How to sleep-train your preemie by establishing a good bedtime routine.

preemie sleep schedulesAs with many typical developmental milestones, preemie sleeping patterns are going to be different than a full term baby’s.  Unlike other children, who are expected to sleep an average of 6 to 8 hours per night by the time they reach 4 months, a premature infant may not have the same sleeping stamina until 8 months, or even later.  Knowing what to expect can help soften the blow of facing five months of unsatisfyingly short naps.

Why Might I have Difficulties Getting My Preemie to Sleep?

Premature infants typically sleep more frequently than full-term infants do, but for much shorter periods of time.  Parents of preemies will usually be woken several times during the night for up to six months.  Because preemies fall asleep multiple times during the day, they won’t be awake and ready to play or interact with you until they are about two months old.  Newborn preemies may not respond to stimulation unless they are frustrated or in distress.

In direct contrast to this, some preemies may actually become hypersensitive to lights, noise, and social interaction.  While full-term babies will typically cry for 1-3 hours per day, many preemies will cry even longer.  Infants disturbed by playtime, caressing, or sounds should be soothed by swaddling and being held.  Blankets shouldn’t be wrapped too tight, as your baby may find even the sheltering touch of a sheet to be too irritating.

While you discover what type of sleeper your preemie is, the most important thing you can do is help them associate night time with rest time and day time with play time.  Activities during the day should be more energetic and noisy- perhaps by talking to your baby during a feeding, or trying to engage its interest in a toy while you play.  Night feedings should be kept as quiet as possible, with little-to-no-stimulation.  These simple variations should help them figure out the difference between day and night, and inspire them to exhibit appropriate sleeping and awake behaviors.

How Can I Encourage my Preemie to Sleep?

Enforcing a predictable routine is one of the best ways to sleep-train your baby.  Following the same steps at bedtime is reassuring to your child and will eventually help them learn how to fall sleep on their own.  Understand that your child, as with any baby, will respond to their own unique set of steps, so don’t get frustrated if the first few methods you try don’t work.  Many parents find success in instilling a sleep routine, because they will come to know their baby’s preferences for comforting.  Maybe your preemie likes being rocked, or fed, or just needs a few quiet words to know that you’re nearby.  A few weeks of trial-and-error should help you figure out what soothing techniques your baby responds to best.

Additionally, the repeated predictability of bedtime activities helps teach babies the steps to self-soothe, so that they can eventually go back to sleep on their own with no need for parents to get up at every small cry.

Routines may consist of bathing your baby at a certain time, followed by a story or a bottle feeding.  It really all depends on what you feel most comfortable with.  Let your baby take the lead.

What Makes a Good Sleeping Routine?

Good routines are made by repeating calming activities before bed to signal to your baby that it is time to go to sleep.  Playing soft music, reading them a book in a quiet, even voice, or placing a ticking clock near their crib will set the mood for a calm, relaxed atmosphere.  Replacing the nursery bulbs with a soft red or yellow light, or installing dimmer switches will also help them learn that darkness means sleep.  Babies will often want to breastfeed or suck on a pacifier to comfort themselves during this time.

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