When my 32-weeker was finally home from NICU, I rarely put her down. That is until my maternity leave was over, and she had to go to daycare when I returned to work full time. I cherished our evenings together often rocking and feeding her to sleep, then holding her for several more hours as I finished watching a TV show or simply cuddled her while I read a book.
Fast forward one year, and she had no interest in a pacifier, blankie, lovie, or physical self-soothing technique, such as finger sucking. My preemie had become reliant on my presence and physical touch to fall asleep. At 18 months old she would stand in her bed yelling for me. After what seemed like forever trying to wait it out, I would rock her back to sleep or let her sleep in in bed with me. After deciding we needed our bed and full night’s sleep back, we engaged Tara Hess, Gentle Sleep Coach, for help. I agree with my husband’s assessment that it was the best money we ever spent.
Tara is trained and certified by Kim West, LCSW-C (a.k.a. The Sleep Lady®) for the Gentle Sleep Coaching Program, which is currently the most extensive and professional sleep certification program available. It is overseen by medical doctors, a psychologist, an attorney, lactation counselor, postpartum doulas and a family therapist and culminates in an exam. Clinical supervision and ongoing advanced training are required to maintain certification as a Gentle Sleep Coach.
I asked Tara a few common sleep questions, and here’s what she advised:
Q1. If a baby is premature, at what age should a parent consider sleep training?
A. For sleep milestones, we use a premature baby’s adjusted age, as sleep has a lot to do with brain development. So I recommend formal sleep training to start six months post your due date. Just try to remember that the early days are a time when you are building life-long bonding and attachment skills in your baby, and that should be your focus.
Q2. If a preemie comes home from the NICU and seems to be sleeping well, should you wake them up to feed? For instance, I was told to wake my daughters up every two to three hours to feed for the extra calories. Will this interrupt any chance of home sleep training?
A. No, there is nothing you could do in those early months which would ruin your chance of being successful with sleep training, when your baby is developmentally ready.
In the meantime, here are 10 tips for the early months to get your baby on a great path for good sleep.
Q3. What’s the best approach for multiples?
A. With multiples it is important to get them on the same schedule right from the start. Wake your babies at the same time each morning to get them on the same routine. This is the key to developing a healthy sleep pattern and giving you some well-deserved rest. Put them down around the same time. If one baby wakes up for a feeding, wake the other child and feed them as well. After 12 weeks (adjusted age) you can try letting them sleep as long as they will. You may have one twin who sleeps through the night. But if not, and they are still waking up at different times I would continue to feed them at the same time until they are ready to wean. See nine more sleep tips for multiples on my blog.
Q4. If a preemie has to go to full-time daycare, how might a parent communicate their child’s sleeping and eating schedule to the care providers to keep up a good schedule at home?
A. I work on a schedule together with my clients, and I ask that they share the feeding and sleep schedule with all caregivers—including grandparents and babysitters. Every daycare is different, but I love the ones that are open to following a baby’s lead instead of having all babies on the same schedule. They are all so different, so what works for one baby won’t always work for another.
Q5. Any tips for bringing home a preemie to a home with older children? With baby cries and multiple feedings each night, what kinds of things can I do to ensure a smooth transition for a toddler or older child who is not used to middle of the night sounds and activity?
A. Listen, don’t feel guilty about bringing home a new baby! Feeling guilty makes us give in to our children’s demands, when what they need more than anything during a transition time is to know there are clear boundaries so they can feel secure. Big events like bringing home a new sibling may cause some regression even in the best sleepers. Talk to your child about how the baby will need to wake up and eat at night for a little while, but soon the baby will be able to sleep through the night. Make sure your children are getting some one-on-one time with you each day so they don’t seek that attention out at inappropriate times like at bedtime or in the middle of the night. Also, don’t underestimate the power of a good white noise machine. For several more ideas, check out my blog on Sleep Tips For Children With A New Sibling.
Q6. If your first child did not have good sleep habits and it took a lot of trial and error to get them on a good schedule, should you expect the same for additional children?
A. It’s common for parents of a not-so-good sleeper to worry their other babies won’t be good sleepers too. But temperament has a lot to do with sleep, so sometimes you get lucky with an angel baby. I also think my blog on the early months is helpful: Baby Sleep Tips for Early Months.
Q7. How do I know if sleep training is right for my child and, frankly, for our lifestyle?
A. I welcome parents to have a 15-minute consultation with me free of charge to learn more about sleep training and to get their questions answered about the process. If we agree to work together, I’ll review your child’s medical, developmental and sleep history and I’ll create a customized, step-by-step sleep coaching plan tailored to your family’s unique circumstances. Every family is different and so is every plan. Another great option is to participate in my Sunday Night Sleep Solutions chats on Facebook. For one hour, I take live questions and offer advice where I can without a full assessment.
Tara helps clients across the U.S. through email, phone calls and video chat. Learn more at http://tulsapediatricsleepconsulting.com.
I have paid Tara for her services in the past but I was not compensated in any way for this post.