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How to Help Sick Baby Sleep: The Ultimate Guide for Exhausted Moms

Reading Time: 10 minutes

As an exhausted mom with a sick baby at home, I know all too well those sleepless nights caring for a little one battling illness. The stuffy nose that disrupts their breathing, incessant coughing spells that make it impossible to drift off, and nonstop crying from aches and pains. It’s brutal.

When baby’s sleep suffers from sickness, so does the whole household. And since quality Zzz’s are so crucial to recovery, properly addressing “How to Help Sick Baby Sleep” feels impossible yet essential. Take it from this mom of two – I’ve spent my fair share of nights anxiously pacing the nursery, desperately trying to soothe my sick, overtired child.

If this sounds familiar, you’ve come to the right place mama. This comprehensive guide is here to help with actionable advice for supporting your sick baby’s sleep needs…and maintaining a shred of your own sanity in the process!

Why Sleep Matters So Much When Baby is Sick

It may be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: sleep is wildly important when anyone’s fighting illness, babies included. Quality rest provides the necessary recovery time for their taxed little bodies to heal. Plus, growth hormones are actually secreted during those precious Zzz’s, helping build your baby’s immune defenses.

But on the flip side, interrupted sleep doesn’t just result in one very cranky infant. There’s actually evidence it can hinder recovery, exacerbating symptoms like congestion and irritability. This in turn disrupts sleep even further, creating an endless cycle of overtired misery.

So do whatever you can to help your little patient get the restorative rest their body craves. Easier said than done of course! But this guide will cover multiple tricks for making that possible…

How to Help Sick Baby Sleep
How to Help Sick Baby Sleep: The Ultimate Guide for Exhausted Moms. Image Credit: Canva

What’s Disrupting Baby’s Sleep During Sickness?

Before diving into solutions, it helps to understand exactly why our babies struggle sleeping when under the weather. What seemingly small ailments lead to those frustrating midnight wake ups? Here are some of the most common culprits:

Congestion & Difficulty Breathing – Between stuffy noses, chest congestion, coughing, sneezing fits etc., respiratory issues definitely reign supreme here. Any kind of blocked airway can panic a little one, jerking them awake.

Discomfort and Pain – Sore throats, ear infections, headache…so many lovely ways for illness to cause outright pain. And obviously an uncomfortable baby has trouble relaxing into sleep.

Restless Sleep from Fever – It’s well known that fevers can disturb sleep. The body senses overheating and responds with fitful tossing, sweating, and wakeups.

Medication Side Effects – Ironically, any medication you give attempting to alleviate the above symptoms…could also hinder sleep. Always check drowsy side effects.

Physical Needs from Not Eating/Drinking Enough – Between congestion, sore throats, and poor appetite from nausea, babies often struggle getting enough nutrition when sick. The subsequent hunger/thirst then disrupts sleep.

Okay, now that we know why sleep suffers, let’s get to the good stuff! Keep reading for actionable tips to improve sick baby’s sleep.

CauseSymptoms
Congestion/Breathing IssuesStuffy nose, chest congestion, coughing/sneezing fits, blocked airway
Discomfort and PainSore throat, ear infection, headache, general aches
Restless Sleep from FeverNight sweats, flushing, tossing/turning, irritability
Medication Side EffectsDrowsiness, headaches, dizziness, nausea
Inadequate Hydration/NutritionHunger, thirst, fatigue, crying, poor feeding

Sleep Aids & Soothing Techniques for Fussy, Uncomfortable Babies

When illness hits, do whatever you can to maximize comfort. Stopping those sniffles, coughs, and various ouchies from disturbing your little patient’s sleep. Try these soothing tricks:

Prop Them Up –Raise baby’s head and upper body with some pillows or padded supports. This alleviates congestion, allowing easier breathing, drainage, and comfort.

Use a Cool Mist Humidifier – Add some moisture to the air with a cool mist humidifier near baby’s crib. This can help loosen congestion.

FactorDetails
TemperatureIdeal room temp 68-72°F. Layer bedding that can adjust.
HumidityCool mist humidifier adds moisture to ease breathing.
LightingBlackout curtains. Only dim, indirect light at nigh
Sound MachineDrowns out disruptive noises with white noise. Set to rain/waves sounds.
Air PurifierFilters irritants to facilitate open airways.
Crib PositionPlaced away from vents/windows avoiding direct air blowing on baby.
Sleep-Promoting Environmental Factors

Give Preventative Pain Medication – Consult your pediatrician, but children’s Tylenol or ibuprofen before bed may mean better rest.

Try the Magic Baby Hold – Swaddle them snuggly, then hold baby upright on your chest, supporting their head close to your neck. The cuddly contact and incline can comfort.

Let Them Sleep Sitting Up – If lying flat is proving too difficult, props and pillows to allow sitting upright in their crib can help significantly.

Those tricks help alleviate the pesky physical symptoms. But sometimes baby is just generally uncomfortable or extra fussy from illness. During those rough nights try:

Rocking –Gently rock/sway that sweet babe to sleep. The motion and closeness can soothe their senses.

Shushing –Simulate those loud white noise sounds from the womb with loud, rhythmic shushing. It works wonders!

Baby Massages – Light touches and gentle back/tummy rubs before bed can ease pain better than medicine. Worth a try!

Swaddle Tightly – Feeling cozy and secure helps them relax. But leave arms free if too warm.

Keep Lights Low – Bright lights can overstimulate when already uncomfortable. Keep things dim and boring.

Did we just recreate the 5 S’s from Harvey Karp’s infamous book The Happiest Baby on the Block? Why yes, yes we did! Because they work for calming sick, overtired babies too!

Those techniques help maximize physical ease pre-bedtime. But let’s also briefly chat supporting baby’s emotional needs when ill. This stuff matters too!

How to Help Sick Baby Sleep 2
How to Help Sick Baby Sleep: The Ultimate Guide for Exhausted Moms. Image Credit: Canva

Coping with Overtiredness & Emotions During Sickness

Undoubtedly mama, you are exhausted yourself trying to care for your unwell little one. It drains you seeing your baby so sick and uncomfortable when rest just won’t come.

Give yourself grace. Know that YOU matter too. This difficult season will pass! In the meantime, take comfort knowing even just your loving presence soothes their distress.

Still, the nonstop sleep disruptions do take an emotional toll on everyone. When you hit that point of absolute overwhelm:

Ask for Help! Don’t try to power through alone. Call in reinforcements from family and friends when possible. Even an hour break makes a world of difference.

Take Deep Breaths. Oxygen is brain food! Long exhales trigger calming hormones that benefit you both.

Switch off Worrying Thoughts. Easier said than done of course! But redirect mental energy towards solutions, not the problem.

Focus on Health, Not Just Sleep. As essential as rest is, don’t lose sight of the big picture. Hydration, nutrition and TLC top the priority list right now.

Remind Yourself This Too Shall Pass! Like any illness or hard season, keep eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel. Health WILL return!

Arm yourself with coping mechanisms before the sleep deprived delirium sets in. But let’s get back to logistics you can directly control nightly. Starting with…

Should My Sick Baby Sleep in My Room So I Can Watch Them?

Mama bear instinct says to keep your cub close for safety when vulnerable. I totally get that urge to have your ill babe sleep in your bedroom for close monitoring!

However, the sleep experts actually advise against this. Here’s why:

Familiarity Breeds Sleep – Like adults, baby sleeps best in their normal crib/bassinet location. Drastically different environments disrupt body rhythms.

You Need Rest Too! – Attempting sleep next to a noisy, sick baby is laughable. Neither of you would get quality rest, exacerbating issues.

That said, during scary illnesses involving high fever, respiratory distress, or other worrying symptoms, you may choose closeness over rest. First talk to your child’s doctor for tailored medical advice on your situation. But if keeping baby nearby eases YOUR mind enough to function, that can be the right choice.

The Middle Ground? Bedside Campout

My personal recommendation finding balance between proximity andfamiliarity? Pitch a little campsite on the floor beside baby’s crib! Layer some blankets and pillows for your own makeshift bed within arm’s reach.

Resting within view and earshot of your little one, but without sacrificing that crucial familiar sleep space for them. Best of both worlds!

Either way, give yourself permission to ignore outdated adages like “let them cry it out” during illness. Right now, responding quickly to give comfort takes top priority. Which leads to another common question…

How to Help Sick Baby Sleep 4
How to Help Sick Baby Sleep: The Ultimate Guide for Exhausted Moms. Image Credit: Canva

If My Baby is Sleeping More Due to Sickness, Should I Still Wake Them to Feed?

Wondering whether to rouse a sleeping baby for meals becomes much more complicated when sickness is involved. We just preached the gospel of sleep is absolutely vital during illness!

So now…should you disrupt that precious shut eye to ensure they eat?

As usual, check with your own pediatrician about baby’s specific needs. But some general guidelines:

  • For newborns under 3 months, wake every 2-3 hours for feeds even if sleeping. Their tiny tummies absolutely require the frequent nutrition.
  • For babies over 6 months old, let them dictate need based on awake cues. If truly sleeping soundly don’t wake just to eat.
  • For ages 3-6 months, consider waking every 4 hours for at least a snack. But if sleep seems crucial for recovery, stretch longer.

See the theme? Balance food intake with adequate rest based on age, symptoms, and pediatrician counsel. Use your best mama judgment observing baby’s needs!

Now, speaking of judgment calls, what about…

Is It Safe for My Baby to Sleep with a Fever?

Ugh, fevers. The bane of comfortable sleep for everyone from babies to grownups! But is it actually okay for your little one to sleep when running a temperature?

In most cases, yes absolutely. Sleep can help the body fight illness more efficiently. However, there are a couple fever red flags to ensure safety:

  • For babies under 3 months, alert your doctor right away about ANY temperature reading over 100.4 F. Their bodies can’t regulate temps as well, so fevers present higher risk.
  • For babies over 3 months, talk to your doctor if sleepiness seems excessive or if fever reaches over 103 F. Danger zones for dehydration or other concerns.

Barring those scenarios, take comfort knowing restorative sleep can help that sweet babe heal!

Now, since fevers do commonly induce fitful, restless sleep, also stick to the previous tips for maximizing physical comfort. Things like infant pain relievers, cool rags, minimal clothing/bedding and fans blowing nearby make all the difference.

Visit your pediatrician promptly if you have worries. Otherwise — let ‘em sleep, mama! Speaking of consultations, what about…

SymptomOTC Medication Option(s)
Pain/FeverAcetaminophen (Tylenol), Ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin)
CoughingDextromethorphan cough syrup
CongestionPhenylephrine nasal decongestant drops
Sore ThroatBenzocaine throat spray/lozenges
Over-the-Counter Medications for Baby Discomfort
How to Help Sick Baby Sleep 3
How to Help Sick Baby Sleep: The Ultimate Guide for Exhausted Moms. Image Credit: Canva

Can I Continue Sleep Training My Baby When They’re Sick?

Listen, in a perfect world with unlimited sanity, we would all absolutely pause sleep training when baby falls ill. After all, you worked so hard helping them master the skill of independent, peaceful rest!

But then reality sets in. Real life happens, with back-to-back illnesses that last for freakin’ weeks! And suddenly training feels pointless.

Before you abandon ship, consider a temporary “modified” sleep learning approach. Your overall goal is establishing ability to self-soothe, right? That still applies now! When illness strikes try:

  • Stick to same soothing techniques from training, just more hands-on. Rock them fully to drowsiness or use gentle shushing. Get creative!
  • Nurse/feed to sleep if needed. Food is comfort! Offer water too. Hydration matters.
  • Experiment with location flexibility. If their bedroom has negative associations from sickness-driven wakeups, try your room temporarily.
  • Feel at peace with some middle-of-the-night snuggles. Limit to 5-10 minutes to avoid disruption habit.
  • Use verbal reassurance along with sleep cues. “Shhh I know you don’t feel good baby, but it’s time for night-night”.

Get the idea? Stay consistent responding to needs and cues. Meet baby where they’re at physically and emotionally in the moment. But also avoid fully abandoning all training progress. Find creative middle ground solutions.

The exception? Drop training entirely if exhaustion reaches dangerous levels, symptoms seem medically concerning, or emotional duress crosses worrying thresholds on either end. Then, ALL energy goes to nurturing health first and foremost.

Bottom line? Mother your baby, trust your instincts, stay closely tuned to doctor’s advice, and give yourself permission to modify the “rules” during sickness. Speaking of bending guidelines…

AspectAdjustment
Soothing TechniquesUse same as sleep training but more hands-on (e.g. rocking fully to drowsiness)
Feeding to SleepAllow feeding/nursing to sleep if it comforts baby
Sleep LocationsExperiment with location flexibility to disassociate sickness struggle from bedroom
Night WakingsOffer brief reassurance cuddles limited to 5-10 mins
Verbal ReassuranceProvide comforting words along with sleep cues
Sleep Training Modifications During Sickness

How the Heck Can I Get ANY Sleep with a Sick Baby at Home?

We’ve covered a truckload of troubleshooting baby’s sleep when they’re ill. But mama, at a certain point your desperate need for rest takes spotlight! Because an exhausted, sleep deprived mom helps no one.

So before we wrap up, let’s chat logistics for self-care and coping through the exhaustion of caring for a sick, overtired baby at home.

Outsource What You Can – As mentioned before, DO NOT try to power through solo! Call in reinforcements from family and friends to give yourself a break. Even an hour or two of uninterrupted sleep makes a world of difference.

Sleep When Baby Sleeps – The ol’ cliche we love to hate as new parents. But during sickness, this mantra saves! Nap hard whenever possible. Let dishes and laundry pile up. REST matters more.

Stagger Shifts with Partner – Trade off in chunks of time. You snooze while partner handles baby duties, then switch off. It’s survival mode!

Stock Up on Caffeine – Coffee, tea, whatever your stimulant of choice, utilize it! Just watch baby’s intake if breastfeeding.

Go to Bed Uber Early – I know, I know, no social life! But temporarily shift bedtime way earlier expecting interruptions. Perhaps 7pm? Do what works!

Set Alarms Reminding Yourself to Rest – Life with a sick, needy baby makes hours blur in sleep deprived survival mode. Set reminders to ensure you take intentional breathing breaks.

Call Your Doctor if YOU Get Sick Too – Sacrificing your own health helps nobody! If exhaustion brings illness your way too, immediately address it. Seek medical advice.

Desperate times call for desperate measures when illness strikes. Give yourself permission to throw all expectations out the window, lower the bar way down on responsibilities, and focus hard on keeping both baby AND mama afloat through rest and recovery.

This difficult season WILL pass! Just take it day by tiny sleep chunk at a time.

TipDetails
Outsource What You CanCall on family/friends for short-term relief
Sleep When Baby SleepsNap hard whenever possible
Stagger ShiftsAlternate sleep shifts with partner
Stock Up on CaffeineCoffee, tea, etc. but watch breastfeeding intake
Earlier BedtimeShift bedtime much earlier expecting interruptions
Set Rest RemindersUse phone alarms to remind yourself to breathe
See Your DoctorAddress your own health needs promptly
Caregiver Self-Care Tips
How to Help Sick Baby Sleep 5
How to Help Sick Baby Sleep: The Ultimate Guide for Exhausted Moms. Image Credit: Canva

When to Call the Pediatrician About Baby’s Disrupted Sleep

Throughout this post we’ve chatted normal sickness sleep disruptions and coping techniques. But in closing, let’s outline when it may be time to escalate from Dr. Mom to seeking professional medical advice:

  • If sleeplessness persists beyond a few days with no improvement
  • If baby shows signs of respiratory distress – see doctor promptly
  • If baby seems extremely irritable and inconsolable despite interventions
  • If YOU as caregiver reach dangerous physical/mental exhaustion

As always, trust those mama instincts! Don’t hesitate reaching out to doctors with any pressing questions or worries either. Get baby checked out for your own peace of mind if something feels “off”.

Final Pep Talk!

Sweet mama, you’ve got this. As difficult as this sleepless season can feel in the thick of it, hang in there! Implement as many tips as humanly possible from this post, but also surrender to the fact baby NEEDS comfort right now.

Remind yourself this intensity is temporary. Health WILL return! And your kiddo will certainly repay the sleep debt soon enough with adorable cuddly catch-up naps on your chest.

Until then, take it one difficult night at a time. Stay the course utilizing every soothing strategy possible. And give yourself plenty of grace, knowing even just your loving presence helps your sweet babe heal.

You’ve got this mama! And soon, sleep will too.

FAQ – How to Help Sick Baby Sleep

What’s the ideal room temperature to promote sleep when my baby is sick?

Is it safe for my baby to sleep propped up? What if she rolls over?

What humidifier settings and placement are best for baby’s sleep?

How often should I sterilize/wash sleep items when baby is sick continuously?

Will giving my sick baby pain relievers like Tylenol before bed make medicine less effective later?

How to Help Sick Baby Sleep 7
How to Help Sick Baby Sleep: The Ultimate Guide for Exhausted Moms. Image Credit: Canva
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