If your baby arrives ahead of schedule, proper feeding is critically important. It may also present some challenges. By working closely with your baby's health-care team and keeping yourself informed (and calm), you can help her get the nutrition she needs during those crucial few weeks.
Premature babies need to eat at least every three hours.
Tinier babies have tinier tummies. This means she'll have to eat a lot of small meals in order for her to gain weight.
Their mouths are often extra-sensitive.
If your baby has spent her first few days with tubes and respirators in her mouth, she may assume that anything that goes into her mouth is painful, including a breast or a bottle.
Premature babies are slow to feed.
Feeding her too fast by mouth may result in a feeding aversion or spitting up. She is also likely to have more digestive problems than a full-term baby, since her digestive system may not be as mature as a full-term baby's.
Try these tips on feeding your premature infant:
- Each baby is unique. Follow the advice of your baby's doctor.
- Introduce your baby to a nipple. Even if she is still feeding by tube, this will help her adjust to bottle-feeding when she's ready. You may need to try different nipples at first.
- Stick to breast milk or one type of formula and nipple to help her adjust.
- Keep a record of your baby's feedings.
- Get growth charts, specially designed for premature babies, from your baby's doctor to help monitor her progress.
- Keep your baby on a regular schedule, to help her eat better.
- Make sure your baby is fully awake before feeding.
- Don't force your baby to eat. If she's not sucking as fast, sealing her lips or turning away, she may be full.
- Feed her on demand, not a schedule. Studies have shown that premature babies grew at a faster pace when fed on demand.
- When your baby is developmentally ready, slowly introduce solid foods while she is still on formula.
- Enlist the help and support of family and friends, to give yourself a break.