My great sleeper is sick – Now what?

By Salome Botes – Good Night Sleep Consultant

At this time of year the seasons change, and the mornings become colder, sometimes with the sniffles rapidly catching up with us.  It starts with a snotty nose, which quickly changes into a cough and ends with a fever.

Your great sleeper can quickly turn into a not-so-great sleeper. You know your little human is not feeling well and you just want them better. 

The first thing you should assess is how bad it is. This is not easy as your baby won’t be able to tell you. But ask yourself how your child was during the day and just before bedtime? Is it just a snotty nose or do they also have a fever?  Keep in mind that if you continue to be unsure, it is best to take your little one to the doctor to make sure. 

If your child generally falls asleep easily at bedtime on their own, the chances are good they would be able to continue on this trend even if they are ill. More often than not, bedtime during illness is not the problem as we give them the appropriate medication just before they go to bed, so they will continue to fall asleep on their own. The problem rather comes during the night. Sleeping has been going so well, but suddenly you are unsure about what to do when your child wakes at night. Few questions you might be asking yourself:  How long will this last? Should I respond? Should I wait? Can I give water or milk? Should my baby sleep with me?

If your baby is sick, if your baby has a fever and you hear him/her during the night, go and check. Respond immediately – there is no need to wait as the medication might have worn off. Does he/she need more medicine? Give a sip of water when congested and even give extra cuddles and love and put them back in their cot.

If you are not comfortable with your baby or child sleeping alone when sick, due to either vomiting or extreme fever, I would strongly suggest keeping your child in the familiar sleeping space. You can put an extra mattress in their room (if there is no bed) and sleep there with your child, rather than placing your child in your bed with you.

Giving a milk feed is often a very common go-to when our babies are sick.  If your baby, who has been sleeping through the night without any feeds wakes during illness there are a few things to keep in mind.  If your doctor or nurse recommended night feeds to keep your child hydrated or for any other reason, you will reintroduce a feed or two. If not, feeds should not be your first choice when trying to soothe a sick baby. With some illnesses these night feeds could worsen the symptoms, such as diarrhea. But if all else fails it can be helpful and during these times is not something to worry about. The most important thing to keep in mind with nightly feeds is that you need to keep your baby awake during the feed. Keep the sleeping space quiet and dark, non- stimulating.

We as adults also don’t sleep well when we are feeling under the weather, but when we rest, we feel better and we recover sooner. It is the same with our children. They do need to rest to make them feel better. Do not panic when your sick baby or child wants to sleep a little more than usual during the day. A baby who is used to their routine will probably want to sleep to feel better.

More often than not, if you keep to the bedtime of your little one falling asleep on their own, once they are better they will start sleeping better again as soon as fever is gone, the little chest sounds better or you get the all clear from the doctor. At this stage you continue to give lots of love, but start to move back. Start to give your little one the opportunity to fall asleep by themselves during the night, each night letting go a little more, until you are where you want to be. 

A sick child is one of the most stressful things for us as parents and we do want to be there to help them and give love and cuddles. I hope you understand that you should do this – it makes you a great parent! If you struggle once your child is better, but you are not getting your groove back, please do not hesitate to contact your nearest consultant for guidance. 

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