What To Do When Your Sick Baby Won’t Sleep

If your sick baby won’t sleep and you are up in the middle of the night desperately trying to find a solution, this article will give you some helpful tips to help sick babies get more sleep.

When your child is sick, they need to be cuddled and comforted.

They need to know you are there.

This is not the time to try though-love or get them to soothe themself.

While babies do get sick a lot in their first year, and it can be super tiring, you need to be there for your little one through the crying, crankiness, and (what feel like) endless night wakings.

You might be afraid that your baby’s good sleep habits are going to be ruined when they are sick, or that they are going to develop new sleep associations.

The crappy truth is: they might.

But young babies recover from illnesses quickly and they will go back to being a great little sleeper in no time.

What to do if your sick baby won't sleep.  Mom-tested. Mommy Maker Teacher.  Mom holding crying baby taking his temperature with her hand.
What To Do If Your Sick Baby Won’t Sleep

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Is Your Baby Sick Or Going Through A Sleep Regression?

Sleep regressions are short periods of time (usually a couple of weeks) where baby’s sleep habits change and they have trouble sleeping during naps or at night.

Sleep regressions are common starting around 4 months old and can happen every few months throughout the first two years of life.

Some signs of a sleep regression are:

  • Having trouble falling asleep
  • Having trouble staying asleep
  • Refusing to take naps
  • Crying and crankiness throughout the day and night

Some reasons why babies go through sleep regressions are:

  • Teething
  • Developmental changes (like starting to sit, crawl, or walk)
  • Cognitive changes (like talking or learning a new skill)
  • Changes in routine (like traveling or starting daycare)

If your baby is perfectly healthy and showing no signs of sickness, but all of a sudden won’t sleep, they are probably going through a sleep regression.

Check out this article by Cara from Taking Cara Babies that explains sleep regressions even further.

Common Illnesses In Babies

Since babies can’t talk, it is important to talk to your child’s doctor to determine whether your baby needs to be evaluated when they aren’t feeling well.

Pro Tip: Newborn babies actually do talk! They have a secret baby language to tell you when they are hungry, tired, gassy, or uncomfortable. Knowing their sounds and “words” can come in really handy for knowing when things are off.

I personally made good friends with the nurse line at my pediatrician’s office that I could call and explain the symptoms my son was having.

They would ask me all kinds of questions, including how the baby was sleeping, and then give me instructions on what to do next.

Unfortunately during the winter months and cold season, newborn babies and young children are prone to illness.

This time can seem like an endless string of sleepless nights, but with a plan in place, it is possible for you and your baby to get some sleep during these long periods.

These are the most common illnesses in babies:

  • Ear infections
  • Viral infection
  • Flu during flu season (always get your flu shot!)
  • Common colds
  • Stomach bug

The most common early signs of illness in babies are:

  • Stuffy nose or runny nose
  • Low-grade fevers
  • High fever
  • Lack of sleep

If your baby isn’t sleeping well all of a sudden, check for these symptoms or any other symptoms your baby is experiencing.

Momma Needs Sleep First

You have probably heard the expression “it takes a village,” and this saying is even more true when there is a sick baby involved.

To help your baby rest, you need sleep first.

Sleep deprivation can lead even the most cautious parents to make bad decisions that can have terrible consequences.

You need to sleep so that you can get up through the night and comfort and soothe your sick baby safely.

My son had a severe allergic reaction that landed him in the hospital for 4 days, and the aftermath of trying to get him to sleep was a nightmare.

I learned a few things along the way that I will pass on to you.

Sleep In Shifts

If you have a partner or second caregiver for the baby, this is the best-case scenario.

Decide on the minimum amount of time each of you needs to sleep to be able to function, and the maximum time you will be able to stay awake with the baby.

Then make a schedule where one caregiver is with the baby (whether the baby is sleeping or awake) and the other is sleeping.

My husband and I worked in 4-hour shifts.

It looked something like this:

8:00 pm- I am asleep, hubby is soothing the baby
12:00 am- Hubby goes to sleep, I am soothing the baby
4:00 am- I am asleep, hubby is soothing the baby
8:00 am- Hubby is asleep, I am soothing the baby
12:00 pm- I am asleep, hubby is soothing the baby
4:00 pm- Hubby is asleep, I am soothing the baby

In a 24-hour period, we would each sleep 12 hours, but broken up into 4-hour chunks.

This might not work for you or your lifestyle so be creative.

Your baby’s sleep starts with your sleep, remember that!

Pro Tip: Keep in mind that this is TEMPORARY.

It might not feel like it right now, but by this time next week your little one will be back to their old sleep habits and so will you.

Most babies get over their illnesses in a few days, and by getting them as much sleep as possible now you are speeding up the process.

Some alternative ideas might be:

  • You are up all night (8 hours) and your partner is up all day (16 hours).
  • If one of you works, try enlisting the help of a friend or family member. Even if it is just someone who can give you 4 or 5 hours of sleep whenever they are off work, that is better than nothing.

Now that you have consulted with your baby’s doctor and have a treatment plan in place, and a sleep schedule for yourself, you need a game plan for getting your baby lots of rest at home.

Baby’s sleep is so important for their immune system and to help them recover.

The More Sleep, The Better For Sick Babies

sick baby won't sleep lying on teddy bear with fever
Baby With Fever Cuddling With Toy Bear

The best way to get a sick baby to sleep through the night is to get them enough sleep throughout the day.

You might be throwing your hands in the air at this point…

After all, you came here looking for solutions on how to get your sick baby to sleep.

Hear me out.

When babies stop sleeping through the night, a common philosophy is to “keep them up” or “wear them out” so that they will sleep well at night.

You might have mixed results with this approach with a healthy baby, but with a sick baby, this plan is going to backfire.

Overtired babies are hard enough to get to sleep, a sick overtired baby is almost impossible to get down.

Even if your baby was up all night, you need to help them get as much sleep as possible the next day.

Sleep breeds sleep.

What To Do If Your Sick Baby Won’t Sleep At All

Hold Your Baby

If you put in a lot of sleep training work, you might be afraid that holding your baby while they are sick is going to set them back from sleeping through the night.

It might…

But re-sleep training your baby isn’t going to be as hard or take as long to get back on track after being sick.

Imagine you are sick, and you are ready to dive into your bed of pillows and blankets, turn on some TV, and snuggle up for the day.

You get to your room and all you see is a flat empty bed with a little sheet (in your baby’s case a swaddle or sleep sack).

How on earth are you supposed to get cozy in that environment?!

That is the same problem your baby is facing.

The coziest place, where they feel safest, is in your arms.

Hold your baby’s head slightly upright to help with nasal congestion if they have a stuffy nose.

If you need to get stuff done, try using a baby carrier or baby wrap to wear your baby for the same effect. This article I wrote explains everything you need to know about babywearing.

If they don’t want to be held (my son didn’t when he was very sick) you can try putting them in a bouncer seat, swing, or anything else that props them up a bit.

If your baby isn’t on a flat surface in an empty crib they need to be supervised. You must be alert and within arms reach of your baby.

Once your baby is comfortable, they will probably fall asleep quickly.

If your baby is *sound* asleep and you want to try moving them to their crib so that you can catch some bonus sleep, go for it.

Keep in mind that even if you successfully move your baby back to their crib, they are likely going to sleep in much shorter chunks of time than normal.

Bath

Giving your child bath can be relaxing, soothing to their sore bodies, and help reduce fever. Make sure if your child has a fever to use lukewarm water between 90-95 degrees.

After the bath, using lotion on their skin and giving a mini baby massage can also be soothing and relaxing.

Longer Naps

Remember sleep breeds sleep.

Sick babies might need to take longer naps throughout the day.

Generally, new parents are advised not to let nap times go longer than 2 hours to help babies sleep longer at night.

When your child is sick, let them sleep as long as they want. This might be 3-hour naps or longer.

They might also have shorter wake windows than usual.

For example, if your child was down to 1 nap a day with 4 or 5 hour wake times, you might need to go back a step and try to do 2 naps with 2 or 3-hour wake windows.

Just make sure you have enough wake time for your baby to stay full and hydrated.

Clothing And Room Temperature

You may be tempted to turn up the heat in your child’s room to a high temperature or bundle them up in more clothes to help your child’s fever.

Remember, when you bundle yourself up, you can take off layers as you get warm. Babies cannot.

Overheating is a very serious concern for babies.

Having a few heavier and a few lighter-weight sleep sacks or swaddles comes in very handy when your little one is sick.

Keep your child’s room the same temperature that it usually is, and dress them as you usually do.

Check your baby’s fever throughout the night.

Keep Your Baby Full And Hydrated

Your sick child might not express much interest in solid food.

Focus on their intake of formula and breastmilk. This might mean adding back extra fluids in the form of more bottles or feedings throughout the day and night.

Just like with sleep training, it might take a few days once your baby is better to drop the night feedings again, but this should happen naturally over the course of 3-5 days.

If you have weaned your child from breastfeeding but have a stash of breast milk in the freezer, this is the perfect time to use it up.

Breastmilk is packed full of nutrients to boost your baby’s immune system.

Keep track of your child’s wet diapers when they are sick–especially if they have a fever.

If you have an infant, under a year, they should have at least 6 wet diapers in the day (about every 4 hours). Older babies and toddlers may be dehydrated if they haven’t had a wet diaper for 8 hours or longer.

Call your pediatrician right away if this happens.

Keep Your Routine

If you don’t have a bedtime or naptime routine yet, you should definitely start one once your child is feeling better.

A bedtime routine helps babies sleep better and longer, especially when they are sick.

Whatever your normal routine is will signal to your baby that sleep is coming and they will go down easier.

Keeping your routine throughout the illness will also make it easier for your child to return to their usual sleep habits when they are feeling better.

Keep Your Baby In Their Bassinet Or Crib

You might be nervous about leaving a sick baby in their own room, so you might be tempted to pull a sick baby into bed with you.

This is not safe.

Your baby’s safety is still the top priority even when they are sick.

The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) advocates the ABCs of sleep: Alone, on their Back, in an empty Crib.

Using the ABCs of sleep reduces the risk of SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome.

If you are too worried to leave your baby alone in a room when they are sick you can move your baby into your room in a portable crib or playard.

OR

My favorite option is actually for me to move into my child’s room on a mattress for a few days.

Babies sleep best in a familiar environment, so keeping your baby in their own bed can get you more sleep when your little one is sick.

By sleeping in my baby’s room I can monitor my baby for the whole night, take his temperature as needed, and easily roll over to rub his back or give him a short cuddle.

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Some Other Tips To Help A Sick Baby That Won’t Sleep

  • Use saline drops and a Nose Frida to get all of the boogers out of their nasal passages. This Nose Frida actually comes with saline spray.

    This will help your sick baby sleep better because they can breathe better. It will also help your baby take a bottle or breast because it is easier to breathe. The Nose Frida is widely recommended by moms. It is the best thing that I have found for stuffy noses. Way better than the bulbs.

    I did try an electric snot sucker and couldn’t get it to work… But I also didn’t try very hard. It is an option if you don’t like the idea of manually sucking out your baby’s boogers.
  • Give Tylenol or Motrin as directed by your pediatrician for pain relief. Since babies change so quickly, it is important to get the correct dose for your baby’s weight.
  • Use a cool-mist humidifier in the baby’s room to add moisture to the air. This makes breathing more comfortable for babies. It is also soothing for your baby’s nose that might be dry or cracked from congestion.

    The reason cool-mist humidifiers are recommended for nurseries is that regular humidifiers have a heating element that could burn the baby if they came in contact with it.

    You can buy a cool-mist humidifier on Amazon and most home improvement stores.

    If you don’t have a humidifier, you can steam up a bathroom by letting hot water run in the shower for a few minutes with the door closed. Then take the baby to the bathroom for a few minutes to breathe the air.
  • A home-remedy that I used with my son was to take him outside at night (just for 30 seconds-1 minute if it was cold) to breathe some crisp fresh air.
  • Rock and sing.

    Give your baby the soothing comfort of rocking back and forth with you and listening to your voice as you sing a soft lullaby.
  • Take the baby for a long walk or car ride.

    If your child sleeps well in their car seat or in the stroller, take them for a walk or a drive to get some sleep. My son loves his stroller, so I would bring it inside when he was really sick, sit on the couch, and push it back and forth while he slept.

WARNING: You might be told by well-meaning friends and family to use Vicks VaporRub to ease your baby’s coughing. Vicks VaporRub contains camphor and eucalyptus oils which are toxic to babies and toddlers. The side effects are vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, seizures, and death. I had no idea about this until I asked my pediatrician if it was safe to use and she told me absolutely not.

Make sure to run any at-home remedies by your pediatrician for this reason. Things that were common to do even a few years ago might not be safe anymore.

Getting Back To Your Sleep Routine

Once your child is 100% feeling better and you get the green light from your healthcare provider, you can go back to your normal sleep routine and sleep training.

The good news is if your baby was a good sleeper before getting sick, they will go back to sleeping well again in 3-5 days (maybe 5-7 if you added night feeds).

Each night will get a little bit better!

Know that there is a good chance that you have to use the sleep training process that you used when you originally sleep trained for a few days to get back to normal.

If you added back night feeds you can drop them however you did the first time around.

If you went cold turkey you should be fine to do the same once your baby is feeling better. If you took a gradual approach the first time and want to do that again, it might take an extra few days to drop those feedings.

If your child was not a good sleeper or was not old enough for sleep training (most sleep training should happen around 6 months), they should at least go back to the sleep patterns that they had before they got sick.

The Bottom Line When Your Sick Baby Won’t Sleep

None of these tips and tricks matter if you are too tired to function.

Make sure you are getting the minimum amount of sleep that you need to function.

Enlist the help of your partner, caregiver, family member, or friend.

Touch base with your pediatrician regularly so they can help you with additional treatment options.

Know that I am very confident that by this time next week things will be getting back to normal.

You can do this momma!