Here’s a common situation: your little one is sleeping like a champ (or at least decently!) and all is well. Then all of a sudden, he comes down with a cold and a fever and is a sick baby sleeping all day. And you have NO idea what to do.
On the one hand, the poor baby is sick, so some disruptions to his sleep are to be expected. On the other hand, you don’t want to throw his amazing sleep down the toilet everytime he comes down with a cold.
In this podcast episode, I take you through my strategy for navigating your little one’s sleep when they get sick so that any disruptions are minimized.
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Hey there, you’re listening to the, My Sleeping Baby podcast, which is all about baby and child sleep. I’m so excited to teach you how you can get your little ones sleeping so that you can sleep too and enjoy parenthood to its fullest. I’m Eva Klein, your resident’s sleep expert, mom of three, founder of the Sleep Bible online coaching program, and lover of all things sleep and motherhood. If you’re looking for tangible solutions for your little one sleep woes or you simply want to learn more, this podcast is for you. For more information, check out mysleepingbaby.com and you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook @mysleepingbaby.
All right, let’s talk about what is probably one of the most common questions that I get from families that I work with, and that is what do I do when my little one gets sick? And now I have a sick baby sleeping all day? Do I remain consistent? Do I let them cry? Do I give in and you know, give them what they want or need, what do I do so that their sleep doesn’t completely fall apart whenever they get sick, which is a great question because let’s be real. I mean, babies get sick quite often. You know, it’s pretty normal for every month or every two months, let’s say for, you know, your baby, your toddler, your preschooler, to have some kind of virus, whether it’s a cold or, you know, a low grade fever though. I will just say that, you know, if I had to find a silver lining to, you know, still be living in this COVID pandemic world at the moment, it’s that my kids have never been healthier.
I don’t think I remember the last time that my kids got a cold. Um, no, I take that back. My ten-year-old did have a cold last week, but my two year old hasn’t had a cold and probably a year if I had to be real and it’s quite wonderful, but it’s also not realistic for that to be the case in the grand scheme of things, you know, once the masts are gone and school is back to normal and everything is back to normal and they’re exposed to way more germs than they’ve been exposed to over the last year. It’s fairly safe to assume that your little ones are going to catch viruses and get sick. And so people always ask me, you know, what’s the game plan when that happens? You know, how, how do you approach these sorts of things? And then specifically what they often will say is, do I, can I just assume that when I have a sick baby sleeping all day, that you just throw all the rules out the window because you know, the poor thing is under the weather.
And, uh, and so, you know, you just throw those rules out the window until they get better. And the answer to that is sort of, I would say that what they’re saying is like a half-truth, if that’s, that’s probably the best way to describe it, um, I’ll tell you how I approach something like sickness in the, in the sleep department, right. And what exactly you do when your little one is either under the weather or very, very sick where you have a baby sleeping all day, in the name of responding to your little one, who’s under the weather and giving them what they need while at the same time. Uh, hopefully not throwing all your little one’s amazing sleep habits down the toilet. And I’m actually going to share with you a personal story to kind of illustrate how my whole approach works. So when my son JJ was about nine months old, he came down with a CA a terrible case of croup.
Um, he needed to be on a fairly high dose of steroids because he was having trouble breathing. He was barking like a dog. Um, and, uh, even when he wasn’t coughing, he was, you know, the pediatrician could hear that he was breathing very, very loudly. And so it absolutely required steroids, but before it got to that point, you know, he was just, I remember there was, you know, this one really, really rough night. And then the next morning I got him to the doctor, got him on steroids. And then from there everything got better. But before I got him on that medicine, I was in that exact conundrum, right, where you’re going, okay, I have a sick baby sleeping all day. He’s not just under the weather. He is a sick baby sleeping all day. And so what do you do now? The background here is it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that JJ, up until that point was a real true sleep champion.
Um, not because he was born this naturally gifted sleeper, he w always was and continues to be a very average textbook baby. He just happened to have me as a mother that was introducing LPs Lee Babbits from literally day one. And so he was sleeping through the night. Um, by the time he was seven or eight months old, even before from two to eight months, he was only waking up once. Um, that’s right. By the time he was two months, he was sleeping, you know, eight to nine hours before waking up once and eating and going back to bed until the morning. It was fantastic. And now that he’s nine months in is really, really sick. The last thing I wanted to do was to have all of that go down the toilet, and then I have to start from scratch when he got better.
And so my overall philosophy here is that even when you have a baby who is very, very sick who is sleeping all day, don’t necessarily underestimate what they can do in the sleep department, just because they’re not feeling well. So for example, in this situation, baby’s got croup, he’s coughing up a lung, he’s, you know, struggling to breathe. It would have been tempting for me to just say to heck with this. I’m not even gonna bother to put him in his crib. I’m just going to hold him and rock him to sleep. But I didn’t do that instead. I thought, you know what? He’s really tired. I’m going to get him down a little bit earlier because you know, he’s very, very sick. I’m going to do the same bedtime routine, and then I’m going to place him in the crib awake, and I’m going to see what he does.
And I’m going to kind of feel it out, right? Because I’ll tell you what ended up happening. I put him in the crab wide, wide awake. And even though he was absolutely not himself, he put himself to sleep. Why? Because that’s what he’s been doing since literally the day that he was born. And so here, it was so tempting for me to have said, oh, you know what? I’m not even going to bother. I’m just going to help him fall asleep. And then I would have introduced a new sleep crutch completely unnecessarily. Now let’s say that I would have put him down and he immediately starts to cry and immediately starts to fuss. Not because I’m doing any kind of sleep training. Again, this is a fully sleep trained baby that I’m talking about here. Right. He’s crying and fussing because he’s sick. And so what would I do?
I would have gone into the room. I would have picked him up, helped him catch his breath, help him calm down, you know, deescalate and relax. And then what I would have done is I would have placed him back into the crib and tried again. Now, how often would I have tried before eventually pulling the plug? You can use your discretion on that run. Right? I don’t think that there is a black and white answer, but what I’m trying to say is that I wouldn’t have just gone straight to walking him to sleep. I would use that as a very last resort, because remember what’s most ideal is for you to hold on to your little one’s sleep habits, as much as you can, or as much as your little one will allow it, even though he is a sick baby sleeping all day. And so if it meant that after let’s say two or three tries, my gut would have been telling me, Nope, this is not happening.
He’s two. And well, he needs to be held upright. You know, he’s barely breathing. And so I’m just going to pull the plug on this one, pick him up, sit in the rocking chair and hold him, you know, while he goes to sleep, thankfully, I didn’t have to do that because he did go to bed right away. However, that night, because of the croup, he did wake me up three times. I will say that’s probably one of the worst sides that I had had with him in a very, very, very long time. My body was not used to getting woken up so many times, but it’s also not surprising. He had a very bad case of croup. And so it’s only natural that he’s going to wake up. Now, let me take you through how I responded to those night wakings and kind of, you know, what the whole approach and calculation was.
He wakes up and obviously I know what’s going on, right? He’s not, well, he needs something. And so I go to the crib, I pick him up and then I immediately figure out, okay, what does he need? Well, the first thing is that he was running a fever. And so I immediately gave him Tylenol fine. What else does he need? He’s sweating. He’s hot. And so I gave him some, I put some water in a bottle and gave him some water. Cause he was probably a little bit or a lot parched. What else does he need? He needs to cough. Right? He needed to cough a lot. You know, he was again having a little bit of a trouble there. I had taken him to the doctor the next day to get him on steroids. But you know, until that point he was struggling a little bit, you know, in the breathing department.
And so I was holding him upright while he just figured this all out. And so the approach here was, what do you need at this point? Why did you wake up? And then what can I do to address that? And so once it was maybe 20 minutes later, or so the Tylenol had kicked in, you know, so he was already starting to kind of cool down. He had drank some water, so he wasn’t as parched and I’d been holding him upright. And so he was nice and calm. And so then I did exactly what I did at bedtime, where I placed him back into the crib. And then I wanted to see, how does he do? Is he okay? Because I’ll tell you, it turns out he put himself right back to sleep. No problem. Would I have responded if he started to cry? Of course, because he’s sick.
You know? So that’s what I mean, where I say get to half-truth and that the rules obviously change when you have a baby that’s sick and sleeping all day. But what I’m telling you to do is don’t automatically assume that you have to go back to square one because there’s a good chance that you won’t now he did do literally the exact same two more times, you know, where did I give him more Tylenol? Now I wouldn’t have given him more Tylenol at that point. The second time that he woke up, but you know, he needed some water. He needed a diaper change. He needed me to hold him, calm him down. He went back into the crib, put himself back to sleep and everything continued. And so I’ll tell you what was so advantageous about using this type of approach. It meant that the next day I got him on the steroids.
And so it addressed the underlying root of the problem here, you know, which was the croup and the, the impact that it was having on his breathing canal in his lungs. And so that night, when he was finally able to breathe properly and he was better, he went right back to sleeping like a champ. In fact, he still wasn’t a hundred percent himself, but he literally spent the next 24 hours sleeping almost. Non-stop where, you know, that night he slept like 12 and a half or 13 hours, which, you know, he had never done woke up. I think he took down a bit of a bottle. I think an hour later he was exhausted, went back to sleep for another, I don’t know, three hours. And that’s literally what the day looked like. And then the following day, he was almost pretty much back to normal, but from a sleep standpoint, the most awesome part of this whole approach is that I didn’t have to introduce sleep crutches to help him stay asleep because he wasn’t necessary.
Right. I didn’t assume that he needed this help. I just put him down awake and he actually did all the work on his own. So that as soon as he got better, his sleep went right back to normal. And I can’t tell you how often it is that I work with families who, who end up going back to square one every single time, their little one is under the weather. And the problem with that approach is that you’re going to be constantly in sleep training mode, constantly. Every single time, your little one gets a cold or a low grade fever, which as I said can happen every month. Sometimes then you’re going to be constantly exhausted from constantly recently training. And so my biggest piece of advice is don’t underestimate what your little one can do. Only resort to helping your little one fall asleep.
If it appears that they actually need it. Now, if you end up in that boat where you tried putting your little ones down awake, you’re fully sleep trained, baby or toddler, it’s just not happening. And they end up falling asleep on you. And then that’s what the next few days look like. And they’re finally better, but now they don’t want to go back in there, but now they want you to rock them back to sleep. Just like what they got used to when they were sick. Don’t fret very, very normal, but also very, very fixable. My biggest piece of advice would be immediately go back into sleep training mode. So whichever method you used initially to get your little one sleeping, use that method, but stick, but skip to one of the last final steps. So if your little one was, if we’re talking like a minor illness, and when I say minor, I mean didn’t require hospitalization, right?
Wasn’t under the weather for longer than let’s say a few days. That’s what I mean. When I say minor, um, you don’t have to start from square one, skip to one of the last final steps and use that approach for, you know, the next couple of days or so. And then your little one’s sleep should go back to normal. If on the other hand, your little one was more than just a little bit sick. Maybe baby was super sick and sleeping all day for, let’s say a one to two week period, or God forbid, they ended up in the hospital, you know, requiring more intervention. Then of course the rules really, really changed. Right? Okay. Then we’re dealing with a very sick baby who’s sleeping all day. And so it’s only natural that most likely all of those rules are going to go out the window. And so in that scenario, when your little one gets all better and is back at home and back to their normal selves in terms of their temperaments, that’s usually unless your medical team is telling you otherwise, that’s usually when it is safe to reach re sleep, train your little one, and you’ll likely want to start from the first step of whatever sleep training method you used.
So that is my overall approach. Don’t underestimate what your little one can do. Only resort to re-introducing sleep crutches. If it really seems like your little one needs it. And then as soon as they’re all better, if you did have to re-introduce any kind of crutches, eliminate them immediately and re slowly drain your little one, get them back onto their schedule that they previously had and get them back on track as quickly as possible. And then you will get your champion sleeper back.
So I hope that this was helpful and that you all have a wonderful day. Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, leave a review and share this episode with a friend who can benefit from it. I also love hearing from my listeners. So feel free to DM me on Instagram @myseleepingbaby, or send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org until next time have a wonderful restful night.