23 answers

How Much Should a Premature Baby Sleep?

Dear moms,

I am a first time mom of a beautiful baby boy, born premature at 33 weeks. He spent two weeks at the NICU and is now home with us. He is now 36 weeks. I am wondering how much he should be sleeping? I am waking him every 3 hours to feed him as instructed by the pediatrician and for the most part he is alseep whenever he is not eating. Some days he has more awake periods apart from feeding, diaper changing or bath time. Is this normal behavior for a baby this age? (who is also a premie?)

Thanks in advance for your advice!

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Featured Answers

This sounds totally normal...I have a baby boy who was born at 34 weeks and he did the exact same thing. Soon he'll be up all the time so try and get some rest!!!!! Good luck.

Hi A.,

My son was born at 34 weeks. The sleeping is totally normal. And I think that is for all babies in general whether premie or not, they just sleep. They will continue in this pattern until they are almost 3 months old before you will notice a change. Just continue to feed and love that baby and let the baby sleep. He will grow big and strong and be just fine.


More Answers

Dear A.,

I say good for you that your baby is a good sleeper. If your baby is eating and growing the way that he should then I am sure everything is fine. The only reason a newborn baby wouldn't sleep is if they are hungry, have gas, or a dirty diaper. The fact that he was premature is why he may need more sleep. My nephew was doing the same thing however he was sleeping through feedings and did not gain weight properly so it was a chore to wake him and feed him every three hours but they did it and he was fine.

Actually, I have always found that preemies tend to sleep
alot. This is time they should have been inside. Around
your original due date you will probably notice he will
be more awake and alert. Get your sleep while you can.
Keep waking him to eat for now. In about a month or so,
you probably won't even have to do that. Enjoy that little

Hi A., Congratulations on your baby boy. Your baby is doing just what he needs to do. He is growing while he sleeps. I know you wish he was up more but he needs to rest. Being born is not easy, very hard work. Enjoy the quiet time because as the days and weeks go by he will sleep less and less. Sounds like you are doing a great job. Grandma Mary

Most newborns sleep most of the day, and this is very normal. Eventually he will start to be awake for a little while. You can encourage this time by making sure he is exposed to bright lights during the day and keep the lights dim as much as possible at night when you wake up for feedings. You can talk to him or sing to him or make faces while he is awake. I would also suggest feeding him every 2 hours though, especially if you are breastfeeding. Most pediatricians will tell you that, so I am surprised that your pediatrician would say every 3 hours for such a young baby. My pediatrician recommended that I feed my son on demand, but for the first few weeks, not to go more than 2 hours and sometimes even more frequently while they are having a growth spurt. They digest their food so quickly at this age that they need to be eating all the time. That would be two hours from the beginning of the last feeding, so if he ate at 9 am, then he has to eat again at 11 am, even if the 9 am feeding takes an hour. Newborns don't always have the strength to eat very fast so this is realistic, especially since you have a preterm baby. Breasteeding is especially important for preemies so I would greatly encourage it. The skin to skin contact helps them grow and feel secure. I would definitely recommend getting the help of a lactation consultant to work with you because tiny babies can have more trouble latching properly. It can take a few months before breastfeeding is working well because you both have to learn the proper technique. Get The Breastfeeding Book by Dr. Sears- really good advice. Also a great baby website is http://www.kellymom.com. After he gets to 42 weeks, you can probably let him sleep at night for as long as he wants if he is gaining well. He still probably won't sleep that long, but this will encourage him to have his longest sleep periods at night.

I assume you mean that he is now 3 weeks old (but would have been 36 weeks gestation). My children weren't preemies (all three were born at 36 weeks), but even they did nothing but sleep the whole day, other than when they were eating. That's just how it goes at the very beginning. After a while, they will spend more time awake, but you are correct to wake the baby every 3 hours for a feeding, especially for a little one like yours...


Hi A.,
My son was born at 32 weeks, and stayed in the NICU for 11 days. I remember that he slept ALOT, he would even fall asleep during feedings. The nurse at the NICU showed me ways to keep him awake so he would eat, so yes, i believe that this is normal for a preemie. Normally, your baby would still be in the womb now, keep that in mind.
Good Luck!

Hi A.-
This is normal for preemies. My son was also a premie- born at 31 weeks. When he came home at 35 weeks he slept all the time. I had to wake him for feedings, the peditrician told me don't let him go more than 3 - 3 1/2 hours without eating. I think when he was a little past term and his weight was gaining nicely, I didn't have to wake him anymore. He is now 7 months old and sleeping, eating and growing beautifully!

A side note- I think at around 37, 38 weeks he started to get his days & nights mixed up. He would sleep all day (I had to wake to feed) and be awake from 11 pm - 6 am! That was rough! You can't really do much to change it, they figure it out when they are ready, a little after term. (DO NOT give him cereal in the bottle at this age, wait until about 5, 6 months. Preemies digestive systems aren't ready until then and it may bring on food allegies the earlier you give cereal & food)I can only say- if possible, to sleep during the day when he is sleeping too. Good luck!

Hi A.,

My daughter was also born premature at 33 weeks, and spent 18 days in NICU. My daughter had a similar routine, honestly it was very frustrating, because I began working again, and lost a lot of sleep. I also started giving her cereal in her bottle at 2 months and it did not help. Eventually it passed and she start sleeping all night when she turned 6 months old. You can speak to your pediatrician about it maybe they have so new theories on the situation. My daughter is 19 now.

Did you doctor tell you about some things that happen to premie for example how some of them have to catch up to the other children, etc.

Best wishes

That's totally normal for any 3 week old. my kids were both full term babies and they were just like that. He will start having more awake time in a few weeks or closer to about 6 wks or so.

This is totally normal for a preemie. My daughter was born at 33 1/2 weeks and was in the NICU for a month. By the time she came home we were feeding her every 3-4 hours and if she wasn't eating she was sleeping. Sometimes she ate in her sleep. The nurses showed us ways to keep her awake during her feedings too. By the time she came home I was told to let her wake up on her own. She never missed a feeding-I think she had an alarm clock hidden in her crib. Eventually she slept less. She is now a very healthy 2 year old. I am sure everything will be fine. Just get used to not sleeping much for a while.

Hi A.,

My son was born at 34 weeks. The sleeping is totally normal. And I think that is for all babies in general whether premie or not, they just sleep. They will continue in this pattern until they are almost 3 months old before you will notice a change. Just continue to feed and love that baby and let the baby sleep. He will grow big and strong and be just fine.


My daughter was born at 34 weeks and was in the NICU for 4 weeks. I spent most of the mornings with her in the NICU and a few times at night also (she was an hour away from home) and I rarely saw her awake. Even when she came home, she slept all the time. She woke for her feedings and would play for a little bit after, but she pretty much slept. Give him a few weeks and you should see a change. Enjoy and Congratulations. L.

My son was born at 36 weeks - the first few weeks he pretty much woke up for his bottle & slept, slept slept! After a few weeks he would be up 15-20 minutes but at this young age they sleep most of the time! Sleep when he sleeps trust me you will need it when he starts to be awake more!

My 33 week premature bot slept constantly for a couple of months. I would have to use a cold wash cloth under his arms etc. to wake him to feed. It was quite disconcerting. Premies are still supposed to be sleeping inside of you. When he sleeps, his body is growing. He wont sleep forever - he will wake and keep you very busy before you know it. Wear him in a sling close to you as he sleeps and you go about your day (I loved the new native baby carrier - you can find it online). Massage him. "Kangaroo care" and skin-to-skin contact have been shown to help babies develop faster and are especially important to premies. Also, make sure he is warm and swaddled. Again - he should still be inside you in a dark, warm, quiet place. Avoid bright lights and loud places. Have him wear a hat. The sling will keep him in a dark environment. Don't worry about him being all curled up in the sling in a funny position. He will love it and be fine - just as he would inside of you! I read an article by a woman who studies premies in the New York Times a few years ago. She replicates the womb for premies (as mentioned above) and has had remarkable results. She is in Boston at Children's Hospital. She has replaced the NICU with "womb rooms" where the parents stay with the baby in a dark, warm, quiet environment with lots of skin to skin contact. Babies go home much faster and have fewer developmental issues later.
Good luck to you and your precious boy! Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

yes, that sounds normal. i had twins born at 33 weeks and they slept a lot and still (even at 2yrs old) need lots of sleep. he is still not 40 weeks and normal newborns sleep like that for at least a month, so let him do his thing. he has a lot of catching up to do!

My son was a preemie at 32 weeks and was born with pneumonia, we spent 6 weeks in the NICU. What you are describing sounds about right.. these little guys weren't ready to come out so being awake isn't part of their deal right now. Waking him to eat is what I had to do too. If you left it to them they would never eat! Just take him outside for walks in the stroller, fresh air is great for them. Don't worry that he is sleeping a lot, full term kids sleep a lot in the beginning to (I'm told! Hee he) How often does he wake up at night?? Are you breast feeding, bottle or combo package. When he gets to 10 pounds (preemie or not) he will no longer "need" food at night.. he will want it, but he won't need it.. Just a tip I picked up from those angel nurses in the NICU.
Feel free to contact me with anyother questions / concerns you may have, I know how scary having a preemie can be.
M. from Rochester

This sounds totally normal...I have a baby boy who was born at 34 weeks and he did the exact same thing. Soon he'll be up all the time so try and get some rest!!!!! Good luck.

A., my first son was born at 35 weeks. My water broke the day before he was born (last day of 34 wks) and he slept alot. I had to wake him up evaery three hours to feed him because he was sleeping 24/7. It was very difficult, but God got us through. Anyways, after I think about a month, I was told by a home-visting nurse to let him wake me up and he did. I was scared that he wouldn't, but he did. Just know this, if you tried it after month and (maybe your baby will do it on his own baefore a month is up) and he didn't and found yourself sleeping more than three hours, don't panic! Say okay, it's time for him to eat. The reason for waking up every three is because he is going to need to gain more weight and before you know it, he'll full out and he's fine. He's needs you to help him live and fatten up. If you have any more questions or in need of asking more questions, feel free to ask and you're not a burden to anyone. I am here and other mothers are here to help too. I have been there and it's hard to but you will get through it, I promise. I'll pray for Jesus to give you His Wisdom to get through this and what to do for your baby boy, God gave you him entrusting you with this gragile and loving and gift to care and love him and raise him in His (God's)way. Congrats.

Hi A.,
I am a mom to a preemie born at 32 weeks. and yes that is normal for them at this stage. Just think if he was full term he would still be in your womb right now, sleeping the majority of the time. For me the first few months were boring since all he did was sleep and drink. You say he is 36 weeks old, does that mean he is 9 months old? Or do you mean he is now 3 weeks old, was he born 3 weeks ago? Once he is born, the counting should be based on his age and not your weeks of pregnancy. If he is 3 weeks old, which I assume he is, then this is normal behavior. My son started staying awake more and more as he started growing. At 3 months old he would stay up a little longer.

However, it's important that they get there sleep that is how they grow, so although you may wish he stays up longer, he really needs to sleep longer instead. However, since I was bored during this time because like you I wanted him to be up so I could play with him, etc. I instead invested in a Baby Bjorn baby carrier and although he was sleeping I took him many places with me so that we could still bond and I could still feel him next to me. This was at about 2 months (8 weeks old)though and I kept him covered since it's important to keep as many germs away as possible since he is a preemie.

Good luck everything will be fine and follow your doctor's orders. Before you know it he'll be sitting up, then crawling, then walking however, it all takes time, so try to be patient. Mine is now 5 years old and a healthy growing and active boy.

My youngest was born at 35 weeks; she is now a 2 1/2 year old terror. =)

I remember her falling aback asleep after a few sucks off the bottle (expressed breast milk and then Neosure when that stopped). For the first 6 - 8 weeks after she came home (in the NICU for 12 days) she didn't do much besides sleep and eat.

Eric was also born at 33 weeks. He spent a good portion of the first three months asleep. A lot of babies spend a good portion of the first three months asleep! :-) Looking back (Eric is now 3 years old), I'd say he was awake for a total of an hour every four hours, and that included his feeding time. The thing is, they do most of their growing while asleep, and he's playing catch up.

My son was born at 31 weeks. He slept all the time too. I basically woke him up every three hours like you're doing. He did this until he got a little older. Basically, I was told that he should sleep a lot because he has a lot of growing to catch up on. I believe sometime around age one month adjusted (so about three months old) is when he started to be more awake.

My second son, born 37 weeks, slept most of his first two weeks of life too. I had to force him awake for feedings.

This is completely normal behavior for your baby. He'll be awake before you know it!

Totally normal! He'll start to be more awake soon.
Be well and enjoy,

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