Sick days might be the biggest napping days of the year for you, but when it’s your baby who’s feeling under the weather, it can be worrying when those extra hours of nap time start to add up. Extra sleep when they’re sick is perfectly normal for babies, too, and can be an important part of the recovery process. On the other hand, though, there are a few cases where that extra sleep goes over the line past a healthy way of healing through an illness, and into the territory where all that extra rest could start to be a problem.
Just like when it comes to the question of how much sleep is too much for a newborn, the amount of sleep that’s ‘too much’ for a baby who’s feeling under the weather has less to do with an actual number of hours, and more to do with whether that sleep is getting in the way of feeding times and staying well-hydrated.
Unlike discussions of newborn sleep, this isn’t because of more long-term concerns about growth. Instead, it’s because, in the very short term, missing feedings for sleep during an illness can lead to dehydration, which can be a more serious health concern than her underlying illness. Illness can cause a drop in appetite, but it’s still important for sick babies to stay hydrated. It is recommended that babies under 6 months old don't drink water, so all of a young infant's hydration needs to come from breast milk or formula. Babies over 6 months can be offered small amounts of water, but still should get most of their hydration from breast milk or formula.
Little ones who are sick should be offered breast milk or formula as often as they are when they’re well, and those who have fevers should be offered breast milk or formula even more often. Short but frequent feeds can be helpful for keeping hydration up. Signs of dehydration, like dark yellow urine, a decrease in wet diapers, dry lips, or fatigue, should be reported to a healthcare provider. In addition, signs of more serious dehydration, like no wet diapers for more than 6 hours, listlessness, sunken fontanelles (the soft spots on a baby’s head), tearless cries, or decreasing levels of alertness, should receive immediate medical attention.
Babies who have been prescribed medication for an illness should also be roused to make sure they take their medication on schedule.
If a sick baby is difficult to rouse, she probably isn’t just catching up on her sleep, and should see a healthcare provider as soon as possible.