How much extra support do we really need to give? Will I undo all my hard work of helping him/her to self settle? Do I continue to sleep train when they get sick? What if my routine goes out of the window?
These are all very viable questions!
Ok so firstly, we need to note that there is a big difference between a runny nose, to a full blown childhood virus or bacterial infection. These illnesses may involve several symptoms such as fevers, diarrhoea, vomiting, severe coughing, you name it! Supporting your little one with extra comfort, reassurance and treating the symptoms always takes priority, but there may be more or less intervention required depending on what you are up against.
When our children are unwell, just like us, we need a lot more time to rest and sleep. This is when our bodies are able to repair, recuperate and recharge. Energy stores are often lower, we get irritable more easily, and we certainly do not have as much patience or focus! This means your child’s daily routine will likely need to take a back seat for a few days. They may choose to have more frequent shorter naps, longer bursts, or need a really early bedtime. Anything is acceptable for their survival, and yours during a period of illness!
Children all cope with illness differently. This can be due to how we react to illness, their age and development, previous experiences of illness and their unique temperament…this is a big one! Illness means change, and they are not going to feel like themselves. If you think about how your child reacts to change in general, their ability to self-regulate, how sensitive they are, it may give you some idea on how they will cope and what to expect!
With toddlers, you may have to step in and help them to self-regulate their behaviours, feelings and emotions at certain times. For example, two of my children as toddlers were so active, that the word “rest” didn’t come easily to them! If they were fighting an illness, I would often use a walk in the pram or a car ride just so they could just slow down and recover! This was my way of supporting them through this time.
If you have just started sleep training or adjusting your routine, give yourself and your child a break and wait until 24-48 hours post illness to start again when they are feeling better and more rested. If you are right in the middle of sleep training, depending on your method of choice, you may take a couple of steps back, stay where you are, or choose to keep going if the illness is minor or your child’s symptoms are being supported effectively.
Preparation and support
Before times of sleep, try to do everything you can in preparation to set them up for the best quality sleep they can get. Remember that little noses get congested easily. Babies and young toddlers are also unable to blow their own noses, or their valid attempts are usually not enough to make a dent in a tissue! We certainly want to avoid introducing new ways of sleeping, for a runny or blocked nose, which is why I love anything that can help ease these symptoms! I am a huge fan of the Snotty Boss Nasal Aspirator Kit, because it is so easy to use, and it gives you enough suction clear the congestion without upsetting anyone too much during the process! Check out www.snottynoses.com.au for more information. I also love a relaxing bath or a steamy shower, humidifiers with essential oils added, vapour rubs, propping up the head of the mattress (age appropriate safety recommendations required), honey (if over 12 months) and lemon drinks to support a cough and treating a fever with medication, cold compresses and extra fluids and feeds. Once your child is feeling better, or symptoms are easing, you can continue with your sleep training and routine.
If you have recently completed sleep training, it is important to be aware that illness may set you back temporarily. We cannot predict illness, so remember this will be out of your control. Not all is lost! Your little one is likely to remember these recent skills and to feel a lot more confident in their abilities than before you started. It may take a few days adjusting back into their normal sleep pattern and routine, but your consistency and patience will be there for reassurance.
Your child is likely to be more restless at sleep times, just like we are when we are suffering with an illness. Some babies and children may just take a bit longer to settle themselves and will respond best with some space in order to do so. If they have started crying or getting increasingly restless, they are likely going to require your presence for some extra reassurance. If they have recently started sleeping in their own bed, we suggest you sleep or spend time next to them, rather than bringing them back into your bed. This is a lot easier to back off in a few days when they are feeling better! If you are worried about undoing all of your hard work post sleep training, remember that illness does not preclude a child from being able to fall asleep, IF they have mastered the skills of self-settling and resettling. Comfort your child in any way that you can, treat the symptoms and empathise with reassurance and some extra care. Being by their side, offering a calming presence is sometimes the best medicine.
Registered Nurse and Certified Sleep Consultant