How to Recover from Baby Colds, Stuffy Noses and Messed Up Sleep

I HATE BABY COLDS.  I am constantly sanitizing the Target carts and playground equipment, bringing wipes on airplanes to wipe the trays and to restaurants, quickly wiping down the highchair discreetly.  YUP I'm THAT Mom, and I didn't use to be this crazy, but if you went through what I did, you might be the same way too.  

My daughter Elle was only two months old when she caught her first cold at a birthday party after Christmas.  I was DILIGENT about my first child Jack, not letting anyone visit until he received his shots, barely leaving the house at all the first few months in fear of him catching something.  But if you have multiple children you understand: the 2nd or 3rd is usually along for the ride.  I should mention Elle was sleeping about 4-6 hours at a stretch at this time, waking about 2 times per night to be fed and fell back asleep with little soothing- we were well on our way to sleeping through the night!  However, this was short lived: after she caught her cold, her tiny immune system couldn't fight it off.  We spent weeks taking her into the steamy shower at 2am (does this really work??) and pumping the humidifier in our room.  Nothing worked.  This went on for WEEKS.  Weeks turned into months.  My routine was out the window. I was starting to lose my mind, not to mention hallucinate.  My husband was traveling more than ever on top of everything- I remember sobbing as I attempted to rock a delirious baby back to sleep.  Every time Elle woke up in a coughing fit, we rushed to hold her upright, sometimes resorting to the swing or nursing her back to sleep, which didn't always help because she couldn't breathe out of her tiny nose.  Even worse, she started waking up every 2 hours.  And when I say every 2 hours, it took at least 30-60 minutes to get her back to sleep before she was up again an hour later.  When she fiiiiiiiinally kicked the cold at 4 months old, she was still.....waking.....every......TWO HOURS.  Her congestion had not only made me a sleep-deprived zombie, but made her dependent on me to physically put her back to sleep when she woke at night (remember prior she was pretty content after a feed and fell back asleep).  

SO enough about me: let's talk about how to recover your child's sleep after a cold: 

THE SCIENCE STUFF: Any viral infection, including the common code, can result in nasal congestion and coughing.  For the first few months of an infant's life, they are nose breathers only: meaning they only know how to use their noses to breathe in & out.  Any amount of nasal congestion in a newborn can result in significant trouble breathing; meaning your baby can spend the whole night trying to get comfortable, which often results in crying, screaming, tossing & turning nonstop. Like me, if you find yourself in this position, you'll unfortunately have to ride out the storm, meaning you'll have to wait until the cold finally goes away on it's own until sleep even has the potential to return back to normal.  We did find some minor relief using a Vick's Cool Mist Humidifier, and elevating her co-sleeper, but again this didn't solve all of our problems.  **Always check with your doctor before using either technique.**

THE GOOD: If your child cries at night, go to them!  If you're sleep training, it can wait!  Think about how awful you feel when you're sick as an adult.   Sit by their crib or bed or stay in the room if you must hold them, but try not to bring them into your bed (changing their sleep environment will further disrupt sleep believe it or not!).  SOAK IT UP- and say to yourself, "One day my hands will be empty."  This quote helped me through some of the toughest nights.

THE BAD: Prepare yourself for some sleep regression.  Poor napping, missed naps, inconsistent sleep environment, and increased parent intervention at night wakings due to settling a sick child will cause regressions with even the best sleeper.

THE UGLY:  After the cold goes away, your child could still be experiencing night wakings, or waking out of habit, or crying out for Mom/Dad just like they did all those nights because that's what they've become accustom to.  This for me was the WORST PART.  I couldn't even pour myself a "pity" glass of wine knowing I'd be up in two hours.

THE SILVER LINING: It's completely fixable.  I can't tell you how to never catch a cold again, but any regressions due to illness are completely reversible, especially if you had healthy sleep habits to begin with.  If your child was already waking several times per night prior to their illness, he or she may need some gentle sleep coaching to begin sleeping through the night.

Luckily, I knew a sleep coach ;).  At 4 months I moved Elle into her own room after some crib acclimation, and began to work on her nights first, followed by naps.  She now sleeps 11 hours at night, with a 2-hour nap during the day.  Although she still catches plenty of colds (thank you daycare), I know how to respond appropriately for her age and how to get back on track if we fall off the sleep train.  Is this at all sounding familiar?  Drop me an email at if you are experiencing this.  I know EXACTLY what you're going through. xo