Is your baby feeling sick and struggling to sleep well? Learn how to get a sick baby to sleep, keep him comfortable, and soothe him back to health.
After almost a year of never being sick, my baby finally succumbed to a fever and cold. Sure, the fever was only 99.6 degrees, but that, combined with a bad cold for the last few days, made going to sleep nearly impossible.
Over the previous few months, I finally helped him sleep through the night. But now that he was sick, we were back to frequent wake-ups and sleeping a couple hours at a time. He’d wake up crying, which didn’t exactly encourage him to go back to sleep.
As tough as learning how to get a sick baby to sleep can be, it’s one that every mom will face at some point.
Perhaps you’re out of ideas and have no idea what to do to help your little one sleep. Evenings are a challenge, taking several hours just to get him to finally fall asleep. Maybe you’ve relented to getting him to sleep whatever way you can—placing him in the swing or sitting in a recliner while holding him in your arms.
As awful as you feel for him, being sick also affects your day, from not getting anything done, to having to call in time off work. With a fever and stuffy nose, he’s more restless, refusing to sleep in his usual spots. And forget about naps—the longest stretches you can get him to sleep is all but 25 minutes.
With a sick baby screaming at night, sleep regression has never been this bad.
How to get a sick baby to sleep
The good news is that common colds and sick issues are temporary. As tough as they are, at least you know they’ll eventually end.
Still, that doesn’t make the days or nights any easier while you’re in the thick of it. And you might even worry that these new habits—co-sleeping, waking through the night, feeding to sleep—will be difficult to undo.
Rest assured, friend, even if you can’t remember what a good night feels like anymore, you’re not alone. Take a look at what you can do to help your sick baby finally fall asleep:
1. Keep wake times shorter than usual
Perhaps the biggest frustration with getting a sick baby to sleep is that you know just how important it is for him to actually fall asleep. Rest is, after all, the best thing anyone sick can do. Our bodies simply need to shut down and rest.
But with congestion and coughing, your baby doesn’t exactly have the best chances of sleeping in long stretches. Plus, this lack of sleep only makes him grumpy and fussy, which makes falling asleep even more challenging than it already is.
The best thing to do? Limit how long your baby is awake. If he’s normally awake for two hours, keep him up for no more than an hour and a half. Cancel stimulating play dates and outings, and choose to stay at home instead.
By keeping wake times short and your days subdued, you’re giving him more chances of falling asleep—even if he sleeps in short chunks.
Even better: let your baby sleep all day if he needs to. Ditch the schedule and give him the chance to rest and catch up on lost sleep.
2. Keep your baby comfortable
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Increase your baby’s chances of falling asleep by making his sleep experience as comfortable as possible. You might:
- Give him medicine to keep his fever down (check with his pediatrician first)
- Use a humidifier in his room
- Clear his nose with a nasal aspirator and saline solution
- Turn on white noise so he isn’t startled awake by random sounds
- Dress him in comfortable clothes
Your baby already feels miserable from being sick as it is. Helping him stay comfortable can increase his chances of falling and staying asleep.
3. Keep your baby’s head elevated
Most common colds are extra uncomfortable when we sleep completely horizontally. And since most babies sleep on flat surfaces with no pillows, it’s no wonder many wake up mid-sleep crying and frustrated.
Instead, keep your baby’s head elevated as he sleeps.
One idea is to fold a towel and place it on top of the mattress but beneath the sheet for his head to rest on. Another is to simply use a crib wedge, which also works well for babies with colic or reflux:
And finally, you can keep him sleeping upright by holding him in your arms in a recliner, or wearing him in a baby wrap. While he may not usually sleep this way, sometimes we need to do things out of the ordinary to help them along.
4. Keep your baby hydrated
Besides rest, staying hydrated is perhaps the other best thing sick babies need to feel better. If your baby is already drinking water regularly, offer him more by keeping a sippy cup nearby for frequent drinking. And if he’s mostly drinking formula or breast milk, make sure to feed on demand rather than on a schedule.
You see, as much as staying on a schedule is important, being sick often means doing things you typically don’t do anymore, including feeding on demand. But frequent feeding can be just the thing your baby needs to feel better and avoid being dehydrated.
So, ditch the feeding schedules for now, and instead offer to feed, especially when he’s fussy. You can always “regulate” him to your schedule once he’s better.
No matter the ailment, figuring out how to get a sick baby to sleep can be a challenge for many parents. Thankfully, it’s temporary, and not without its own solutions.
Help your baby fall—and stay—asleep by keeping awake time shorter than usual and not exerting him any more than he needs to. Keep him comfortable, from dressing him in simple clothes to clearing out his nasal passages.
Make sure his head stays elevated while he sleeps, from as little of an incline as a crib wedge, to holding him to sleep in your arms. And finally, keep him hydrated by feeding on demand or keeping a sippy cup handy.
I got lucky that my eldest was able to hold off getting sick for nearly a year, but I knew the day would inevitably arrive when he’d come down with a cold and cough. Thankfully the frequent wake-ups and miserable days and nights were temporary—especially with the help of these tips.
Get more tips:
- 5 Reasons Your Baby Wakes Up Crying Hysterically (And What to Do About It)
- 4 Effective Tricks to Handle a Baby Not Drinking Milk
- The Biggest Reason Your Baby Will Not Sleep (Even After All This Time)
- A New Mom’s Guide to a Baby Fighting Sleep
- Baby Not Napping? Here’s What to Do
Interested in learning about teaching your baby to self soothe? Get a preview of my guide, How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe. This chapter is all about the mindset needed for successful self-soothing and helping your baby put himself to sleep: