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Six ways to nurse your child back to health after illness

Here are a few expert ways you can get your child back on track after an illness.

No matter how careful you are keeping your child away from nasty germs and infections, they will still pick up illnesses during their childhood. Whether it’s an ear infection, chesty cough or cold, there’s no doubt your child will need more comfort when he’s not feeling well. The good news is that, overall, if you have established good eating and sleeping habits, a temporary illness doesn’t have to derail all your hard work.

We chatted to the experts for ways you can help get your tot back on track to good health…

Keep calm

When it comes to caring for a sick baby, studies have shown that the more calm and level-headed parents are, the quicker the children bounce back from an illness. Now we know this is easier said than done, as dealing with illness is never easy, but if you have to leave a pile of dirty dishes so you can catch a nap when your little one does, or miss work to stay with your child in hospital, there’s no time or space to beat yourself up about it. As the saying goes, “Happy mom, happy baby.”

Reach out for help

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and anxious, ask friends and family for help without feeling bad about it. Ask your mom-in-law to cook a few meals for the freezer or order take-aways.  The aim should be to take the pressure off during your child’s illness, rather than telling yourself you need to do more.

“When my child came down with a bad bout of flu, I prioritised his healing first and told myself that everything else could wait,” says Taryn Hopkins, a freelance designer and mom. “This meant I had to ask for extended deadlines and cancel a few appointments, but it was worth it, because I was able to focus on my son without any nagging thoughts in the back of my mind.”

Try to be consistent

Although illness always brings a few hurdles, such as suddenly having to rock your child to sleep or hold him for hours in the middle of the night, the priority should be to return to regular habits and environments so the new behaviours don’t become entrenched, says mom of four and well-known author behind the famous parenting blog, Chronicles of a Babywise Mom, Valerie Plowman. “If my children were in pain and wouldn’t sleep on their own or wanted to be held, I would comfort them in almost any way necessary,” she explains.

However, Valerie follows the advice in the original On Becoming Baby Wise and Toddler Wise book series by Gary Ezzo and Dr Robert Bucknam, and believes that consistency is key when it comes to getting yourself and your child back on track after an illness. “In your comforting endeavours, I would watch one thing. I would never take my baby to my bed if I didn’t want to continue this habit later on,” she says. Because although everyone wants to get some sleep while nursing a sick child for a week or so, you don’t want to drag out the co-sleeping habit if it’s not a long-term choice.

Keep your child hydrated

Megan FaureKatherine Megaw and Dr Simon Strachan, the authors of Feeding Sense, say your baby may stop eating or drinking as a result of:

  • Fever
  • A blocked nose/nasal congestion
  • A common cold
  • Croup
  • Sinusitis
  • Hay fever
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • An ear infection
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tummy pain.

Speak to your doctor about how to keep your little one hydrated and nourished when he’s sick. If your child has had a bout of gastroenteritis and/or diarrhoea, he may be intolerant of lactose for a while. Switch his milk to a lactose-free variety and offer rooibos tea or diluted apple juice instead. Once he’s feeling better, slowly re-introduce a variety of foods into his diet and follow his lead without worrying too much about picky eating.

For instance, if your child prefers plain foods such as spaghetti or toast for a few days, go with the flow and add fruit and vegetables when he feels better. If you don’t want your little one to get accustomed to sugary snacks or drinks such as warm chocolate milk before bed, be careful not to offer too much of it while he’s ill, even if it’s all he will eat. Kids don’t always understand exceptions to the rules, so rather than fighting or trying to break unhealthy habits (like sweets to make him feel better) later on, offer a choice of healthy snacks and drinks you and your doctor are comfortable with during and after the illness.

Let your child sleep

Generally, you can trust your baby to tell you how much rest or food she needs during an illness, says Heidi Murkoff in her book, What To Expect, The First Year. A very sick baby will give up his usual daily pursuits in favour of much-needed rest. However, if your little one is mildly ill or on the way to recovery, he’ll probably be more active and want to play. In either case, it’s a good idea to follow your baby’s lead while still ensuring that he has enough sleep. Go back to basics – and stick to the sleep schedule you had before your child got sick, advises Heidi.  This will help him to feel more secure and return to her regular routine.

A word on routine

Research has shown that in the first few years, while your little one’s immune system is still immature, it’s not unusual for them to have around nine colds a year. So chances are, just when your child is in a great routine, he might catch a cold. If you’ve just started sleep coaching when your child falls ill, then it’s perfectly OK to “pause” wherever you are in the process, says author and well-known sleep trainer Kim West.

Don’t abandon your sleep coaching – simply maintain your chair or hallway position until your child is feeling better. When he’s not well, the most important thing is to respond to his cries immediately in the day or night and make sure he’s comfortable. “If you’ve completed sleep coaching with your child, be prepared that he may need some help getting back on track after being sick,” she says. Although this might feel like a major setback, it shouldn’t take more than a week to get back to where you were before. The key is to stay calm and be consistent.  

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