Sleep Training and Your Preemie

March 9, 2020
sleep training your preemie, swaddled baby

A common question parents ask when it comes to sleep and their preemie is “When can we sleep train?” While preemies and NICU babies sleep a lot more than term babies, that sleep is often inconsistent and sporadic, leaving parents and caregivers exhausted and wondering if they will ever get a good night’s sleep again. Here we’ll talk about what people mean when they talk about sleep training, how a preemie’s sleep schedule differs from a term baby’s, and what you can do to help your preemie (and yourself) get a little more sleep.

Your preemie’s sleep schedule

Your preemie’s sleep schedule is going to look different from a term baby’s. Premature babies sleep up to 22 hours a day, but in short increments, waking as often as every hour to fill their tiny tummy.

Your preemie will eventually sleep longer stretches, once they no longer need to wake for feedings. Until then, just keep in mind that they are still very young compared to their term peers and that they are growing and adjusting to the outside world.

Should I sleep train my preemie?

Whether or not to sleep train is a personal family decision that can be made with the help of your child’s pediatrician. Sleep is essential for your baby’s development (and everyone’s well being), but they must be developmentally ready for it.

The best approach to sleep training is one that fits your family. Many children whose families choose not to sleep train go on to learn to sleep through the night on their own.

What does sleep training mean?

For some people, sleep training is synonymous with “crying it out.” The truth is, sleep training will look different for different families. There are lots of different ways to go about it.

Sleep training simply means devising a consistent routine to help your baby learn sleep cues and to eventually learn to fall asleep on their own. Some families sleep train, some do not. Some families “cry it out,” others find alternative methods. No matter what you choose, it’s important that it’s a fit for your family and that you’re consistent with it. (But know that if something ends up not working out, you can always adjust!)

When can I sleep train my preemie?

If you decide sleep training is the way to go, make sure to follow the guidelines for your baby’s adjusted age. While a full term baby may sleep through the night at four months of age, a preemie may not sleep through the night until six to eight months of age, or even later. It’s important to keep your baby’s adjusted age in mind when thinking about their development, and talk to your pediatrician for additional guidance.

Encouraging healthy sleep habits

Although your preemie may not sleep through the night until they are a little older, it’s important to establish a consistent routine for bed time and nap times. Establishing a routine will help your baby learn to recognize sleep cues. Finding a routine may involve some trial and error, but once you find what works for your family (and for your baby), remain consistent. Your baby will learn what to expect in a routine, and the predictability will help them in them learning how to self soothe.

Make your night time routine soothing and comforting. A sample routine may include bath time, feeding, story time, low lighting, soft music and some sweet snuggles before placing baby in their bed for some restful sleep.

Safe sleep recommendations

Always make sure to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics safe sleep recommendations, updated in 2016. The AAP recommends families not use commercial devices, including wedges and positioners, that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS. Do not use incline sleepers, which pose a risk of death by suffocation, even if they have not been recalled.

You can find recommendations for infant sleep safety at First Candle and Safe Sleep Practices for Baby here.

Our friends at First Candle have also provided this Child Caregiver Safe Sleep Checklist.