Premature Infant Who Won't Sleep

Updated on September 03, 2009
K.C. asks from San Diego, CA
18 answers

My baby is 9 weeks old and was born 7 weeks early. He is only sleeping about 9 hours a day and the longest blocks of sleep are about 1.5-2 hours long, but most are about 30min. I am going crazy. I have tried everything to make him sleep. Does anyone have experience with premature infants and there sleep patterns? When will it get better?

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R.B.

answers from San Diego on

www.3daysleep.com Davis is the BEST!!! Works w/all babies (premies, colick, etc..) Happy sleeping! :)

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K.C.

answers from Los Angeles on

So sorry you are having such a rough first few weeks! I hope things are going well aside from the sleep issues.

I don't have specific preemie advice, but swaddling worked very well for my son. He also slept a lot in the swing when he was little and took almost all of his naps in the car, stroller or swing until he was about 9 months old. Have you tried a swing? The motion can be very soothing.

I really hope it gets better for you soon.
K.
http://oc.citymommy.com

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S.H.

answers from Honolulu on

I sympathize... a premature baby is still developing outside the womb... so its hard for them. Even their digestive system is still developing.

Next, is he feeding well, AND normally?

That being said.... feed on demand, always, 24/7. Day and night. Sometimes an infant will "cluster feed" as well, meaning they will need feedings even every single hour. You must NOT feed a baby on a "schedule" or they will NOT get enough intake.

Especially during "growth spurts", a baby will NEED more intake, day and night. Or they will always be hungry. This affects their sleep as well.

Are you breastfeeding or using Formula? If nursing, make sure you are producing enough milk, AND that your baby is latching on properly... otherwise, he will NOT be getting enough nourishment nor calories to sustain him. And will not be able to sleep.

A baby this age, will NOT have regular sleep patterns yet. Sorry. Probably until 6 months old, is when you will be able to have some regularity. Sorry. But well, babies, premature or not, sleep erratically. But need to nap.
At this age, an infant will typically get tired after 2 hours of "awake" time. At this age, even a bath can make them tired.
Yes, its not easy, with all the waking.

Get familiar with "hunger" cues, and "tired" cues in a newborn. "Rooting" means they are hungry. You can look it up on a Google search. Feed him no matter how often, when he is hungry. At this age, never go longer than 3 hours without feeding, unless he is sleeping. Or, ask your Pediatrician, since he is premature.

A great book is: "What To Expect The First Year", which you can find at any bookstore or online like at Amazon.

Sometimes, babies can't sleep because they are gassy too. You can use infant gas drops, which help a lot. If nursing, watch what you eat... because it can affect them. Or, if giving Formula, ask you Pediatrician which one he/she recommends.

At this age, their temperature and sensitivities to sound/smell/sounds/hot/cold weather can affect them too. Never over warm a baby though. These are things that still has to develop in a baby, but can affect their slumber.

Each baby is different. They are STILL getting used to this world. It takes time. Much time. At this age and older, I would not expect him to sleep all night, nor regularly. You and he are still getting used to things. In time, you will get to know his "patterns." Then, it will get more predictable.

Also, where is he sleeping? Most babies have a hard time adjusting to sleeping in a crib, or even in a stroller if out and about. My son, slept in a "Moses Basket" until he was about 3 months old, then we switched him to a crib, for example. He slept well in the basket, since it is more "cozy" (like a womb) and not an open expanse like a crib.

And, you can always ask your Pediatrician about it. Since your son is premature.

Mostly, an infant needs comfort. Do NOT let him "cry it out" at this age. It can affect them adversely and he is much too young to let him cry. AND, "bonding" is still occurring too.

All the best, just some quick thoughts,
Susan

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D.M.

answers from Los Angeles on

I have to agree with Sandy and Susan on many points about preemie little one's.

My son was 9 weeks and while I was positive I was going to have a great sleeper and all the other stuff we 'plan' for while reading all our baby books. Well, when my son came home form the NICU I did a total 180 and went towards attachment type style parenting. Preemie babies like Susan mentioned, are still developing and need contact.

Our Pedi encourage me to get a sling and wear my son for naps and feedings...and to throw out all the sleep books and guides to the first year because they didn't apply to my son. It was SO true. I couldn't judge his milestones on the regular calendar of time and I couldn't put expectations on his sleep, growth or development...I needed to relax and be a part of the solution.

It was amazing the progress he made in the first few months and how well he did with feeding on demand. His growth was amazing! I love Susan's idea of a Moses blanket and wish I had heard about it sooner! But, the best thing is the bond that my son and I have today.

Being that your son is only 9 weeks old, he needs to be fed on demand and until he's done eating. He is not ready for any kind of sleep learning in any way shape or form, and it's not healthy to start imposing schedules on him when he depends on nourishment for his growth and development.

I know it's tough, but it will get better.

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S.E.

answers from Los Angeles on

My daughter was 11 weeks premature, and I can assure you that despite the other posters good intentions, preemies are really not like other newborn babies. They need a LOT of physical contact, and will do better if on you most of the time. Swaddling can help with some. The only time my daughter slept for more than an hour (maximum was 3!) was when I slept with her. And you're probably so sleep-deprived you'll need that sleep anyway! You'll also need all the patience you can muster - this can go on for the first 6 months, easily. Good luck - stay sane!

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J.B.

answers from Los Angeles on

have you tried swaddling? some premies get stressed with open spaces because they are so used to being tight in the womb. also maybe try white noise (ie- radio static). you have to look at your baby at his/her correct (un premie) age which is like 2 weeks. i hope this helps you. good luck!

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D.R.

answers from Los Angeles on

I suggest wearing your baby in a baby sling. The sound of your heart beat and breathing will comfort, soothe and put them right to sleep. And you can get a lot done while your hands are free! I've heard that premature babies do best when in the "womb like" atmosphere that a sling creates. It works every time with my 3 month old. I put him in the sling and he falls right to sleep. Good luck!

Andrea

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J.V.

answers from Las Vegas on

I think sleeping through the night, or for longer stretches is a matter of the baby's weight as much as age. My good sleeper slept 3-4 hours at 1 month (8#) and 9 hours at 2 months (10#). My other daughter slept through the night 6-7 hours for her at 2 months (12#). I didn't swaddle my first daughter and did my second (better sleeper). My first daughter wouldn't sleep except in her cradle swing. My second in a bassinet at a raised angle. The best of luck to you and your little guy.

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E.P.

answers from Los Angeles on

As a mother of two babies, each has their own preferences with sleep. So try different things and you will find what works. I would suggest swaddling, a good nurse and a sling or keep baby close to you. Newborns like lots of movement and need to be close to mom to sleep, it is a survival mechanism, he will sleep best in your arms more than anywhere else, so try different slings and see which works. Your baby has gone through alot and will feel the most love and comfort in your arms. I have found that the Ergo with infant insert works the best with newborns.
Best of luck.
E.

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J.E.

answers from Los Angeles on

My twins were 12 weeks early and never slept more than 2 hours until they were about 9 months. They were in the hospital for the 1st 3 months so I think they were used to the pattern there because they were fed every 3 hours. Swaddlers helped the most. They really seemed to calm down and sleep better when they were in those. But every baby is different. My oldest woke up every 2 hours until he was 2 yrs old. And middle child slept through the night starting at 4 months. The twins are now 16 months and only one sleeps through the night. Good Luck.

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M.G.

answers from Los Angeles on

Hello Katherine,

My baby was 10 weeks early. She spent the first 6 weeks of her life in the NICU. The first night she came home she slept through the night. I was thrilled! I think it was because there weren't any beeps or constant noise. But after that, she never slept more than a few hours at a time. was a very tired mom. In fact I called myself a Mombie (Like a zombie) because I never slept. This went on for nearly nine months. Finally I let he cry herself to sleep two nights in a row, and she slept through the night. She was NEVER a big napper. I think it is a part of who they are. You will live through it, though it seems endless.

Good luck,

M.

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W.O.

answers from Las Vegas on

My daughter was 9 weeks early and we used several different techniques to help her sleep from "The Happiest Baby on the Block" book. We swaddled her every time we put her down to sleep but used on of the swaddle blankets rather than a regular blanket. She was able to wiggle out of the Swaddle Me brand but the Halo infant blanket with swaddle arms worked great. We also used a sound machine placed under her Amby bed, turned up to the loudest volume to mimic womb sounds. She also enjoyed napping in her swing but the swing had to be set at the fastest level. Good luck and hang in there.

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M.B.

answers from Los Angeles on

Hi K.,
I know what it is like to want to get a good night sleep.
What I would suggest to you is to find out just how often your baby actually needs to eat and set a feeding schedule. At that age, when it comes to night time feedings, I think they are supposed to be fed every 4 hours. Which means he should be only waking up once, somewhere between 11:00-12:00 for a feeding and then again in the early morning, and then sleep again for a few hours.
Anytime he wakes up in between those times, you need to check on him (don't talk to him), tuck him back in and then walk out. Unfortunatly, your going to have to let him cry himself back to sleep. He need to how to self sooth. I know it will be exteamly difficult, but this is the only way to teach him the right way to get HIMSELF back to sleep.
I go throught this process with my 28 month old every 4 months or so. She'll be so good with sleeping through the night, and then all of a sudden, she will start waking up in the early hours. I just have to let her cry it out (of course I go in the make sure she has a clean diaper and is safe) Then I walk out. She screams for about 30 minutes, and then goes back to sleep until 6:30 or so. It sucks, but fortunatly it only takes her a day or so of this "sleep training" and she's back to sleeping until the morning. But, let me tell you, it sucks to hear her cry like that.
I know 9 weeks is soooo young to let cy out, but this is the only way to create a self soothing baby. If you help him go to sleep (rocking, singing, breast, bottle) you are just creating a big problem in your future. He will be dependant on you help him get to sleep. Believe me, you DON'T want that. Feed him only when he is SUPPOSED to eat, and don't use that to get him to go back to sleep. Your just training his body to need food at night when he should be sleeping.
Trust me, this is the only way.
I have an on line book that I can send you. Just give me your email and I will forward it to you. I actually haven't read the whole thing. I probably should, but I have found what works for my child without reading it. It's called the Sleep Sense Program.
I actually don't know what the author tells you to do, but maybe it will work for your family.
[email protected]____.com
Good luck to you and congrats on your new baby! Cherish every moment...it goes by so fast.
M.

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E.N.

answers from San Diego on

Congrats on your new baby!! I have a daughter that was born 8 weeks early-but i had the opposite issue!! She slept so much. I would cry because she would never stay awake long enough to eat-and i feared her not gaining weight. Anyhow-every baby is different. You must be captivating that your baby does not want to miss out with you! Heehee. I knbow you don't feel that way-its so tough. But maybe it will e easier with a positve point of view (:

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K.G.

answers from Los Angeles on

Hi K.,
My son was born 7 weeks early as well last December. He also would not sleep for long stretches of time. We tried to keep to the 3-hour schedule they had him on in the NICU, but it was taking so long for him to eat, that he would finish, then turn around and need to eat again. When he hit 11 lbs. he FINALLY slept for 4-5 hours at a time. By the time he hit 13 lbs. he was doing a better job eating and could go for longer and longer periods of time. However, I used to just sit up with him those first few months in a comfy chair and pop the bottle in his mouth and both of us would fall asleep like that. He wouldn't take a pacifier, and it seemed that when he would start to wake up, the bottle was already there so he could take what he wanted and drift off again. He is now 9 months old and wakes up once a night for a feeding.
They are so hungry because they have so much catching up to do. It will get better, but it seems they have to reach that magical weight first.
Good Luck
K.
P.S. Sleeping on you is also VERY important. My son still sleeps on me for his naps and soemtimes if we are having a particularly rough night, I just put him on my chest and somewhow we both manage to get a few hours.

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E.N.

answers from San Diego on

I do not have experience with preemies (both of my babies were late) but I highly recommend following a feeding "schedule." Some people think I am an ogre just for thinking of that, but they do it in NICUs, and I did it with both of my babies. I never let them starve (not even close!) and they have been healthy and happy since birth.

I followed the routines suggested in "On Becoming Babywise," and they also say it is safe (and healthy) to follow scheduled feedings with preemies. With newborns, you aim to feed every 2-1/2 to 3 hours, even if they do not cry to be fed. The exception is at night when you let them sleep as long as they will. I did not follow all of the other routine suggestions in the book (didn't really work for me) but the scheduled feedings were never a problem. And I credit the regular feedings with my babies' early nightime sleep habits. I never really had to "train" them to sleep at night (naps were a different story) they naturally began to sleep longer periods on their own. The Babywise book says that is a result of scheduled feedings, and it certainly was the case with my 2 babies.

If you are interested and need any other specifics, please feel free to contact me. I would love to help any way I can.

EDIT: I just read through your other responses and wanted to add a couple of things. I believe swaddling was also a key element in helping my babies sleep. We swaddled them as tightly as possible for many months and they loved it. At first, my second baby liked being swaddled with his arms out (he fussed until he got them out), but then he liked them swaddled on his chest. My first baby liked his arms swaddled tightly at his sides. If one way doesn't seem to be helping, or he fights against it, try different arm positions. We also used a sleep positioner with a soft little pillow and side wedges - we thought it was great, but I am not certain if that helped with the sleep.

As for feedings and schedules or demand feeding. You have to do what you feel comfortable with. From what I have researched and experienced, I believe scheduled feedings are optimal, as long as you use your brain. There is no schedule to the quantity, you always let them consume as much as they want/need. And if you are certain they are hungry, but it is early for a feeding, feed them anyway. As long as they are getting a sufficient amount at each feeding, the schedule will become very natural and will not be a challenge. Any time they wake during the night, I would feed them. The exception would be if it has been less than 2 hours since the last feeding and you are certain they had enough. In that case, if it were me, I would wait a few minutes to see if they would go back to sleep on their own. If not, I would check on them (diaper, too warm or too cold, swaddle, maybe a pacifier), pat for a couple minutes. Other than that, I cannot tell you what I would do. I did not deal with that. The only time my babies had trouble sleeping at night was getting back to sleep after a feeding, particularly the 3 am feeding. Since I knew they weren't hungry, I made sure they were sufficiently burped and comfortable, then I let them cry back to sleep. I didn't want them dependent on me for getting back to sleep (and I was desperate to get back to sleep myself) so that's what I did. This continued until they no longer woke for that feeding (8 wks or so for my first, and only 3 wks for my second).

Hopefully there are some helpful ideas here and you can determine what you are comfortable with. I hope it starts getting better very soon! I had a terrible time with sleep deprivation and I never had to deal with it to the extent that you are. You will find a way to get through this!

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H.I.

answers from Los Angeles on

Katherine,

Congratulations on the birth of your son! Sleep is always a challenge for new parents and I'm sorry you are experiencing the sheer exhaustion that accompanies a new baby. You have gotten good suggestions here but should always keep in mind that YOUR baby and YOUR circumstances are unique and should be addressed to what is currently taking place in your family. Although many of these suggestions are effective you really need to tailor your approach based on what unique challenges your son is experiencing. There are several ways to assist in getting your son to sleep longer stretches.

Please feel free to email me directly and I would be happy to answer your questions and get you on track. I have 3 children of my own & #4 on the way and also have years of experience working with new parents and babies and all the challenges that accompany them. I am also certified in lactation so whether you are breast feeding or bottle feeding, I can provide you with tips that will be supportive of your needs.

Just remember that "This too shall pass!" and Yes, you CAN get your baby to sleep.

All my best,

H. Irvine
CNCS, PPD, CLEC
[email protected]____.com

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G.R.

answers from Los Angeles on

I don't know what you have or haven't tried. I was 34 when I had my first child. One thing I remembered was babies wake themselves up with the "morro reflex." Their hands flail in the air when they get startled or sometimes automatically in their sleep. I know that when they are swaddled snuggly, they can't wake themselves up! Also, I found myself sleeping longer when they were warm and cozy. Warming the bed with a heating pad (don't forget to take the heating pad out before you put baby in!) aids in making it a cozy warm place to sleep. Anything you can do to simulate the womb. I also got a special alarm clock with all kinds of cool sounds. I used white noise for the longest time! Also, when you have to change the diaper in the middle of the night.. that's all you do.... feed, change and put the baby down. Try not talking if you don't have too. That wakes them up hearing your voice. These worked for me. Something new to try. Good Luck with your new baby!

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