As a Mum to 3 children myself, I have dealt with all levels of sickness and the overall impact it can have on family life. Everything from standard common colds, dreaded tummy bugs & emergency surgeries!
Let’s be real about this, sickness is definitely going to cause sleep disruption for you and for your little one. Nobody is comfortable with sleep when they're sick. Think about how you feel if you are unwell with a chest infection, you are coughing, you are congested, you have a fever. You are uncomfortable and you are not going to sleep well. Now, think about your child and what it will be like for them if they are unwell – not too different to you huh!?! Even if your child is normally sleeping independently, being sick can absolutely create disruption to their sleep ‘norm’.
The good news is that sickness does pass. It is a point in time and they will be well again.
The biggest thing that you need to remember is that you have to make your child as comfortable as possible. Ensure that they have the medications that they need. Use over the counter remedies such as age-appropriate Vicks Rub to help them with circulation and congestion. Use a diffuser with essential oils such as peppermint, eucalyptus, or tea tree in their room. Prop the top of their cot to help with nasal drip coughs. There are lots and lots of simple things that can help your little one feel more comfortable through bouts of sickness.
When little ones are not well they are going to need you more than ever. So, respond to them quickly do whatever you need to help them feel comfortable and supported. Hold them, rock them, stay and reassure them if that’s what is needed. Them getting as much sleep as possible is the first step to them getting well again. So if they need a little more daytime sleep while not well, let them have it. The more they sleep the quicker they will heal.
If you have worked on sleep with your little one and recently made steps towards your family's sleep goals then avoiding going back to square one would be advised. For example, if you have recently moved away from co-sleeping then avoiding returning to it during times of sickness would be advised. If you have recently weaned from nursing at night but your child needs additional fluids perhaps providing them via a bottle would be more helpful. Back steps like this could be confusing for your little one so trying to avoid them is advised.
When your child is well again return to your family ‘norms’ around sleep. So essentially return to routine. If your child was previously sleeping through and things have really come undone, don’t panic, all is not lost. Simply stay consistent and over a few days, things will return to normal again. Children are very adaptable and when they see consistency from their parents these skills really come into their own.
There are very often situations with children where they will get one thing after another after another. So really what you need to do is in between each spell of sickness try to get back to your norms around sleep again. This can be very frustrating for everyone and returning to your family's sleep goals can be frustrating for your children. Figure out what works for your parenting style and fade out the dependencies that have formed.
When your child is well then return to the ‘norm’ around their sleep that was there before they got sick. That can create frustration for the child because their expectation around sleep has changed. And really that is what you're dealing with, frustration. Initially, they may not like that they are no longer sharing your bed but if you are consistent around the changes back to your family's sleep norms, in a few days, they should return to them themselves.
Erica Hargaden is a Certified Child Sleep Consultant with her private practice Babogue. She is a Mum to 3 children and the creator of The Sleep Series. These video-based online sleep programs help families to achieve their sleep goals through her 7 Steps to Better Sleep. To learn more check out @babogue_sleep, www.babogue.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org