Written By Mandy Treeby Chief Baby Sleep Consultant
There are few things worse than having a sick baby: they’re upset, you’re upset, and sleep may be elusive for your both.
Yes, being sick or having a cold can really disrupt your baby’s sleep, and your peace of mind, too, leading to lots of questions, including “Do sick babies need more sleep?,” “Will being sick disrupt sleep coaching?” and “Should I give my baby cough medicine?”
To help you help your little one gets the rest they need when sick, I’ve compiled some expert advice on how to tell when your baby is sick, how to help your baby sleep better when they’re sick, and ways to nurse your baby back to health, when they’re sick.
IN THIS ARTICLE:
- Do Babies Sleep More When They Have a Cold or Illness?
- Why Do Babies Sleep More When They’re Sick?
- Can I Sleep Train When My Baby is Sick?
- Should I Wake My Baby When They’re Sick?
- How Do I Know If My Baby Has an Ear Infection?
- Signs of Dehydration in a Baby
- Signs of Colic in a Baby
- How to Handle Colic in a Baby
Do Babies Sleep More When They Have a Cold or Illness?
In general, when your baby is sick they will sleep more. That said, depending on the type of illness or cold your baby has, they may struggle to get the sleep they need and that can make it hard on baby and you.
Why Do Babies Sleep More When They’re Sick?
Being sick is a drain on your baby’s energy, they also may be struggling to eat as much as usual – which can make them sleepy too. Fundamentally, sleep gives your baby’s immune system the opportunity to focus on fighting the illness and getting better.
Can I Sleep Train When My Baby is Sick?
The number one priority when your baby is sick is to help them get the rest they need to recover fully. With that in mind, sleep training should be a secondary concern, especially because illness can throw your baby’s sleep schedule off track. So, if your baby is sick, I recommend taking a break from sleep training. You can pick up where you left off when your baby is back to their normal, healthy self.
Do Baby’s Take Longer Naps When They Sick?
Again, it depends on the type of illness, but often babies will need more sleep when they’re sick, and that includes naps.
So, yes, naps can be longer when your baby is sick – while this is good – sleep helps your baby heal – if they have been struggling with sleep at night they may be making up for that lost sleep during the day.
Should I Wake My Baby When They’re Sick?
If your baby is sleeping for way longer than usual, you may want to wake them to make sure they eat and, more importantly, drink fluids, formula, or breast milk. Keep track of wet diapers and wake them if you suspect they may be dehydrated.
Signs of Dehydration in a Baby:
Dehydration can happen very quickly when your baby is sick. If you’re concerned your baby may be deydrated, watch out for these signs:
- Dry mouth
- Fewer than usual wet diapers – babies typically have 6-8 wet diapers a day
- Fewer/smaller tears
- Sunken eyes
- Sunken fontanelle (soft spot)
- Fewer stools
Note: Diarrhea rapidly dehydrates your baby, so if your baby has diarrhea, be sure they drink plenty of fluids, too.
Should My Baby Use a Pacifier If They’re Sick?
If your baby has a cold or is congested, it’s probably best to avoid the pacifier until they’re feeling better. If your baby is congested, it can be harder for them to breathe through their noses. In fact, if you were thinking of ditching the pacifier and your baby isn’t using it while they are sick, you can just choose to not re-introduce it once they are better!
When Do Babies Start Getting Sick?
Babies receive natural immunity from illnesses from their birth mother. Those immunities wear off around 6 months, which is why it's common for babies to get sick more often between 6-12 months, particularly ear infections.
If your baby starts daycare, it’s not uncommon for them to get sick more often as they are exposed to different environments and germs.
How Do I Know If My Baby Has an Ear Infection?
These are common signs of ear infections in babies:
- Tugging on or pulling at their ear
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of balance
- Loss of hearing
If you see any of these signs of an ear infection in your baby, reach out to your pediatrician
How Long is Too Long for a Nap When My Baby is Sick?
While babies need to sleep when they’re sick, and babies will sleep more when they’re sick, if a nap runs double their typical nap time, it may be time to wake them up – this will give you an opportunity to feed them and make sure they are well hydrated. If you think it’s helpful you could choose to extend their wake window a bit so your little one sleeps at night, too.
Does My Baby Have a Fever?
While a fever in adults is defined as above 99.5°F, it’s a little different in babies: 100.4°F. Here’s when you should call a doctor if your baby has a fever:
- 2-Month-Olds and younger: 4°F or higher
- 3-6-Month-Old Babies: 101°F or higher.
- 6-Months Old+: 103°F or higher.
Note: Teething can cause a low-grade fever that isn’t indicative of an illness or infection.
Should I Give My Baby Cough Medicine?
No. Cough medicines are not safe for children under 6. Instead, try warm, clear fluids, such as warm water, warm apple juice, or warm lemonade. Honey can be used after your baby is 12-months.
What is Colic?
Colic isn’t exactly an illness, but it is a phenomenon that impacts 1 in 10 babies. Colic is defined by prolonged periods of inconsolable crying. In addition to the crying, colic symptoms include:
- Red face
- Legs drawn into their body
- Clenched fists
- Arched Bags
- Unstoppable, inconsolable crying.
When Does Colic Begin?
Colic can begin around the 4-week mark and last until your baby is 3- or 4-months old.
Is Crying Dangerous for My Baby?
Crying is totally harmless. Crying is simply your baby’s way of communicating.
Your baby’s crying can mean many things: they’re tired, they’re bored, they’re hungry, they’re overstimulated, they have gas, they want to be held, they’re cold, they’re hot – you see, crying is really the catch-all go-to for your baby before they can speak. One thing that crying is not, however, is dangerous.
In fact, research suggests that crying can be cathartic for babies – just like it can be for us adults.
After a while you may learn to ‘know’ your baby’s cries and can often understand what they want.
How to Calm Your Crying Baby:
Here are some easy ways to soothe a sick, crying baby.
Check on and engage your baby if they’re crying during the day, and sometimes at night. While solving the problem may be as easy as changing their diaper, here are some ways to soothe your baby when they're crying:
Swaddle: Swaddling makes babies feel warm and safe by mimicking the womb. Note, you can only swaddle a baby until they’re about 2 months old.
A Warm Bath: Warm water works wonders to calm and soothe a sick baby.
Cuddles: Like swaddling, being close to you will help your baby feel warm and safe – this security and love really helps soothe them when they’re sick.
Soft Singing: The sound of your voice is one of your baby’s favorite sounds, so soft singing may help lift their spirits if they’re under the weather.
Calming Sounds: White noise and other “sonic hues” are wonderful ways to soothe an upset baby when they’re sick – and when they’re not.
Patience: It may be frustrating, but sometimes your baby just needs to cry to make themselves feel better when sick. If this happens, you may want to step out of the room and give them, and yourself, a moment to reset.
How Can I Treat My Sick Baby at Home?
If your baby has a persistent fever, you should contact your doctor. If your baby has a low-fever and simply has a small cold or sniffle, you can try these at-home remedies:
- Plenty of liquids to keep your baby hydrated
- Infant-appropriate fever reducers.
- Clearing your baby's nose - there are products that safely clear or drain your baby's nasal cavity
- Nasal saline drops to clear congestion
- Humidifier - one of the essentials for any baby's room.
Note: Cough and cold medicines are NOT safe for infants.
When Should I Call My Baby's Doctor?
Call your pediatrician if your baby is having trouble breathing, if they have a fever, their symptoms continue for more than 10 days, experiencing ear pain, or their cough goes on for more than seven days.
How Long is Too Long of a Nap When My Baby is Sick?
Your baby will likely nap a little longer when they're sick - and that's perfectly fine. You want to make sure they get the liquids, medicine, and cuddles they need, though, so try to cap any nap at 3 hours.
Should I Let My Baby Sleep When They're Sick?
Yes. Sleep gives your baby's immune system the opportunity to fight the illness and your baby's body the time to recover.
“Sleep of Critically Ill Children in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit: A Systematic Review,” Sleep Medicine Reviews.
“Systematic review of the relationships between sleep duration and health indicators in the early years (0-4 years),” BMC Public Health.
“Fever in Infants,” Journal of the American Medical Association.
How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.