This winter has been rough for us. We’ve been sick (I mean real, hard sicknesses, not colds) several times in the last couple of months. It’s important to take care of yourself, as a mom, first; because if mom goes down, everything shuts down with her. Thankfully I have a very supportive, involved husband, who willingly stays up all night with a vomiting baby or gets me out to Starbucks so I have the energy to deal with the fevers, coughs, doctors’ appointments, etc.
You’re likely to experience disrupted sleep during your child’s illness. All babies & children experience frequent awakenings in the night and most are able to soothe themselves back to sleep. However, when there is a fever or pain, this can cause an increased amount of awakenings.
I’m sure you’ve heard the mantra of many sleep consultants: “Sleep begets sleep”, especially in regards to our immune systems. Not surprisingly, a 2009 study (from the Archives of Internal Medicine) linked a lack of sleep to “weakened immune systems and increased susceptibility to colds/viruses”.
So I’ve created a couple of sleep/sickness survival tips that I hope you’ll be healthy enough you won’t have to use…
1. Don’t worry about sleep schedules or sleep training while your child is sick. Your child needs attention and comfort more than anything. Once you are confident they are feeling better, you can gradually move back into your sleep routines. Also do not start sleep training with the possibility of your child being sick. When my daughter was 18 months old she went through a horrible sleep regression where she stood and screamed in her crib for every nap and was up all night demanding to be held. Because she was refusing to lay down, I was positive she had an ear infection. I took her to our pediatrician who bluntly told me not only did her ears look great but that she was “playing me” (ugh!). However, just getting a check of confidence from the doctor let me know that her issue was not medical but behavioral. So if there is any doubt in your mind, you should definitely get a check-up from your pediatrician to determine if there’s more to your child’s disrupted sleep.
2. For respiratory viruses like colds or flu, use a humidifier. I have both the cool mist and the warm steam vapor ones. Honestly I feel like they are equally successful. This one is pretty obvious and most parents already use humidifiers, however I recommend cleaning or replacing your humidifier frequently as they accumulate mold.
3. Consider this old wives’ tale: slather Baby Vicks on your child’s feet and cover with socks for nighttime. I know this may not have any real scientific merit, however generations of mothers swear by this trick to help ease coughing and congestion in the nighttime.
4. Going along with the Vicks- I’ve recently and finally accepted Essential Oils. I was hesitant to buy them because they’re SO expensive and their reps make such lofty claims but I do believe there is some credibility to certain ones. The blends of Eucalyptus and Peppermint are great menthols for clearing congestion via an oil diffuser (they should not be topically applied to or inhaled by very young children). I’m by no means an expert so I would consult your local rep.
5. It’s really important to keep those little nasal passages clear so you reduce the risk of a cold turning into a sinus infection. I love saline spray and either the Nose Frida (snot sucker) or the power nasal aspirator. Let your child sit in a steamed bathroom or hot bath to release the congestion.
6. For stomach bugs, do not encourage too much eating or drinking too soon. If your child is actively vomiting, simple ice chips are enough. Once the vomiting has slowed/stopped, then you should begin rehydrating with Gatorade or Pedialyte. Sometimes we will sprinkle in a little extra sugar or salt in their cup, as there can be a risk of hypoglycemia. If you’re breastfeeding, still offer to nurse, but be prepared for vomiting. Hopefully the antibodies in your milk will be working overtime!
7. If you feel that you need to be close to your child because they’re really sick, my recommendation would be to move a mattress into their room, preferably next to their crib/bed. When your child has recovered, it will be much easier for you to move out of their room, than trying to get them out of your bed.
8. If you’ve already weaned your child from night feedings, there’s no need to add night feedings back in because of an illness. Offering a sip of water for hydration is a good alternative. Obviously if your doctor recommends extra feedings due to extreme illness you should follow that advice.
Remember, it’s ok to create bad habits when your child is really sick. You can rock them, cuddle them, nurse them to sleep, etc. When children are sick they might not be capable/strong enough to self-soothe, especially with the increased chance of awakenings due to fever or pain. And illnesses can go either way: you could have a very irritable, cranky, sleepless baby or a very sleepy, lethargic one. Do whatever you need to help your child get better and then when your pediatrician gives the “all clear”, you can slowly begin reintroducing your schedule, routines, and methods. Many of my clients come to me after experiencing an illness where parent-soothing habits were used, but we’re always successful getting everyone back to sleep (and with minimal tears!).