Last Updated Jan 27, 2021.

After so much time and courage to finally get a sleep training plan going, here comes illness to put a wrench in your plans and progress! Illness often stops the sleep training process short, and parents struggle to pick it back up again. Or perhaps you have only recently “completed” sleep training. And are at a loss for how to care for your sick child while still maintaining good sleep habits. Read on to learn how to combat both issues like a pro!

sick baby girl holding face with hands

Photo Credit: iam Se7en

Where are you in the process?

First you will want to evaluate where you are in the sleep training process. If you are in the middle of the first night of training when you discover your son has a fever, I would suggest abandoning all sleep training plans. You can resume training when your child is totally healthy. Ie. symptom free for 24-48 hours.

What if you are to the point in sleep training where your child has made substantial progress? (In my program, this could be as soon as 2-4 days in!) If this is you, then it would make sense to tend to your child as much and as often as needed. AND continue to focus on baby falling asleep unassisted whenever safely possible.

Keeping up Good Sleep Habits for your Sick Baby

When your child is ill, whether or not they are fully sleep trained, it’s vital to attend to every need they have associated with the illness. If the pediatrician approves fever-reducing medicine, use that to comfort your child. If your child has a fever and is dehydrated, address that with a feeding. (If they are further along in their training, continue making sure to try to keep baby awake while being fed.)

If you are further along in sleep training…

Whatever your child needs, fulfill that need! Just remember to try to avoid facilitating your child falling asleep. Falling asleep still needs to be done totally unassisted. Being ill does not preclude a child from being able to fall asleep on their own. To the safest possible extent, focus on caring for them, but not helping them fall asleep. Caring for a child in this way during illness is a sure fire way to maintain whatever progress your child has made in their sleep training journey.

Many families are accustomed to bed sharing during illness. As an alternative to bringing your sick child into your bed (and thus helping them fall asleep), keep them in their crib in their room, and simply share the room with them. Sleep on an air mattress, bed, or couch, and be right there in case they need you all night long. (And even for naps, if you wish.)

If you feel that your presence is keeping your child from being able to fall asleep, consider stepping out of the room, and watching them on the monitor to make sure they are safe. As soon as their eyes close, and they fall asleep, go in and sleep near them so that you are there for whatever they may need as they wake through the night. After a night waking, leave the room again while they fall back asleep, and return once they are asleep again if it is safe to do so.

Don’t Worry About the Schedule While Sick

Don’t worry about how often or how long your sick, sleep trained child wants to sleep. Sleep is what their body needs to heal (besides other doctor-prescribed treatments there may be). So let their bodies dictate how much sleep they get and when – for both daytime and nighttime sleep. It’s not necessary to maintain a schedule during illness.

When your child is back to 100% health, you can resume their usual sleep schedule. Sick babies and toddlers also tend to want more physical contact and really beg for your presence around the clock. Who can blame them? Be the parent you want to be. Console, hold, rock, love, and care for your babies while they are awake. Simply focus on making sure they fall asleep unassisted if you wish to preserve your sleep training efforts.

And know that if for any reason you do choose to help your sleep trained baby fall asleep while they are sick, you can and should re-start sleep training over again once they are well. I’m often asked, “Have I ruined my sleep trained baby by doing x, y or z when they were sick?” And the answer is absolutely not. It’s always possible to retrain.

If you’ve only just begun sleep training, you’ll know it’s safe to resume your sleep training plans when your child is 100% healthy. (No fever, vomiting, or other signs of illness for at least 24–48 hours.) It is also highly advisable that you take your child into the pediatrician to verify that they’re totally healthy before jumping back into any serious sleep training.

So remember, when it comes to sleep training and your sick baby’s sleep…

    1. If baby becomes sick during the first 24-48 hours of sleep training, stop sleep training and restart when baby is 100% healthy again for at least 24-48 hours.
    2. If baby is further along in sleep training, keep going and treat baby’ symptoms, but don’t begin assisting baby to sleep.
    3. You can room share with your baby in their room if desired to monitor them during their sleep.
    4. If you do help baby fall asleep while sick, you can always re-sleep train them once they are healthy again!

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