3 illnesses that affect a baby’s sleep

Babies and sleep don’t always get along at the best of times, but when an illness throws an unexpected challenge their way, babies and sleep may end up not even on speaking terms until the illness has run its course. There are a few common culprits, though, and a few things parents can do to help keep sickness from getting in the way of their baby’s sleep.


All babies have reflux, which is mostly just a fancy word for spitting up. After babies eat, milk goes back up the esophagus. This happens because the structures that keep food inside a mature stomach after eating are still floppy, and milk that should be safely in a baby’s tummy can more easily make its way back up again. For some babies, especially babies with low muscle tone, reflux can be more irritating, or can start to get in the way of feeding and sleeping. More serious reflux is sometimes referred to as gastroesophageal reflux, or GER. If reflux starts to interfere with Baby’s sleep, it’s often helpful to talk to their pediatrician, who may have suggestions or even a prescription for medication. There are also ways of helping them with reflux right from home, though.

  • Burp frequently: The best way to minimize reflux is by burping Baby after feeds. Burping releases the air that’s swallowed during feedings. When that air doesn’t get released, and stays in the stomach, it builds up to create a lot of pressure, which can be uncomfortable. The air then tries to escape by moving up the esophagus and throat again, bringing milk and other stomach content along with it. By burping, you can help relieve that pressure before it gets too high.
  • Keeping Baby upright after feeds: By keeping your baby in your arms, a stroller, or a carrier for 30 minutes to an hour after a feeding, you’ll let gravity help their immature stomach structures keep their dinner down in their stomach where it belongs.
  • Offer a pacifier: Some parents find that by offering their babies a pacifier at bedtime, their babies are able to better keep spit-up down, and fall and stay asleep.
  • Naps in a sling: Many babies with reflux do best when they’re moving, or when they’re in their parents’ arms. While it’s great to find something that can help with reflux, these strategies don’t make it easy for parents to get anything done during the day. During naptime, one way to work around this is to wear your baby in a sling. It doesn’t solve bedtime, but during the daylight hours, it keeps them close to your body, and, if you’re moving, on the go.

Reflux can be hard on any new family, but it does eventually pass on its own, and tends to peak around 4 months old.

Ear infection

Ear infections are among the most common reasons for a doctor’s visit for babies and toddlers. Ear infections are often treated with antibiotics, but even after antibiotics have been prescribed, it can take a few days for them to kick in enough to relieve pain. In other cases, a pediatrician might recommend seeing if an infection works itself out on its own, and it these cases, having ways to deal with the pain is a key to bedtime success.

  • Pain relievers: Acetaminophen or Tylenol can be helpful when babies are uncomfortable or feverish, especially when these symptoms start to get in the way of feeding or sleep. When using over-the-counter pain relievers, it’s important to follow appropriate dosing instructions for your child’s weight. Pain relievers also do more to help out at bedtime if they’re given 15 to 20 minutes before bed, to give them time to work. However, it’s not necessary to wake your child for another dose of pain or fever medication during the night. These medicines only treat symptoms, and if your child is sleeping through those symptoms, they probably isn&;t feeling them. It’s also important to keep in mind that Acetaminophen and Tylenol should not be given to babies younger than 3 months old, and Ibuprofen and Motrin shouldn’t be given to children younger than 6 months old.

The common cold

The name isn’t very threatening, and for an adult, a cold can be nothing more that a blip along the road. For a baby, though, those first few colds can be pretty hard to deal with, and that’s especially true when it comes to their sleep. The effect a cold has on sleep isn’t always easy to predict, though. On one hand, cold symptoms can get in the way of sleep, but on the other, fighting off an illness is tiring work, and can often cause a little one to sleep more. This can mean a larger amount of sleep broken up by more frequent wakings, or it can mean trouble falling asleep combined with extra tiredness.

Just like with other types of illness, babies who are congested from colds may be able to sleep better in a room with a cool-mist humidifier.

  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Infant reflux.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, November 8 2015. Web.
  • William Sears. “Must-Read Guide to Babies and Ear Infections.” Parenting. meredith women’s network, 2016. Web.
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