Life with a newborn can include a lot of sleepless nights. Premature babies are further behind in their development when they are born, so they have many more needs than most newborns. Maintaining a regular feeding schedule through the day and night is essential to encouraging healthy development. Unfortunately, that may mean sleeping through the night will be delayed a little longer for parents of preemies.
Staying on Schedule
Premature babies need to eat frequently to encourage healthy growth and development. Therefore, hospital staff will likely put your premature baby on a feeding schedule. In the hospital, this may include tube feeding or feeding through a spoon or dropper, depending on your baby's development and whether he can eat from a bottle. When you get home, it is important that you stay on that schedule -- even through the night. Every schedule will be different, depending on your baby's individual needs, but you should expect to feed your baby at least every two to three hours.
Premature babies sleep more than full-term babies. WebMD says that premature babies are seldom awake for longer than brief periods, but they also sleep in shorter periods. If your premature baby wakes at night, he may drift back to sleep without you noticing, or you may not hear his cries, since a premature baby's cries are weaker than a full-term infant's. It is important that you use an alarm or another system to wake and feed your baby right on schedule instead of relying on your baby waking you. If your baby is asleep, wake him for the feeding.
Feeding on Demand
Feeding your premature baby on demand, even during the night, encourages healthy development and stimulates your milk supply, if you are breastfeeding. BabyCenter advises against allowing premature babies to cry often, as the energy used is better spent by the body on development. Feeding when your baby shows signs of hunger, even if it's not on schedule, can limit crying. Premature babies may not have a strong sucking reflex when they are born, and they may not have the energy to eat for long periods. Therefore, breastfeeding on demand, even through the night, can give your baby plenty of opportunities to nurse, which can help stimulate milk production.
Many premature babies are unable to breastfeed when they are born because their sucking reflex is not strong enough. Therefore, they may be fed using a tube, spoon or syringe in the hospital. When they come home, they will likely be strong enough to use a bottle designed for preemies or to breastfeed. However, if your baby still requires the use of a spoon or tube, it is important that you become comfortable with these feeding methods before you leave the hospital. You may feel confident using them during the day, but when you are sleep deprived and fumbling around in the dark, you may find them a little more difficult to administer.