We’ve all been there – after months of sleep deprivation and multiple night wakings, your baby finally seems to have gotten the hang of sleeping through the night. And then…they get sick and it feels like you’ve gone back about ten steps!
Yep, it’s one of the many things about raising kids that makes you scratch your head. After all, as adults, when we are under the weather all we want to do is crawl under the doona and sleep! But babies? Not so much.
Why does illness affect a child’s sleep?
When little ones get sick their sleep patterns can become a mess for a number of reasons. For example, they may experience physical discomfort that interferes with their sleep. Symptoms such as congestion, coughing, fever, and pain can also disrupt their ability to settle down and find a comfortable position. Nasal congestion can make breathing difficult leading to frequent awakenings or a runny nose can drip down their throat and cause them to cough, which in turn wakes them up. And if your little one is in pain or discomfort from conditions like ear infections or teething you can almost guarantee that they will be calling out for you in the middle of the night!
Other reasons illness can cause infant disruptions
Illness can also take an emotional toll on babies, leading to changes in their mood and behaviour, which can subsequently affect their sleep. When our kids aren’t feeling well they can become irritable, fussy, or clingy – all of which can make it difficult for them to settle down and relax before sleep.
As parents, offering extra comfort, cuddles, and attention during these times can provide the emotional support necessary for your baby to feel secure and calm. Establishing a soothing environment, such as dimming lights, playing gentle lullabies, or using white noise machines, can also contribute to a peaceful ambiance that promotes better sleep.
Can a child’s illness cause sleep regression?
Unfortunately, illness can sometimes trigger sleep regressions in babies who previously had well-established sleep routines. This is because the stress and discomfort associated with being unwell can cause babies to revert to old habits like night feeding, increased reliance on sleep aids, or heightened separation anxiety.
These regressions can be undoubtedly challenging for parents who had previously enjoyed relatively uninterrupted nights of sleep – and even more so if you happen to be sick yourself! We can’t lie to you, these periods of illness induced sleep regression can be brutal but they should also be temporary. Once your little one is on the mend you can gradually start reintroducing their pre-illness sleep routine and, hopefully, you’ll be back to better sleep.
How can I help my baby sleep better when they are sick?
When your bub is sick there are a few things you can do to help them feel more comfortable and settled. The number one thing you can do is give them loads of cuddles and comfort – which you’re no doubt already doing!
Other than that here are some other tips:
- Create a comfortable sleep environment for your little one. Ensure the room is at an optimal temperature for sleep and consider using a humidifier to ease congestion.
- Feed on demand. Your baby may want to nurse or feed more often when sick so it’s important to feed on demand. Whether you are breast or bottle feeding or both, ensuring your baby has adequate fluids will not only keep them from being dehydrated but can also help to break up mucus. If your little one is over 6 months old you can also offer them boiled, cooled water.
- Keep up the routine. As much as possible, try to keep your baby’s routine as consistent as possible. A warm bath can help little ones feel more relaxed and also help with any muscle aches and can signal that it’s time for sleep.
- Provide pain relief. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can provide your little one with child’s pain relief to lower fevers and relieve discomfort. If you have any concerns, always speak to your GP or pediatrician.
It’s always hard to see our little ones unwell – and it becomes even more difficult when sleep is impacted. However, remember that this too shall pass and that with your love and care, your bub will be back to fighting fit – and hopefully sleeping soundly – in no time.