How to look after your baby when you’re not feeling well

If you’re not feeling well but have to look after your baby, we salute you. It’s not great but if it’s unavoidable, here are some ideas that might help.

If you’re not feeling well, your partner should be self-isolating too. But if they need to work from home then there might not be much option but to care for your baby yourself as much as you can. If you’re ill, it’s also going to be tricky to prevent passing any infection onto them, especially if you have a clingy baby or toddler.

Here are some tips to help:

1. You can still breastfeed and bottle feed – but take extra care with cleanliness

Even if you’ve got symptoms of coronavirus, the benefits of breastfeeding your child are thought to outweigh the possible risk of transmission. However, you should have a chat to your partner to make sure it’s a decision you’re both happy with.

You’ll need to pay a little more attention to hygiene than normal, though. Make sure you wash your hands before you breastfeed. Try not to cough or sneeze on your baby, as infection is carried in droplets from your mouth and nose. If you have a face mask, you could think about wearing it. Check out the advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) here.

Another option is to pump your milk with a breast pump, then your partner could feed your child the expressed milk. If you’re doing this, again wash your hands thoroughly first, and clean the pump according to the manufacturer’s guidelines after use.

If you are bottlefeeding, make sure everything is as sterile as ever and that you're in the know about how coronavirus might affect what you do. Read our tips on all aspects of feeding, including how to safely prepare a bottle feed.

2. Relax the screen time rules a little

You need to look after yourself and, let’s face it, sometimes the only way to get some completely undisturbed rest is to let your baby or toddler watch TV or play on a tablet. It’s also something you can do without too much one-to-one interaction.

Try to make it a last resort though, for when you feel really unwell or you need a rest after doing some other activities. Especially if when the TV is on, you’ll have a fight on your hands to turn it off. Read our tips on how to manage screen time.

If you are setting a game up on a tablet for them, wipe the screen down with some screen cleaner after you’ve touched it. Or at least wash your hands immediately before touching the screen. If you cough or touch your face or mouth accidentally, wash them again. And here's how to get your toddler to wash their hands.

3. Read them some stories, or put on an audio storybook

You’re still going to be 'on duty' while you read, but at least you can lie on your bed or relax on the sofa. Your baby might want to cuddle up to you, but if they’re old enough to understand, explain that you don’t want to make them ill by giving them your germs so it’s better to sit side by side. Germs are probably something toddlers are beginning to get their heads around.

You can find lots of stories on lots of audio storybook apps, like Epic!, Roald Dahl Audiobooks, Audible Audiobooks, iBooks and more.

Read our article on coping with self-isolation and a baby for more practical tips.

4. Get out colouring sheets

If they’re bored of their colouring books, bring in some novelty. There are loads of free-to-print out sheets on the internet, everything from princesses to Super Heroes, via unicorns and fast cars. If you’ve got a printer, great; if not, it’s something you could ask a neighbor or friend to drop off for you. Colouring could bag yourself half an hour’s rest.

5. Video call grandparents or their friends

This will kill two birds with one stone. You’ll get to see a friendly face, and grandparents or their friends can entertain them, at least virtually, for a few precious minutes. At the same time, you all keep in touch.

This could also be used as an incentive for them during the day to eat their food without a meltdown/play on their own for a bit. Here are some of the top tech apps you could use to stay connected and the 10 conversations every parent has had about coronavirus.

6. Put out some (non-messy) messy play

OK, you don’t want anything that’s going to need loads of cleaning up when you’re not feeling your best. But options like Play-Doh, a bucket of water with some cups to pour in, or a sand pit outside will come into their own.

You could also put out some upturned plastic bowls or pots for them to bang with a spoon – you’ll be surprised how long they can spend doing this. See our articles for more ideas of easy games your baby or toddler will enjoy.

7. Just…do nothing

We’re all a bit guilty of thinking we need to provide constant activities for our children. But you could just put a few toys out on the floor, then sit back on the sofa and see what happens. Your baby or toddler may be able to amuse themselves for longer than you think.

Of course, if it all ends in tears after a few minutes, you might need a back-up plan. But it’s worth a try, and it’ll encourage them to be a bit more independent. Learn more about your child’s emotional and social development.

8. Try to keep them at arm’s length

You should be trying to separate yourself from other members of the household as much as possible, so be a couple of metres away from your partner as much as possible.

While your little one might not understand the rules of social distancing, try to have a little less contact with them if possible. When you’re looking after your toddler, encourage them to be more independent by sitting on their own chair or cushions rather than your lap, for example.

Don’t kiss your baby on the face or mouth – sorry, it’s just for the time being. Ask your partner to give them extra hugs so they’re not relying on you so much for affection.

If keeping your baby or toddler at bay completely is just not a possibility, don’t stress out about it. Most children and babies only experience mild to moderate symptoms if they are infected. But it’s still worth trying to stop it happening as much as possible.

9. Follow the guidelines about minimising infection

The NHS is advising all of us to wash our hands or use hand sanitiser regularly, especially after touching your own face or coughing. If you’re feeling unwell, use a separate towel from other people to avoid passing on infection – your toddler is going to grab whatever is next to the sink so put yours somewhere else.

Those people who are unwell should also use their own plates, cups, glasses and cutlery, and put them in the dishwasher or wash them thoroughly in hot, soapy water afterwards. The NHS advice is also to eat at a different time (look on the bright side – at least you’ll get to finish your meal while it’s hot!) This applies to anyone else who’s feeling unwell.

Something else you can easily do to reduce the risk of infection is to open a window to let air circulate. Also, online delivery services (including some you might not have thought of) are a lifesaver at the moment. But politely (and gratefully – they’re doing a great job) let them know that they shouldn’t come inside your house and instead should leave the items on your doorstep.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

Interactive, engaging and social, our live online antenatal course is a great way for you to meet other local parents, and get essential unbiased information and knowledge about pregnancy, birth and early days with your baby.

Read the government advice on looking after yourself at home here.

Check out the NHS guidelines about staying at home.

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