Guide: How to Maintain Sleep Training When Baby Is Sick


A baby can be trained into the perfect sleep routine, but there can be hiccups that affect a baby’s slumber from time to time. When a baby is sick, it can be difficult to maintain sleep training. Something as simple as a stuffy nose can wreak havoc on a good night’s sleep.

When a baby is sick, parents commonly want to throw out any sleep training methods, especially when providing physical comfort. Parents can still provide children with comfort, but continue to put babies in bed before they fall asleep to maintain a focus on healthy sleep habits.

In preparation for this rite of passage and the more high-risk winter months, it’s good to know what can be done to maintain sleep training when a baby is sick. Read on for more information on how to best approach this challenge.

An image of a sleeping baby with a bottle in his hands.

How Do You Maintain Sleep Training When Baby Is Sick?

To maintain sleep training when our baby is sick, we need to be flexible to our baby’s needs. Provide support and comfort where needed, but focus on them still falling asleep unassisted.

A baby can get up to 8 colds per year during the first two years of life. This amount can increase if a baby is interacting with others at daycare.

It’s a natural occurrence in line with our baby’s developing immune system. While this is completely normal, it can be very disruptive to their sleep training.

In order to recover from illness, babies need more sleep. This will mean that we may find our baby wanting to go to sleep at an earlier time or napping for longer.

It’s important to make allowances for this and adjust their sleep training schedule accordingly.

When a child is sick, it will impact their sleep, and it will also impact our sleep. We will want to be extra vigilant during the evenings to make sure they are as comfortable as possible.

Consider how long your baby has been sleep training – this can be a good indicator of how to sleep train a baby while they are sick:

  • A few days into sleep training – if you’ve only recently started sleep training, your child may not have begun to associate the chosen method with sleep.
  • At this point, it’s best to put a pause on training and pick this up again once the baby is healthy.
  • Two-three weeks into sleep training – at this point, if the baby has made real progress with their sleep training you might want to continue with this method.
  • Make sure to tend to all the baby’s needs but adjust their nighttime routine to accommodate the healthiest environment for them to fall asleep. Try to focus on the baby falling asleep unassisted.
  • If your baby is fully trained and has been confidently falling asleep on its own, make sure they are falling asleep completely unassisted.
  • Making sure to meet all their medical needs and provide comfort during their sickness but also allowing them to fall asleep independently will help them retain their sleep training progress.

Can You Sleep Train a Baby with a Cold?

Babies experience colds as their immune system develops. It is possible to sleep train babies with a cold, depending on illness severity. It’s best to start sleep training when a baby is healthy. Babies with mild illness may continue sleep training. Some ill babies may need to pause sleep training.

Symptoms of a cold can include a cough, sneezing, runny nose (we cover this below), and cranky behavior. If your baby is displaying mild symptoms, you can sleep train them.

The common cold will increase in severity, but should only have a few days where symptoms are at their peak. A cold lasts around one or two weeks.

If choosing to abandon sleep training during this period, it should be easy to pick this back up again. It’s an option to modify the sleep training method during this period.

Maintain the baby’s sleep cues, but these don’t need to be as strictly followed as with regular sleep training.

There are advantages to maintaining the baby’s sleep schedule, but sleep is an important part of recovery. Allow your baby to sleep longer if they need it, to ensure your baby recovers from their cold sooner.

Please note that if your baby’s cold (or other illness) ever becomes severe enough to significantly impact their breathing or to have you worried, you should contact their doctor or seek immediate care as needed.

Do You Let Your Baby Cry It Out When Sick?

When a baby is sick, ease up on the cry it out sleep training method. It’s important to use our instincts – if we are struggling to discern between tired and sick cries, then it might be worth pausing sleep training until baby returns to full health.

The cry it out method allows babies to be put to sleep fully awake and fuss or cry until they settle themselves to sleep. It’s worth combining methods, so your baby has several sleep skills.

This means in times of sickness when cries shouldn’t be ignored, and the baby can still settle themselves.

As time goes on, parents start to decode what their baby’s cries mean depending on pitch, volume, and intensity. We start to learn if they are crying for food, if they are tired, or just crying for the sake of it.

A signifier of a sick cry is a weaker sound that may be nasal. It can also be a lower pitch if your baby has reduced energy.

If you feel confident that you can distinguish between cries and know that your baby is still capable of falling asleep on its own, then feel free to let the baby cry it out. If worried about the baby losing the sleep progress they’ve made, don’t be.

Focus on tending to the baby’s needs. They will be back to full health and their regular sleep routine before you know it.

An image of a father wiping the runny nose of an adorable baby daughter with a napkin at home.

Can You Sleep Train a Baby with a Runny Nose?

Sleep training a baby with a runny nose can be done, but it’s not always recommended. Babies prioritize breathing through their nose. If this is blocked or runny, it can be very disruptive to their sleep and make sleep training difficult.

Until about 6 to 8 months of age, babies are “obligate nose-breathers,” meaning they won’t learn to breathe through their mouths to combat stuffy noses until about that age.

However, since most sleep training techniques are for babies who are past that age, then if you notice your baby has a runny nose, you can go ahead and continue sleep training.

If it seems like there is no progress made, the training might need to pause until the baby’s airways are fully recovered.

To help a baby with a runny or blocked nose, use a humidifier in their room. Humidifiers can help relieve congestion in the nose and be soothing for the throat.

It’s possible to purchase saline drops that will help soften boogers so you can suck them out with a bulb syringe. In this way, you can help relieve congestion that causes a runny nose.

Just be sure not to suction too frequently, or you can irritate the nose and cause additional swelling!

Working in the hospital I never saw a doctor prescribe any cough suppressants or cough medicines for anyone under the age of 6 years old.

As with all medical treatments, always consult a pediatrician for the best option for you and your baby.

If the baby has been sleep training for a while, they may be unphased by a runny nose. If they respond well to the chosen method, feel free to continue.

How Can I Help My Sick Baby Sleep?

We can help our babies to sleep by making sure they are as comfortable as possible, and that their sleep routine is as close to usual as possible. Speak with a pediatrician about the best treatment for the baby’s illness.

If a baby is reliant on their sleeping schedule, we should try to keep their same, usual routine in place (from when they are healthy) as much as possible, while knowing that a sick baby may need more sleep.

We need to modify our routine to stay in line with our baby’s needs when they are sick. Here is some additional reading on how much sleep babies need when ill.

Both of those articles are on this site and are great resources.

Below are some additional modifications we can make to our baby’s sleep routine that will help them sleep, but also put our minds at ease.

Tip #1: Offer additional feeds and plenty of liquids

While a fever is usually a sign of the flu or other more serious sicknesses, it’s possible to experience a fever from a cold. If your child is experiencing a fever, they can become dehydrated.

They may require more feeds than usual in these circumstances, including a return to night feeds. If possible, it’s good to keep babies awake during their feeding, especially if they are further along in their sleep training.

Tip #2: Consider sleeping together

If a baby is struggling to sleep, you might be tempted to bring them into your bed. Taking a child out of their usual sleeping environment can disrupt their sleep.

However, if cosleeping is the only way that everyone gets enough sleep to recover from the illness, go for it.

Here are some other ways to cosleep besides sharing a bed.

  • If you want to be closer to them, consider moving their crib into your room.
  • Consider setting up a bed in their room using a couch or air mattress.

A baby’s surroundings can be soothing and provide a positive association with sleep. Keeping this the same will help the baby to settle.

Sleeping in closer proximity to your child means you can react to their cries quicker allowing them to settle back into sleep faster.

Tip #3: Maintain sleep associations

A baby might be used to not having us around when they sleep. While we may want to be on hand to see to them, our presence could be a distraction that prevents them from drifting off.

In this case, we can leave the room until they have drifted off and use our baby monitor while we are waiting to keep an eye on them. After they are asleep, we can return to the room and sleep with them.

If they wake up in the night, check on them and then leave the room again so they can drift off before you return.

Tip #4: Offer more comfort

If our baby requires more physical contact for comfort when sick, we can rock and hold our child to soothe them. If possible, make sure to put them down before they fall asleep, so they are still falling asleep on their own.

The above technique can help a child fall asleep while providing the sleep training consistency they are used to. The familiarity of their routine should help them drift off, and during rest time, their body will be busy helping them recover from their illness.

An image of a mother holding thermometer measuring the temperature of her sick baby.

When Can I Start Sleep Training My Baby Again?

Generally, babies can go through sleep training as long as they are healthy. As with any sickness a child is experiencing, we always recommend consulting a pediatrician before resuming sleep training to ensure the baby is fully recovered.

We can start retraining our babies for sleep once they are 100% healthy again. This means there are no remaining symptoms of illness, like a fever or vomiting for 24-48 hrs.

That being said, with some minor illnesses you can keep sleep training, or adjust the sleep training to focus on healthy sleep habits.

In other words, it is not a problem if all sleep training rules have been thrown out the window while the baby was sick. It’s always possible to retrain your baby in their sleep routine when everyone is feeling healthier.

It’s possible to learn a new habit in just 3 days. If the baby was being sleep trained before they became sick, it’s likely they will quickly pick up sleep training again.

The skill they learned originally will still be in their mind, and a refresher in sleep training should have the baby back on track in no time.

Key Takeaways and Next Steps

To maintain sleep training while our baby is sick, we need to be in tune with their well-being and requirements. A sick baby can continue to be sleep trained because it can still be beneficial given the key role sleep plays in recovery.

Take into consideration the severity of their sickness and always consult a pediatrician on the best course of action to help your child get healthy soon.

If maintaining sleep training isn’t practical for you or your baby, don’t worry about pressing pause. It can be picked up where you left off when everyone is feeling better.

An image of a little sick boy tucked in a blanket sleeping with medicine, a glass of water, and a thermometer on a table near the sofa where the little boy sleeps.

Resources

  • Admin. “Sleep Training and Sickness; What To Do When Baby Becomes Ill.” BabySleep 101, www.babysleep101.com/2019/02/sleep-training-and-sickness-what-to-do-when-baby-becomes-ill. Accessed 12 May 2022.
  • Team, Baby Sleep Science. “Should You Sleep Train a Sick Baby? How Illness Affects Sleep.” Babysleepscience, 26 Jan. 2022, www.babysleepscience.com/single-post/2018/10/10/should-you-sleep-train-a-sick-baby-how-illness-affects-sleep.
  • “Tips for Sleep Training with a Sick Baby – SlumberPod.” Slumberpod.Com, 25 Feb. 2020, www.slumberpod.com/blogs/our-blog/tips-for-sleep-training-with-a-sick-baby.
  • Willes, N. (2021, January 27). How to Help Your Sick Baby Sleep Best and When to Resume Sleep Training. The Baby Sleep Trainer. https://www.babysleeptrainer.com/how-to-help-your-sick-baby-sleep/.

About Us

I’m Kimberly C. Starr. While working as a Registered Nurse (RN, BSN) in a Pediatric Emergency Department, I had to learn how to help my children sleep better – so I could save lives. Since then, I’ve shared what I’ve learned with other sleep-deprived parents. This is the site where I share everything I’ve learned about sleep training kids.

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