Updated: Jan 8
Have you ever heard of the infamous "man cold?" Some men are big babies when sick (not talking about you, Babe! *wink*). I don't know which is worse...taking care of a sick husband or taking care of sick children. Okay...just kidding. It's definitely the latter. One of the worst parts of being a parent is when your children are sick. You hurt when they hurt. When your child is sick, it can impact everything from his sleep to his eating habits. Thankfully, I've got some tips to help your little one sleep while sick (and how not to ruin his good sleeping habits in the meantime).
1. Raise his head.
Not enough that he could go sledding down the mattress (that sometimes happens), but enough to raise his head above his feet while sleeping. Think of when you have a cold and how much worse your head and sinuses feel if you try to lay down flat. Yuck...not fun. If your baby is still in a crib, simply put a towel or small pillow under one end of the mattress. No pillows or loose blankets should be in the crib until your babe is at least a year old. If your toddler is already in a bed and sleeps with a pillow, then you could just offer an extra pillow to put under his head.
2. Beef up the bedtime routine.
With three children, we've been through quite a few little colds now. These are a few things that we use to help them sleep better when they're sick.
First of all, we use an essential oil diffuser in their room. My husband is the EO guru, but I do know that he uses tea tree, lavender, and eucalyptus oils to help calm them and open up their airways. He also has a couple of blends that are meant for kids. The diffuser is also a humidifier, so you're killing two birds with one stone! If you don't want to use oils, then a regular humidifier will still help.
As I'm getting him dressed in his pajamas, I put Zarbee's Naturals chest rub on his feet and chest. We are extra careful to make sure that his chest is completely covered and he cannot wipe any of it on his hands. You don't want a sleepy baby wiping his hands in it and then rubbing his eyes. Ouch! If you have regular Vicks vapor rub, it probably says not for use under age 2. Just check in with your pediatrician and he may give you the go ahead.
The next item is really a trio, and it's probably the most important one: saline spray, NoseFrida, and Boogie Wipes. The saline spray helps to loosen up hard boogies while moisturizing your little one's sinuses. We squirt a drop in each nostril and then give it about 30 seconds to work through. Here's where I have to get a little gross...sorry.
After we put the saline in his nose, we then suck out all of the snot with the amazing Fridababy nose sucker, otherwise known as the #NoseFrida. If you don't have one of these, it is a MUST. Those squeezy bulb things just don't cut it, and you have to know there is nasty stuff growing inside of them after one use. With the NoseFrida, you can pull it apart and wash it. It's also just a lot easier and you can get way more gunk out. Some people, like my husband, are totally grossed out by the fact that you are sucking the snot out with your mouth, but there is a filter in between your mouth and the grossness. (Update 10/1/21: Now Fridababy also has an electric nose sucker version. I haven't tried it, but I bet it is great- love all the Fridababy products!)
Needless to say, I'm the designated snot sucker in our house. I always have a Boogie Wipe ready to sweep away anything runny. You can use regular wipes, of course, but Boogie Wipes have saline and moisturizing ingredients in them so it's a little less drying on their little noses and cheeks. I'm not going to lie to you, kids do not enjoy this process. You may need a helper, but it will be well worth it. Sometimes when he wakes up in the middle of the night, we just do this routine and then he goes right back to sleep.
After we use the wonder-trio on him, we then give him a few gentle and natural meds to help him sleep. The first is a homeopathic cold and mucus relief by Hyland's Baby. We also have a natural cough and mucus medicine (Zarbee's Naturals) that we give if he needs extra support for that. They have both a daytime and nighttime one. I also recently got something new, a dissolvable tablet that uses chamomile to naturally comfort a sick or teething baby.
The last two items in the picture, on the far right, are not for sleeping, but they're still a part of my amazing arsenal of products to help them get well asap. ChildLife liquid vitamin C and ChildLife vitamin D3. These are both things that I mix into Ezra's bottles to help him get well as quickly as possible. Lastly, I also make my own elderberry syrup. The whole family takes it through cold and flu season to maintain our healthy immune system. We take more when sick to help us get better quickly.
3. Offer comfort when needed.
A sick child will likely need more comfort to go to sleep. If your child is a good sleeper, it can seem like he is regressing. He may fight bedtime and wake up more often through the night. Keep in mind how much harder it is for you to fall asleep and stay asleep when you're sick. Your baby isn't regressing, he's just uncomfortable and doesn't know what to do. You are what makes him feel comfortable.
Thankfully, most sleep-trained babies will go back to their normal habits once they feel better. Try to keep the new habits you're creating at a minimum, and don't do it for more than a couple of nights, if you can help it. The bottom line is that your baby needs you when he is sick. Just do your best to keep as close to his normal routine as possible, but offer the comfort he needs to help him get the restorative rest he needs.
We've all had colds this past week. For a few nights, Ezra couldn't settle and fall asleep. His little nose was so stuffy in spite of everything we did to help that. So, I rocked him to sleep and then laid him down when he was deep asleep. This isn't our normal routine, but he needed it. I knew that he'd go back to falling asleep independently when he was able to. And he did...the next day! You can always revisit your sleep training for a few days, if needed, once your child feels better. If you haven't sleep-trained your child, you may think about doing so after he is well!
4. Let him sleep.
If you have your child on a specific schedule and/or you usually need to cap his naps, don't worry about that when he's sick. You've probably heard the saying, "Never wake a sleeping baby." While that's not always true, the saying, "Never wake a sick baby," definitely is! Our bodies recharge and regenerate while we sleep. It is during sleep that the immune system gets strengthened. Sleep is important! Therefore, don't be surprised or worried if a sick baby sleeps more. He needs that sleep to help him get well. I even put my little one down early for a nap a time or two while he was sick because he obviously needed it. A sick child may not be able to stay awake as long as he usually can. Just go with what he needs instead of worrying about keeping him to a schedule. You can get him back to his schedule as soon as he's feeling better!
It can be hard to get a little one to sleep when he is sick. Don't worry! Just be there for your child and have an arsenal of helpful products on hand, and he'll be sleeping in no time! Are there any other cold remedies you use for your children? Comment to share!
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~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant