Preemie Sleep Environment: Putting our Premature Baby to Bed!
It’s common for parents of premature babies to worry about our preemie sleep environment. We wonder if it’s safe, if our baby will sleep well, and if we can ease our worries during bedtime. Often, premature parents have additional concerns. There are no two babies that are the same, just like no two preemie parents have the exact same situation. However, generally speaking, we do share an additional load to our worrying about our child’s sleep environment.
When Ollie went home he was nursing every 3 hours, in kangaroo care 24/7, and had a low flow cannula. After he came home, his kangaroo care needs went on for 45 days and he needed oxygen for the first 4 months. So, even though we had a beautiful crib in his room, he slept in our room for a long time.
In this article, I’ll be sharing my experience of every set up we have made for our son’s sleep environment. I hope this is helpful to preemie parents when they are deciding where and how their miracles should sleep.
Our Preemie Sleep Environment Phase 1: Kangaroo Care
After Ollie came home we had to act as human incubators. You see, when I was pregnant with Ollie I was diagnosed with pre-e at week 20. This meant that my body was failing to supply him enough blood (with nutrients), so he wasn’t able to grow as he should. He suffered, in short, from Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR).
Some babies with IUGR have a tendency to grow at a slower pace than other babies. Our Ollie’s weight gain has always been on the slow side, so when he came home we had to put a lot of effort into helping him not spending calories.
One of the benefits of Kangaroo care is that babies burn fewer calories and can focus on weight gain.
My husband and I needed to hold Ollie in a straight position while skin-to-skin contact with him. We took turns every three hours when he would wake up for feeds. We tried to stay awake during our watch, but sometimes we caved into sleep. Ollie was comfortable snuggling close to us and we could feel his breathing, easing our worries. It wasn’t much of a preemie sleep environment, but it was mandatory due to his low birth weight, and it worked!
Our Preemie Sleep Environment Phase 2: Safe Co-Sleeping
There is a lot of debate around co-sleeping. In our case, we couldn’t fit a crib in our room initially, and couldn’t afford a new one. Since Ollie was still in his low-flow cannula and had trouble breathing while feeding, we weren’t even close to being comfortable with sending him to his room. So we had to figure out how to co-sleep without potentially harming him.
Here’s what we did (and I highly recommend it!) We bought a cheap portable crib and we set it up with a wedge on our bed! It was perfect, the combination made it so Ollie was high and had a protection wall against us rolling close to him. I was free to obsess about him breathing and leaving his cannula on throughout the night.
Above: A portable crib vs. an actual picture of the portable crib we used as a set-up… for some reason I can’t find an actual picture of the portable crib on the bed!
This setting was so successful that it continued until he outgrew his portable crib at 6 months old. Thus, we had a new problem. We weren’t ready for him to transition to his own room just yet, so we had to find a way to keep sleeping in the same room.
Our Preemie Sleep Environment Phase 3: The Pack n’ Play
When we were ready to recover our bed, we decided to buy a pack n’ play with a newborn napper. It was perfect. We could still obsessively care for our baby since we had him right by our bed.
Some parents go for a bassinet from the start too. The Pack n’ Play we got was inexpensive, and it was portable. When my husband got a bad cold, I just went to my parent’s house with Ollie for 10 days and took his “bed” with me. We missed daddy, but Ollie stayed healthy so it was worth it. And, he didn’t have to change his sleep environment much!
After it was no longer safe for Ollie to sleep on the napper, we just set his “bed” to the regular pack and play. It was safe and he was still close to us.
This environment was so comfortable for us all that we stood by it for a year or so. Since we could easily move the pack n’ play when we felt that Ollie was ready for his own room, we initially just set it in his room! They were tough nights for mommy and daddy. Not for Ollie, though, he was already used to his environment so it was easy for him to switch rooms at the time.
Our Preemie Sleep Environment Phase 4: Sleeping in Separate Rooms
When my son was 18 months old we decided it was time for him to sleep in his room. We felt that he was ready (although we weren’t near as ready as he was). He was, however, close to a toddler now and we didn’t want him to get used to a new crib, nor did we want him to fall from a bed. We chose to set a mattress Montessori-style on the floor. Oliver loves it. He has the autonomy to go to bed whenever he is sleepy and to get up and play if he wants to. He has fallen off it a few times but it’s not much of a fall!
We first ensure that his room was safe for him. We also kept using the baby monitor that we have used for nap times (he has always napped in his own room). It has given us peace of mind.
More often than not, he gets up in the middle of the night and wants to cosleep. We just let him be (I love snuggling with him!) There will come the day when he won’t need to do it anymore, in the meantime, we are all enjoying it!
That’s a Wrap
When it comes to bedtime, the environment that works best is the one that everyone is comfortable with, as long as it safe.
We have had many transitions, but we have felt that each was the right for us at the time. We have grown more confident and comfortable with every step. Deciding on your baby’s bed is a challenge, but when it’s a preemie it gets even harder. It’s not uncommon that us preemie parents have to deal with postpartum depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and of course with taking care of our little miracle. Are you a preemie parent? I’d love to know what environment you set for your baby, give us a shout in the comment section!
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