How to Sleep Train Your Preemie
I’ve had quite a few clients who wondered what would be different when it came to teaching their sweetie to go to sleep. You may even be concerned you’ll do some accidental damage when you sleep train your preemie.
Well, rest easy.
I’m here to tell you what’s different and what’s not so different when you’re helping a premature baby to sleep. You might be surprised!
Let’s talk about premature young ones and how they sleep.
Keep These Tips in Mind
Sleep training a baby who was born a little ahead of schedule may seem daunting. But it’s all a matter of understanding a few key points about preemie sleep, and making a few small changes.
Keep these in mind:
Your Baby May Take Longer to Sleep Train
1. Babies born prematurely start out with nervous systems and bodily organs that are a bit behind their term-birth mates.
In addition, if your baby spent time in the hospital, if they have been sick or have special needs, they may need a little extra time before they’re fully sleep trained.
2. Ask the Pediatrician if Your Little One is Ready
The very first thing you need to do is take your baby to the pediatrician.
If there are any physical issues, or if your baby isn’t physically mature enough to sleep train yet, you may need to keep getting up with Baby until she’s a few weeks older.
3. Your Baby Needs More Sleep Than the Average Infant
Preemies sleep longer in their first weeks than term-sized babies — up to 22 hours per day. That’s because they’re working hard on continuing their development outside the womb. All that growth means a lot of sleep.
If you’re tempted to keep your baby up during the day so she’ll sleep at night…hold it right there! That can be dangerous for a small baby, who needs frequent feedings to catch up.
4. Size Matters
Another reason your baby could take a bit longer to sleep through the night is her size.
The main issue here is that your preemie was born, well, small. Sure, she might have been a bruiser who weighed 10 pounds at birth if she’d gone to term. But even a large-for-dates preemie can be very small, with few fat stores.
Preemies tend to nap much more often, eat every hour or two, and need feedings at night until their adjusted age and size of the average 2-3 month infant.
5. …And So Does Age
Adjust your baby’s age to take into account how many weeks early she was born.
Is she on par with other babies who are at your baby’s adjusted age? If she still weighs less than the pediatrician projected, wait until you get the green light from the doc before sleep training.
6. A Consistent Bedtime Routine Works Wonders
One thing most babies have in common is that having a bedtime routine is essential.
This can be as simple as the 3 Bs (bath, book and bed), or it can be a song at bedtime, two kisses to each family member, or whatever works well for your family.
Just make sure you stick to it. Consistency is key.
7. If Your Baby Cries Excessively, Get a Checkup
A little light crying at sleep time is normal, but I never recommend letting a baby cry for extended periods until they fall asleep. That goes for any baby, not just preemies.
But if your baby is screaming every time you put him down, or if he seems to be in pain, see the pediatrician. Your baby could be struggling with a physical issue you don’t know about.
Why Your “Early Starter” NEEDS Sleep
Everyone needs adequate rest. (And if you’re reading this article, I’ll bet that’s something you’re missing out on right now.)
But there are special issues that make healthy sleep a priority for prematurely born babies.
Three reasons to get your little one on the right track as soon as she’s capable are:
Sleep is Important for Your Baby’s Brain Development
I don’t say that lightly. There have been multiple studies on this, including a 2022 metastudy of 93 research articles. The researchers concluded, “Sleep is critical for memory, learning, and socio-emotional development.”
They added that the key characteristics impacting a child’s future tend to speed up between the ages of 7 months and 24 months, “…during periods of rapid neurodevelopmental progress.”
Because premature babies need to catch up in many ways throughout childhood, sleep is especially critical for them.
Too Little Sleep Can Affect Body Growth
Your mother wasn’t lying: getting too little sleep can alter growth during infancy and childhood.
Experts theorize that this is because the majority of the body’s Growth Hormone is released during the first hour or two of sleep.
Adults can suffer from lacking Growth Hormone, too, but because an infant is in the development stage, he can have negative growth effects from this.
Your Preemie Needs More Rest Than a Full-Term Baby
For the first few weeks, premature babies need more rest than full-term babies. After all, they would have been getting that rest in the womb.
That means it’s extra important that a preemie gets good, restful sleep once she’s born.
Should You Sleep Train Your Preemie?
You and your child’s pediatrician can be the judge of whether it’s time to sleep train your preemie. When Baby is ready (and so are you), keep the above tips in mind. Sweet dreams!
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