A Guide to Premature Baby Feeding and Baby Nutrition

If your baby was born early, she may have some special needs when it comes to nutrition. Here are some things you may want to know about premature nutrition, premature baby development, and feeding a low birth weight baby.

Most premature babies have low birth weight.

If a baby is too premature to breastfeed, moms are encouraged to pump their milk, as breast milk is considered to be best for the baby. Sometimes, doctors will recommend adding a commercially prepared breast milk fortifier, to give your baby the extra protein, vitamins, calcium and other nutrients she needs at this early stage.

If you can't pump or breastfeed, or choose not to, you can feel confident about the specially designed formulas available for premature or low birth weight babies.

Premature babies may have more digestive problems than full-term babies.

Chances are, her feeding skills haven't fully developed yet. 

This means she'll be slow to feed, or else she may feed too fast and spit up or develop a feeding aversion. But there are some things you can try to help:

  • Introduce your baby to a pacifier. This will get her used to the feeling of bottle-feeding for when she's ready to switch over from the tube.
  • Record her feedings, so you can keep track of her spit ups and how much she's keeping down.
  • Monitor her progress with growth charts from the doctor.
  • Try to keep her on a sleep schedule.
  • Make sure she's fully awake before feeding.
  • Be aware of her signs, so you know when she's full or tired.
  • Slowly introduce solids when she is developmentally ready.

Premature babies may need to eat more frequently.

Premature babies will need to eat every three hours, and sometimes more often. Work out a schedule with your doctor and try to stick to it.

Babies who are born premature often undergo developmental testing and programs.

If your baby weighs less than 3 lbs, 5 oz at birth, she will most likely be referred for formal developmental testing around her 1st and 2nd birthdays. If she is born with a complication of prematurity, her doctor may recommend an infant stimulation program. This usually involves working with a physical therapist or specialized healthcare professional to learn gentle exercises, positioning and other ways to interact with your premature baby and help her with her physical development. Early intervention programs can help with social and functional skills, and provide support for the family.

If you can't afford specialty premature formulas for your baby, financial assistance is available.

Mead Johnson Nutrition, the makers of Enfamil®, have developed a program called Helping Hand for Special Kids, to help families who need specialty formulas but can't afford them. Depending on your needs, the Helping Hand program provides either long-term assistance or a free, one-time shipment of products. To us, all babies are special and all of them deserve the very best start in life. Ask your doctor if you qualify for this program.