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Premature Babies and Sleep: All You Need to Know

premature babies and sleep

What many parents want to know when it comes to premature babies and sleep is, “When can I start sleep training?” 

Premature babies require a lot more sleep than term babies and that sleep is often inconsistent and sporadic. 

The end result?

Exhausted parents!

If you’re wondering if you’ll ever get a good night’s sleep ever again, I’m here to tell you, “Yes, you will!”

Here’s why premature babies sleep longer hours, tips for sleep training, and how to encourage healthy sleep habits.

Do premature babies have trouble sleeping?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, premature babies may sleep for as many as 22 hours every day. However, their sleep is often inconsistent, waking up every hour to fill their tummy. 

As soon as your preemie grows and develops, he won’t need to wake up every hour to feed, leading to sleeping for longer stretches. Until that time comes, he will need extra care to make it through this phase. 

Do premature babies have sleep problems?

Whether they’re preterm or premature, all newborn babies need time to grow into a regular sleep pattern. In fact, all babies are born without a mature biological clock. Their internal clocks aren’t in sync with the 24-hour cycle of day and night. 

Many term babies start sleeping for longer stretches after they turn four months. However, you can expect your preterm baby not to start sleeping for longer stretches until he’s between six months and eight months old. 

Every baby is different, and some babies are naturally more easily awakened than others.

If you have concerns, don’t hesitate to talk to your baby’s pediatrician about what you can expect for your little one. 

sleep and premature babies

Should I sleep train my premature baby?

Ideally, the decision whether you should or shouldn’t sleep train your baby can be best made by consulting with your child’s pediatrician. Your pediatrician must make sure your little one is developed enough to start sleeping independently and sleep for longer stretches at night. 

When should I start sleep training my preemie?

In case you decide to sleep train your baby, make sure you stick to the recommended guidelines for your little one’s age. As I’ve mentioned above, term babies tend to start sleeping longer stretches once they’re four months of age, while premature babies do so when they’re between six and eight months of age. 

It’s important to keep your baby’s adjusted age in mind when thinking about sleep training. To find his adjusted age, take the number of weeks he was born early and subtract it from his actual age. For example, if he’s 15 weeks old but born six weeks early, his adjusted age is nine weeks old. 

Five tips for encouraging better sleep

Establish a routine

Even if your preemie doesn’t sleep through the night, establishing a consistent bedtime routine can be quite helpful. Your child can learn to recognize sleep cues and eventually start falling asleep independently and soothing himself back to sleep when he wakes up at night. 

There’s not one universal bedtime routine that’s set in stone. Instead, you should find what works best for you and your family. For example, you may find that a warm bath, gentle massage, and a lullaby is what does the trick. Once you find your ideal routine, stick to it until your little one starts self-soothing.

Get sunlight and avoid artificial light at night

Make sure you expose yourself and your baby to sunlight during the day. At night, try to keep the lights dimmed or out. Even when you’re feeding your little one, keep the lights dimmed. The goal is to follow the natural order of light and darkness to influence your newborn’s sleep patterns. It might take a few weeks before your premature baby develops his circadian rhythm. 

Put baby on his back

Parents are advised against placing their premature babies to sleep on their tummies at night to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Back-sleeping is a safer option as it increases a baby’s access to fresh air and makes him less likely to get overheated. Always speak with your pediatrician about the best sleep environment for your preemie.

Let him sleep in a crib next to your bed

Have your baby sleep in a crib next to your bed until he’s at least six months old. Sleeping in the same room will be easier for you to breastfeed him at night. This advice is given for both premature and term babies. 

Avoid co-sleeping

Sharing a room with your baby is what most parents do, but you should avoid co-sleeping. Co-sleeping isn’t safe for premature babies as it increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). 

When it comes to sleep training your premature baby, you can always do it alone, or you can ask for professional help from a certified sleep trainer. When you have a sleep trainer working alongside you, you’ll get a personalized plan that fits your child’s temperament and personality. A sleep trainer can ensure you’re on the right track and offer unlimited support throughout the process. 

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