Getting Your Preemie To Sleep

February 4, 2015
Photo by: Jessie Threlkeld

Photo by: Jessie Threlkeld

Baby sleep is such a hot topic in the parenting world, one Google search and anyone could be overwhelmed with Baby Wise, attachment parenting, and everything in between. Having a preemie makes all “normal” baby behaviors more complex; and can be very overwhelming to a new mom or dad. Sleep is crucial to your preemie’s mental and physical development. Allowing your preemie to get to sleep and stay asleep may not be a struggle for every parent, but it was definitely a learning curve for our family. Here’s just one example of the joys of preemie sleep issues…

Beep Beep Beep! I remember the monitor loudly waking my husband and me up with a start more than once. I would fly out of bed and grab our little girl while my husband flipped on the light. Fully expecting to see a blue baby, I was always  shocked that she was pink and rosy. She would be sleeping soundly and had just wiggled her foot monitor off in her sleep. The panic would slowly fade as I put the monitor on her foot again. These false alarms happened quite a bit, adding a new element that baby books didn’t discuss when it came to baby sleep.

Before I dive into some tips and tricks you must remember one thing, you are not alone and you will reunite with your pillow once again. Here are some tips that I didn’t find in books, but that were  part of our day to day experiences with monitors, short sleep cycles, and more.

#1: Be flexible

During my pregnancy, I thought I knew exactly how I would handle sleeping issues, but what happened in actuality was so different from anything I had read.  I was lost as to where to begin. Our little girl had intense reflux and constipation which can make sleep short-lived and uncomfortable. This was not in the plan (but neither was having a baby eight weeks early)- so we adapted to her needs to get her to sleep. When I allowed myself to see our daughter’s needs, rather than one specific sleep method things got way easier! She became a great night-time sleeper and an excellent day-time napper. We began working as a team. Being flexible is crucial as you learn what gives your preemie the best sleep.

#2: Baby wearing

Photo By: Jessie Threlkeld

Photo By: Jessie Threlkeld

Since our daughter had intense reflux it made sleep very difficult to come by; most nights were spent with a screaming baby rather than a sleeping one. Baby wearing was a great way to help ease her reflux and bring comfort to our little preemie. We also noticed a huge jump in her growth and sleep once we started doing baby wearing. This was really hard to do in the NICU with so many wires, and then again at home with monitors. Wraps worked great for us, and we found a way to work with the chords. Depending on how she was doing that day, we might wear her till she fell asleep, or for the duration of the nap.  She became great at naps and nursing, by using baby wearing. The extra snuggles also helped me with my postpartum depression.

#3. Breastfeeding

Since our daughter had such intense stomach issues bottles weren’t an option for her – and neither was formula. Breastfeeding actually turned into a great way to ease her into a sleepy milk coma. This brought some comfort and relief to our little one that was struggling. If breastfeeding isn’t an option, this is a great time to do skin to skin, something that Dad can do too. Kangaroo care, or skin to skin, will bring comfort and ease to your little preemie, often resulting in a sound sleeper. As a side note on feedings, we found that sometimes our daughter would actually sleep too long and that we had to wake her for feedings. While we didn’t do a strict schedule, I did watch the clock to make sure that she was eating every 2-3 hrs, as preemies can be lazy about waking up to feed on time. A lactation consultant can be a great resource for you to help ensure that baby is getting adequate milk – and baby won’t sleep if she is still hungry!

#4. Co-sleeping

This can often have a very bad connotation in parent groups, and there is much debate in medical circles as well, but this was something that worked wonders for us. Co-sleeping can happen in many different forms, but the general definition is room sharing. This doesn’t mean that your baby has to sleep in bed with you, but it can. We felt comfortable having our daughter in a co-sleeper that attached to our bed so that we could attend to her in a moment’s notice. While there are a lot of studies that claim co-sleeping to be dangerous, we found the opposite to be true. Our daughter had so many breathing issues that it was crucial that we be able to attend to her immediately. The safest sleep option for our family was to have her next to us.  This was a great solution for us that put our minds and hearts at ease. It also allowed both me and my husband to have a stronger bond with our daughter, knowing when she was having a good night or a bad night. We became atune to her little sounds, helping us become more aware of her needs.  Be sure that you discuss how you are co-sleeping with your pediatrician and that you are practicing safe sleep practices.

#5. Time outs

Photo by: Jessie Threlkeld

Photo by: Jessie Threlkeld

Everybody needs a break, even mom and dad. Getting any baby to sleep, let alone a preemie, is quite a task, but allowing yourself to take breaks every now and then will help a great deal. Having your spouse or partner take over while you take a shower or get a way for a bit can give you a better perspective. Remember that all babies cry and that it’s not your fault if your baby is fussy. After having to do CPR on our baby, I walked away with new perspective: a crying baby is a healthy baby. This may not be easy to remember, but taking a deep breath and giving yourself a moment to stay calm is always a good idea.

I hope these tips encourage you to try something new with your preemie if sleep is hard to come by in your house. Making an action plan with your pediatrician/lactation consultant can be a great way to keep your little one on track.  Our little preemie is now 19 months and still has great sleep, and although we don’t need to do all of these anymore, they worked great for us in the early months. Enjoy the little moments as they are fleeing!