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4 FAQs About Sick Babies

It's that time of year when illness is running rampant in communities throughout the world. Whether it's another variant of COVID, the flu, or just a general cold caused by a virus, it's normal to worry about your baby.

I often get asked about illness and sleep, so I thought I'd give a few quick responses to my most frequently asked questions regarding this topic.

How do I make my sick baby feel better?

First things first, always follow the direction of your child's pediatrician or doctor. Make sure you have proper dosages for medications based on your child's weight. Every time we go for a baby well check, I ask for a current printout of dosages based on their current weight so I have it when the germs inevitably make their way into our house.

If your baby is younger than 6 months, you can use acetaminophen. Beyond 6 months, I will alternate between acetaminophen and ibuprofen every 4 hours as needed for comfort and to treat fevers. Honestly, if it's a lower-grade fever, I don't offer medicine at all, and let the fever do its thing in heating up and killing the virus - after all, that's the point of a fever. If it's getting high, or I can tell my child is very uncomfortable, that's when I'll offer some medicine.

I also keep the nurses' on-call line (or the on-call doctor if it's serious enough and in the middle of the night) readily available on my phone. I've called them SO MUCH and every time I am reminded how amazing nurses are. They've calmed me and given me great advice.

Once, Bram - probably 1.5-2 years at the time - had a pretty high fever in the evening (between 104 and 105). I called the nurse's line, and the nurse told me to pay more attention to his responsiveness vs. the number on the thermometer. If he wasn't responding to seemed really out of it, take him in. And if he was acting okay to just continue to monitor him from home. That saved me a trip to the emergency room and a few hundred dollars because had I not spoken with her, I would have taken him in to be checked simply based on his temperature.

Another night, he had a dangerously high fever in the middle of the night. I called the on-call doctor who gave us some pointers on how to help cool his body. We didn't need to go in that evening either.

Another time, when he was almost 4 months old, Beau had a slight fever. Due to his age, I was concerned, even though he was acting fairly normal. To be safe, I called again and the doctor advised me to take him in and get him checked out. Fevers in a young child are difficult to navigate and sometimes find a cause but can be very serious, so it's better to be safe than sorry. He ended up being fine..."just a virus" and we were sent home after they did a few tests. I'm so thankful it wasn't anything more serious.

For colds, saline solution and removing mucus is going to be your best bet at helping your baby breathe a little easier. I love the Nose Frida from Frida Baby. They also have an electric version out now too, in case the thought of sucking snot out of your baby's nose grosses you out. ;) It can also help to do this after spending 30-40 minutes in a hot, steamy bathroom to loosen things up.

If your baby uses a pacifier, you'll want to assess how their breathing is when the pacifier is in their mouth. They may need to try to sleep without it until they can breathe out of their nose a little better.

It also helps to hold your baby upright in the bathroom with the hot shower running - the steam can assist with loosening any mucus and help them breathe a bit easier. Try to do this before every nap or bedtime to ensure they're going into their crib breathing easily.

How do I soothe my sick baby?

It's not easy when your baby isn't feeling well. Do what you can to keep them comfortable with the above suggestions, then:

  • hold your baby upright for naps to help them breathe easier

  • take "shifts" with your partner if possible so you can get some rest too - it's important that whoever is holding the baby is awake and alert

  • lay in their room next to them - bring in a mattress if it's necessary to sleep in there with them - DO NOT DO THIS IF IT'S JUST A LITTLE COLD - we don't want to inadvertently cause a big sleep regression by creating some new, preferred sleep props

  • Respond respectively to the illness - if your child is VERY SICK, pull out all the stops to keep them safe and comfortable. If it's just a bit of a runny nose, keep things on track as much as possible when it comes to sleep

How long do you let a sick baby sleep?

Sleep IS important to fighting illness. Your immune system ramps up when you sleep, so prioritizing rest and sleep is necessary to get better more quickly.

Again, how long you let your child sleep will vary based on how sick they are. Again, respond respectively to their level of illness. If they're very feverish let them sleep longer. Wake your baby after a few hours to keep feedings on track, as nutrition and hydration are also important to overcoming illness.

I would likely wake them within 30-60 minutes of when they normally wake if they're still sleeping. So, if they're normally awake by 7:00 each morning, I'd let them sleep until 7:30 or 8:00 and then wake them, especially if they haven't been sleeping well due to the illness.

If your child is taking shorter naps because they're sick, you can offer an extra nap to make up for any missed sleep.

Just know that illness often will cause a bit of a regression with sleep. When your child is feeling better, stay consistent with your normal expectations around sleep to help them get back on track.

How do I help my sick baby sleep through the night?

Offer medication and comfort as needed.

Again, if it's necessary to hold them upright while they sleep, you'll need to take turns with your partner to keep your baby safe. We wouldn't want anyone falling asleep while holding a baby, as this could be dangerous from a safe sleep perspective. Perhaps your partner stays up late and holds them the first half of the night while you sleep, and then you switch.

Make sure you've suctioned them as well as possible before you put them to bed - this will help them sleep a bit longer. Also, have a cool-mist humidifier set up in their bedroom.

A baby with independent sleep skills is going to sleep better than one without. Prevent the issue of worse sleep by helping teach your little one the skill of independent sleep before they catch their next cold. They'll likely wake up just as much at night, but may be able to get back to sleep on their own without you needing to intervene. It's worth it, in my humble opinion.

Want to know if sleep training is the right answer for your family? Take the quiz to get my professional opinion!

More often than not, you just have to wait it out. You got this, mama!

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