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Caring for your baby at night when they are unwell

Babies tend to have, on average, about six to twelve minor illnesses such as viruses, colds and tummy upsets each year.

……and that’s not even including teething!

After the age of 6 months, when they have lost the immunity given by their mother, it is not unusual for babies to catch some kind of virus every few weeks.

This is especially the case if they are in daycare or have an older sibling that is.

Exposure to antigens in young childhood builds up their immune system and so, even though these illnesses can be tough at the time to cope with, they do actually make your baby’s resistance to infections stronger in the long run.

A guide for when they have a virus/infection and are generally poorly

Give them a painkiller if needed, about 20 minutes before their bath. Ibuprofen is a good choice, as it needs to be taken with food. Then if another painkiller is needed during the night, you can give Paracetamol, which can be taken without food and is a different “family” of painkillers.

Bathe them if they are well enough and then dress them quickly and take them through to their sleep space.

After their bath time, offer their usual milk feed. 

Don’t be too stressed if your baby refuses their usual milk or doesn’t take it all. If they are poorly, they are very unlikely to wake up hungry, even if they haven’t eaten much during the day. Their body needs to rest and repair at nighttime, and if they have lost their appetite, they will soon regain it and catch up with any lost calories when they are better. 

If your baby usually self-settles, allow them to go to sleep without help, as usual. It’s fine to return frequently to them to check and reassure them, but rocking them to sleep can become a difficult habit to break once they are better.

If they feel hot or have a temperature, keep the room cool and if you need to, use an electric fan, positioned at the foot of the cot rather than directly on their face.

If they wake up in the night, don’t leave them to self-settle if they’re crying. They will not sleep if left in discomfort.

Even if they were fine when they went to bed, if they wake in the night, and suspect that they are unwell, go to them, pick them up and offer a cuddle and a drink of water [not milk if you’ve already dropped the night feeds – even if they didn’t have it at bedtime.] 

These actions alone can help to unblock the nose and the small tubes connecting the back of the nose to the ears, helping your baby to feel more comfortable. 

If they continue crying, and/or if they feel hot, you can give a [second] dose of infant painkiller, provided that it is a different family of painkiller than that which they had at bedtime. Or if it is the same one as at bedtime, you carefully follow the instructions supplied, concerning the timing and spacing of doses.

You can then remain close by and hold them if necessary, until they are calm and settled. 

Tempting as it might be, it is best if you avoid bringing them into bed with you if they are poorly, especially if they have a high temperature. It is safer for them to stay in their own cot, with you close beside them.

If your baby has a temperature above 38C, seems very unwell, has a rash or has a different cry, you should seek prompt medical help.

Copyright Andrea Grace 2024

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