Across this site, I quote age a lot in terms of when a baby might sleep through the night or how long she might need to eat at night. But, premature development might change the way you approach your baby’s sleep.
According to HealthDay News and the magazine, Pediatrics, even babies born just 2 to 3 weeks early can be developmentally delayed. The risk is small for any ONE child, but as a group, even babies born at 34 to 35 weeks can be affected.
The earlier your baby is born, the more you need to make adjustments in terms of brain maturation. Premature development is complex, but most do catch up by the time they reach kindergarten and “85% of premature infants have catch-up growth and land on the regular growth chart by two years of age.” However, problems can show up early or later, so if you have any concerns at all, talk to your pediatrician. That’s what they are there for and always trust your instincts!
When it comes to sleep, premature development does not affect sleep any more than other areas, except that your premature baby will likely sleep like a newborn longer than if she was born full term. For example, you do need to keep in mind that when your baby turns 4 months old, you might not see the same changes that other parents have and instead, you might see them when your baby’s adjusted age reaches 4 months old. It depends on the baby and it depends on their unique premature development.
To find your baby’s adjusted age, take the # of weeks early and subtract from their actual age. For example, if your baby is 24 weeks old (6 months old), but born 8 weeks early, her adjusted age is 16 weeks old, or 4 months.
Since the age that a baby can sleep through the night is a developmental milestone, you can imagine that the length of time a parent of a premature baby has to feed at night is longer than other parents (by the adjusted age). Since even waking once per night to feed for months on-end is downright exhausting, I feel for parents that need to do it even longer than I did (about a year with both boys).
Premature development is probably one of the biggest things that worries parents. After all, there is already a lot to worry about being a parent. It’s also common for parents to compare their children to others, when they were rolling over, crawling, walking, etc. and I’m sure it’s harder for the parent of a premature infant to resist that temptation. If I compare my sons to each other, if I didn’t believe so much in the fact that each child is unique, with their own time table and their own temperament, I might worry about my younger son. After all, although he sat up early, he didn’t crawl until past 11 months (!) and now at 14 months he is only now just taking some steps to walk. His brother, on the other hand, crawled late too but walked 3 weeks later around 11 months. They are just different.
While reading my website about baby sleep, please use your premature baby’s adjusted age, as sleep is a lot to do with brain development. You may also want to track your premature baby’s development, immunizations, sleep, etc. by using an online tool. You can share your baby log with other caregivers and see the big picture when it comes to your baby’s premature development. You may also be interested in my newborn sleep tips.