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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.

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

Even if you’ve got an illness such as Covid, 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 Covid, you could consider wearing a face mask. 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. 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.

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 neighbour 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. 

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.

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 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.

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

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