Q&A: My child just got over an ear infection and now won't sleep through the night. What can I do?
My son is 7 months old and has just got over his first cold and ear infection. The problem is that now he's not sleeping through the night unless he is in my arms. He realizes when I place him in his crib and wakes up crying. Also he's teething. I have tried to keep the lights low, not to change his diaper till morning, to avoid talking to him, but I think we spoiled him when he was sick and held him to comfort him. Is there anything I can do to get him to sleep through the night again?
Let me start by reassuring you that your son, who has already proven himself capable of sleeping through the night prior to his illness, can and likely will get back to a more desirable sleep routine again soon with your help. It’s actually quite common for parents to be faced with a struggle when attempting to get their children back into a good sleep routine after an illness. This is really not all that surprising, given that it’s only natural for parents to want to offer their babies and children lots of extra TLC during an illness. These efforts to soothe and comfort most often involve rocking and/or holding a baby to sleep, if not resorting to sleeping with them during the illness. For some previously independent and accomplished sleepers, this extra TLC is warmly received, but they quickly spring back into their pre-illness sleep habits. For others, however, they become dependent on this extra attention and being held or rocked in order to fall (and stay) asleep.
For children like your son, who have fallen into a less-than-desirable sleep routine during an illness, I recommend the same advice I offer parents of 2- to 4-month-olds who are trying to help their babies become good, independent sleepers. Think of learning to fall asleep independently as a learning process. Your son has already proven in the past that he’s capable. Now you just need to encourage him to get back on track by establishing or returning to a predictable bedtime routine that concludes with you putting him in his crib while he’s still awake, and then letting him fall asleep independently in his crib rather than in your arms. That way, should he wake up during a period of light sleep during the night (which we all do), he will know how to get himself back to sleep on his own, rather than needing the same rocking and/or holding conditions he has grown accustomed to in order to fall back asleep.
And finally, I am very partial to my “4 Bs of Bedtime” routine to help facilitate the process. Simply offer your son the last feeding of the day (ie Breast or Bottle), give him a Bath (which isn’t always necessary, but often helps to get kids and parents relaxed and ready for bed), Brush teeth (or gums), and then read Books before putting him in his crib for bed. While reading to your son, don’t hesitate to sit with and/or rock him, but make sure he doesn’t start to fall asleep in your arms before he’s in his crib. If he does, then simply consider reading books before the bath to insure that he’s still awake when you lay him in his crib.