad or other caregivers.
- Sleep is nature’s best medicine. Baby might need to go down for an earlier nap if she’s too cranky, or perhaps sleep longer than usual when sick. It is perfectly safe for the schedule to be slightly off at this time. Don’t stress.
VERY IMPORTANT! There are certain things for the parent to avoid –
While baby is under the weather be mindful to AVOID…
- Bringing baby into bed with you. This will undo the good training you’ve accomplished so far. As tempting as it is, I implore you to continue giving baby a nurturing, loving pre-bedtime routine in the familiar environment of their room that has been organised to offer baby the best sleeping conditions. You will be able to check on baby as many times as you like if you are worried he’s too uncomfortable.
If you are feeling very anxious, it’s a good idea to sleep in baby’s room on a roll out mattress or whatever suits you. If you choose to do this, please make sure baby sleeps in his cot – and not on the mattress with you.
- Rocking baby to sleep before putting him in his crib.
He can be rocked and loved and sung to till the cows come home, but when he is sleepy and about to drift off, try to put him in his crib before he falls asleep. (I say try because baby might just been too miserable for this. Just do your best. If baby is really not allowing this, go ahead and put him down asleep and hope for the best!)
A sickly baby is very likely to wake up crying because she’s uncomfortable during naps or during the night. This is when you go in to her dark room: quiet (no singing/talking), avoid eye contact and hold/cuddle/rock him. (She must be taught that this is sleep time.)
Quietly and gently give her whatever medicine is appropriate, and then try to coax him back to sleep again – putting him down BEFORE he falls asleep if possible.
*When baby is sick we are less inclined to leave him for the same amount of time to ‘learn to settle himself’ as when he is healthy. That’s okay. Baby is going to need us more than usual during this time. It will pass.
- Offering baby cuddly sleeping crutches that you might have recently taken away.
Special Note: Parents have an enormous biological need to feel like they are doing everything to make baby feel better – including offering crutches that are normally avoided while sleep training. If you feel your situation calls for putting baby in his crib asleep – do it. The same goes for checking on him the moment he cries. All I’m recommending is that you try not to reintroduce these crutches. If baby is not settling no matter what you do as he is too unwell, then do whatever it takes. He needs his sleep while he is healing.
Some parents might notice their child experiences a bit of a regression in the sleep training programme once they start feeling better. This is perfectly normal. Just keep going. It won’t take long to get back on top of this.
Remember to start – and keep going – as you mean to continue.
Consider, for a moment, that your baby or toddler has now been sleep trained. Blessedly, it went well and you didn’t have to worry about any illness while you were doing it.
The sleep training programme is now over. BUT. In order to keep baby sleeping beautifully, she will need to continue with these wonderful sleep habits for at least 80-90% of the time.
Then baby comes down with a temperature or something.
Are you going to undo everything you and baby have learned? No way.
You’re going to be extra loving and extra nurturing and you are going to buy medicines that alleviate some of babies discomfort. AND you are going to continue with the calm and good sleep-encouraging habits that are starting to become part of your life.
However! Repeating two points I made above:
- If baby is feeling too miserable, please allow him to sleep more than usual. He will need it. If the schedule goes out slightly, it’s totally fine. You’re still doing an amazing job.
- If baby is just not letting you put him into his cot ‘drowsy, but awake’ – just put him down asleep. It’s all good. It might backfire, but it might not.
Be kind to yourself.
Try to stick to the schedule, but do whatever it takes.
You are going to want to preserve baby’s sleep at all costs.
At the end of the day sleep is the thing that will help baby heal.
This time will pass soon enough.
When baby is feeling better, she will mostly pick up from where she was.
We just need to remind her what she already knows.
So, above I’ve given you a good idea of what to expect while sleep training a sick baby. I want to emphasise that this advice is for parents whose children are mildly under the weather – essentially mild cold/flu symptoms.
Sleep Training a VERY sick baby
I have supported parents through periods where their baby is VERY sick. I’m talking special needs babies. Babies in-and-out-of-hospital-sick babies.
From the bottom of my heart I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
It is heart breaking for all involved. When a new and vulnerable human is in pain and is confused they need as much comfort as possible. This is not the right time for teaching self-soothing and how to fall asleep independently.
If you feel you fall under this category I strongly suggest you wait for the appropriate time when baby is feeling better. I would also recommend speaking to your health professional for advice in this case.
I am fully aware this can be difficult for an exhausted parent to hear. Every parent knows how debilitating a lack of sleep is – whether baby is sick or not. The best I can offer you at this time is to find as much support as possible. Use someone you trust to help take care of the baby while you get some sleep and take a break for a few hours.
I am here for struggling parents who need to chat. I offer a free 15-minute call and I would love to hear from you. This chat holds no expectations from me of a guaranteed partnership between us. At the very worst I can offer support and suggestions for your unique situation.
In conclusion, I want to send parents whose babies are sick all my love and strength over the world wide web. It is a very difficult time.
I am here to support you and I would be very honoured to do so. Giving your child the gift of learning to fall asleep independently is life-changing both for the parents and the child. It gives me great joy to give my clients that assuredness and freedom.
P.S. Here is a special note for parents who have read this blog BEFORE baby has come down with anything:
I highly recommend sleep training your baby as soon as possible: The child who has already mastered the skill of falling asleep independently will be so much better equipped to handling the discomfort of illness when they aren’t feeling well.