5 Strategies For When Your Child Is Sick
My family got hit hard and fast by the stomach flu over the last week. It was not pretty and we are just barely getting back on our feet. Most of our normal rules and expectations went out the window. TV was limitless, we ate jello for dinner, and our sleep was all over the place. Bedtime was earlier some days, late on others. Naps were longer on some days, and on others, they happened multiple times per day. My husband even pulled an all-nighter with our older daughter consoling her to sleep and catching her barf. With an almost-4-year old and a 2-year-old, we usually stick to a pretty strict schedule that keeps everyone well-rested and happy, but this was not the week to worry about schedules.
Sickness is one of those major wrenches that get thrown into a good sleep plan, and one of the most common questions I get after successfully completing working with a client: “What do I do when she gets sick?” I’m going to give my best wisdom here to hep navigate these tricky times.
Evaluate what level of sickness you’re dealing with.
This is obvious, but not all sickness is the same. A minor cold really shouldn’t throw much of a wrench into your normal sleep routine, while a major flu or surgery most definitely will. This is especially the case when, for instance, you need to administer medication throughout the night or your child needs to be held upright for comfort and ease of breathing. Ear infections do tend to affect sleep a lot because laying down puts pressure on the ears, so if you have a child suddenly waking up screaming in pain at night, definitely get them to the doctor.
Start with the least amount of intervention.
Even a very sick child may sometimes surprise you and continue to sleep through the night without assistance. This is especially true for a child who already has all the skills to sleep independently (i.e. already sleep trained.) So, try not to go right to rocking them to sleep. If they need some assistance, try first patting them or shushing without holding. Of course, if you end up needing to rock them, don’t worry about it – just enjoy the snuggles – and know you can get back on track as soon as they’re feeling better.
Try a dream dose.
Similar to a dream feed, you can try giving them their next dose of medication without waking them up. Just put the syringe to their lips and see if you can trigger their sucking reflex. If needed, sit them up right a little bit, but try not to wake them fully. Keep lights as low as possible and don’t interact too much.
Allow for extra sleep – but not too much.
Again, this depends on the severity of their illness – for our family last week, my kids fell asleep whenever and where ever they needed – but they still surprisingly stayed mostly on schedule. Even though it’s tempting to let your baby sleep in late or take 4-hour naps, you still might end up with a situation where they are fighting bedtime or waking up really early. My rule of thumb is to let them sleep a half hour longer than usual – in the morning or for naps – but generally cap the naps and aim for early bedtime, as this is when they’ll get their most restorative sleep.
Make sure your child is already a great sleeper.
A kid that is already sleep trained, not overtired, and used to sleeping independently, will bounce back quite fast from an illness, even if all the sleep rules had to be thrown out the window. However, if you start with a baby or toddler who already had some sleep crutches (i.e. needing to be fed or rocked to sleep), an illness can send you down a slippery slope that has you rocking him back to sleep all night like he’s a newborn again. If you haven’t done so already, start instilling those healthy sleep habits that will carry him through his early years with adequate rest. Not only will everyone’s immune systems be better able to fight off these nasty bugs, but you’ll recover more quickly, too! Another great thing about already having a great sleeper is that because their norm is sleeping all night, you know something is really wrong if they’re suddenly waking up screaming.
If your previously great sleeper has developed some bad sleep habits again, just go back to ground zero. Once she’s sufficiently recovered, do a “Night 1” of the sleep training the same way you originally did. It should go much faster than the first time around, and she’ll get right back in her groove. But if you need help getting back on track or would like to lay healthy foundations before sickness hits, click here to schedule your free consult.