Premature Babies

How Often Should Preemies Sleep?

Sleep Habits

Preemies spend very little time awake during the day until they're about 2 months old. Premature infants may seem oblivious to the hustle and bustle of an ordinary household. It may be at least 6 months before your preemie sleeps through the night, or at least most of it, notes HealthyChildren.org, the official website of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In comparison, full-term babies generally sleep all night a couple of months sooner.

Night Feedings

Some young preemies need frequent feedings because of their exceptionally small tummies, so they must be awakened to make sure they get the nutrition they need. Night feedings should be matter-of-fact and quiet, using only a nightlight or soft light. A quiet and dark setting should help your infant pick up on the difference between day and night as she ever so slowly gets into the habit of sleeping through the night. Be patient with your preemie. It may take a few weeks before she figures it out.

Making the Most of Wakefulness

It may seem like it's taking forever for your pint-size bundle of joy to even notice you're in the room. It will take time for you and your premature baby to become a team of sorts and settle into a daily routine that includes more than just sleeping and feeding. Make the most of your little one's brief, but precious, bursts of alertness. Talk and sing to your baby to help deepen the bonding process.

Precautions

Always place your preemie on his back to sleep unless your pediatrician recommends otherwise. Sleeping on the back is the safest position for your baby and may help prevent sudden infant death syndrome in all infants, notes HealthyChildren.org. You may have seen your preemie sleeping on his stomach in the hospital's NICU. Medical staff had specific reasons for positioning your baby on his stomach, such as diminishing gastrointestinal reflux or to increase developmental tone. Keep in mind that your newborn was being watched like a hawk by doctors and nurses during his tummy time.

Behavioral Problems in Children Born Prematurely

Externalizing Problems

Externalizing problems are behaviors that show outwardly, such as hyperactivity, poor attention and difficulty interacting with peers. According to a 2012 study published in the Archives of Childhood Disease, slightly less than 70 percent of children born moderately prematurely acted out through these externalizing behavior problems by the age of 4 or 5. Additionally, a study published in Early Human Development found that 76 percent of babies born severely prematurely showed a low, but fairly consistent, number of externalizing problems.

Internalizing Problems

Internalized problems include psycho-emotional problems such as depression and anxiety. Although these problems aren't externalized in the same way, depression or anxiety obviously impacts a young child's social and academic life. According to Archives of Childhood Disease, moderately premature children were two and half times more likely than full-term children to experience these internalized problems. In a 2009 Pediatrics study, severely premature children were at greater risk for cognitive delays in addition to psychological and emotional problems.

Aggravating Factors

While the risk of internal and external difficulties is clear among moderately and severely premature babies, other factors can increase the risk to premature child. According to the Pediatrics study, the risk of behavior problems in premature children was exacerbated by the poor maternal health as well any maternal emotional and psychological issues. Such factors are known to increase the risk of behavior problems even among children born to full-term, but being a preemie increases this risk even further.

Intervention

The common recommendation from each study was for behavioral and cognitive therapy and intervention for children born prematurely. Like any impairment, strengthening deficits early on, before a child begins formal schooling, can potentially reduce the severity of certain problems. The study in Archives of Childhood Disease also notes that that children born moderately prematurely, particularly girls, should undergo mental health problems before such internalizing factors affect their academic and social life.

How to Position a Sleeping Preemie Baby

Dress your baby in a warm sleeper before putting her down for the night, as you should not cover babies with blankets while they are sleeping. Do not overdress her or overheat her room. Remove all blankets, pillows and toys from the crib, as these pose a risk of suffocation.

Place your baby in her crib on her back, being careful to support her head and hips as you lower her into it. Make sure all limbs are free, with clearance on every side and nothing trapped at an awkward angle or underneath her.

Reposition your baby every so often to prevent her getting sore spots or flat or elongated spots on her skull, which is a risk with premature babies.

Things You Will Need

  • Warm sleeper
  • Crib