I need to be honest here, winter is my least favourite season. Granted it does bring some good things; movie nights on the couch, relaxing open fires, and beautiful foggy mornings. Unfortunately, these are often spoilt by nasty cold and flu bugs.
So, you and your little one have both worked hard building healthy sleep habits and now you’re worried it could all be derailed by nasty cold and flu bugs! Here are my top tips for getting through illness whilst maintaining healthy sleep.
Don’t jump the gun
When we’re sick, we don’t sleep as well as we normally would. Our little ones are no different! It’s inevitable that your child will wake in the night. How you handle those wakeups will make all the difference.
The biggest thing that is going to undo all of your hard work, is bringing back the sleep props. You have all worked so hard to phase them out so the last thing you want is to have to go through the process of ditching the props once your child is well again. So, try to avoid intervening in your child’s sleep skills unnecessarily. What I mean by that is make sure you give them the opportunity to go back to sleep on their own as they normally would.
To be very clear, I am not suggesting you don’t provide reassurance or relief. I am a Mum and know what it is like to see your little one sick and miserable. Obviously, you want to comfort your baby when they’re sick. You can absolutely go in and respond to your child in the night, BUT what I’m suggesting is that you don’t immediately resort to providing previous sleep props without first giving your child a chance to get back to sleep on their own.
How should I respond?
When your child is unwell and you hear them in the night, respond quickly! Go in and treat the symptoms appropriately: wipe snotty noses, offer a drink of water, have a cuddle, check temp, whatever you need to do to offer comfort. Once this is done, and your child is settled, rather than jump straight into rocking or patting them to sleep, try to let your little one drift off to sleep in their own bed/cot without assistance. This would look no different from any other time your child would go to sleep.
It is totally up to you if you stay in the room or leave (try to be consistent with bedtime – if you’re not usually in your child’s room while they go to sleep, then leave). The idea is that you provide the opportunity for your little one to try and go back to sleep independently.
This may not work, so if they start to cry or call out for you, then by all means up the comfort and bring back staying in the room, patting, rubbing their back, etc. Try offering the comfort (whether it’s patting, rubbing, humming, etc) intermittently. This means when they are calm and quiet stop to see if they can settle to sleep without it. Offer comfort if they start to cry or protest, reducing as they settle down and see if you are able to bring on sleep this way.
If your child is really struggling to get back to sleep with some minimal, or intermittent comfort, help them get to sleep however you can – provided they stay in their own bed/cot (more on this later).
Should I reintroduce a feed?
Short answer: no, provided it has not been recommended by a health professional.
- Always follow the recommendations of your doctor or paediatrician
- If you don’t have any recommendations from a health professional but your little one is off their food during the day, you can offer a top up feed BUT try not to let them fall asleep at the breast or bottle.
- Stick to water if you don’t wish to reintroduce a feed overnight
Where possible, I recommend only offering this additional feed for no longer than 3 nights. Anything past this timeline tends to result in greater difficulty dropping it once the illness passes.
Camp out rather than co sleep
A lot of people get into a bit of a pickle when their little one is sick because they bring their child into bed with them. Now I completely understand why. I’ve been there. Your child is unwell and you’re having to respond to their needs round the clock and you also want to keep a close eye on them. The winter bug may have hit you too leaving you feeling less than 100% yourself. It gets to a point where you will do anything to get everyone back to sleep in the quickest way possible! But having your child sleep in your bed is a really tricky sleep prop to drop once they’re better. This is especially true if this was the prop you worked so hard to drop previously.
It is much easier for you to camp out in your child’s room rather than them come in with you. You can set yourself up on a camp mattress or pull the cushions off the couch and put them on the floor. Do whatever you have to do to make yourself as comfortable as possible whilst keeping a close eye on your sick little one.
My rule of 3’s applies here also. You wouldn’t want to camp out for any longer than 3 nights. Otherwise you may find yourself camping out 3, 6, or even 9 months down the track. Once your little one is feeling better you can start your retreat back to your own room by gradually moving closer to, and eventually out of, the door!
Throw out the awake times and nap capping
To get through an illness, our bodies need rest and lots of it! Let your child sleep when and where they can. Don’t worry about awake times, capping naps, or regular bedtimes. Sure, this may result in some more night wakings but it’s a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario: are the wakings caused by longer/later naps OR illness?!
It’s ok if your little one’s bedtime is out for a few nights to allow them to get the much needed sleep their body needs to fight off the nasty bugs. You can bring it forward or push it back, depending on naps, symptoms, and opportunity.
The same goes for the time your child wakes up. If your little one is sleeping late, don’t wake them. Their body needs the rest. Use their cues and offer naps during the day when they indicate they need it, rather than watching the clock.
Be kind to yourself
It really takes a toll on a parent when you see your child miserable, not eating, and/or flushed with a temp. As well as looking after your child, the best thing you can do for them is look after yourself. If you do fall back into using previous sleep props because it meant that you all got much-needed sleep, don’t beat yourself up over it.
After all, the best cure for illness is rest so if you can only get your little one to sleep by reintroducing those sleep props it’s better than them not sleeping at all!
You have supported your child in developing independent sleep skills without those props before, you are definitely able to kindly remind them they are able to sleep without them again!
Help is available
If you do find yourself a bit ‘stuck in old habits’ and struggling to get your family’s sleep back on track, I’m happy to help.
Hopefully, you all stay healthy and warm through these winter months!