Sleep Coach’s Corner: Sleep Training and Vomiting

If that title didn’t grab your attention, then I don’t know what will! Vomiting is one of those parenting experiences that nothing can really prepare you for. It’s scary and often distressing for everyone. And if you’re in the middle of sleep training, it can be stressful to know how to navigate it. Let’s take a look at how to handle things when your baby throws up during sleep training.

Why it happens

Intense crying and even coughing can trigger a baby’s gag reflex, causing them to vomit. When a baby is allowed to cry longer than usual, their increased mucus production can also contribute to triggering the gag reflex. I will note here that the Sleep Sense™ program that I use is not a “cry it out” sleep training program. The goal of sleep training is not to create additional stress for a tired family.

The simple way of explaining why some babies vomit during sleep training is that babies cry to communicate. Without language, their only method of communicating is through crying. When you change from rocking your baby to bed to calmly putting them into their crib, they’re confused, and they’ll let you know. As you remain firm in putting your baby to bed without rocking them to sleep (or feeding them to sleep), your baby will communicate their confusion through crying. This increased crying – whether in intensity or in the length of time – often triggers a baby’s gag reflex, resulting in them throwing up. 

Preparation is key

If you don’t do this already, now’s a great time to start; double or triple sheet your baby’s mattress with protective barriers in-between. This is great for nighttime diaper leaks as well, as it allows you to quickly and quietly strip the soiled sheet and get your baby back to bed. I also suggest having a change of clothing set out before bed or naptime, in addition to wipes for cleaning up, in the event a change is needed. 

Sleep training and vomiting: what to do

Now that you’re prepared, it’s time to discuss what to do when your baby vomits during sleep training. The first thing you need to do is to remain calm. Your baby is already feeling a bit of distress, so your goal is to exude calm as you go through the process of cleaning your little one up and getting them back down.

Now that you’re the epitome of calm, you need to change your baby. Move your little one to a clean area of the crib, clean them up, and change their clothing. In case you missed it, you are not removing your little one from the crib. Use a gentle tone and touch to soothe your baby and reassure them that they’re okay.

With baby cleaned up, you need to strip the crib. Beginning at the corner closest to the vomit, remove the top sheet and protective barrier and start rolling it on itself until you have enough space to move your baby onto the fresh sheet. Roll the remainder of the soiled sheet and remove it from the crib. 

With your baby and their crib cleaned up, give them a quick cuddle, some soothing words, and then retreat to your chair if you’re remaining in the room. 

I will reiterate that it can take up to two weeks for your baby to adapt to their new, consistent sleep routine. While it’s distressing to see your baby cry until they vomit, they’ll eventually settle into the routine once they understand the sleep cues you’re giving them. After a few days of consistent sleep training, your baby will understand the cues that let them know precisely what will happen, leading up to a nap or bedtime. 

Hang in there tired parents! As always, if you’re struggling to find a sleep routine that sticks, or you need help creating a healthy sleep routine, give me a call. I’ve helped hundreds of Philadelphia area families – and families across the globe – get the sleep they need.

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