How To Feed A Preterm Baby?Dr. Ashok Modi
MBBS, MD – Paediatrics
DNB – Paediatrics
Every premature baby is different. Some preemies can coordinate their breathing and sucking by 32 weeks while others take more than 36 weeks to be ready for breastfeeding. Until your baby reaches this stage, he/she may be fed intravenously or through a tube. In the case of the latter, your breast milk is the best choice for your baby. When your baby is ready to latch on to your breast, the tubes will be removed and you can breastfeed your little one. Here is everything you must know about preterm baby feeding.
Pumping breastmilk to tube-feed your baby
Let’s begin with preterm baby feeding using tubes. Doctors recommend mothers start pumping breast milk within the first 6 hours of delivery. This helps establish a healthy supply of breastmilk. You may start by pumping 5 times a day and gradually increase it to up to 12 times a day. Each breast may be pumped for about 10 minutes at a time. Pumped milk may be tube fed to your baby or frozen for later use. That said, when your baby starts breastfeeding, it is advisable to use fresh milk.
How to start breastfeeding a premature baby?
Premature babies may be slow to latch on to a breast and thus may require a little extra work. To encourage your baby to suck, he/she may be given a pacifier. Alternatively, the baby may be allowed to nuzzle the breast while tube-feeding. This is beneficial to both the baby and the mother.
Supplements for premature baby feeding
Breastmilk is the best form of nutrition for babies. The initial breastmilk secreted is known as colostrum and contains concentrated amounts of antibodies and nutrients. Babies who are unable to breastfeed are usually fed this milk through a tube.
However, in the case of preterm babies, breastmilk alone may not be enough. This is because babies who are born prematurely lose out on key nutrition that they would have otherwise received during the last few weeks of pregnancy in the mother’s womb.
Breastmilk may be fortified with supplementary nutrients such as fats, sugars and proteins or human milk fortifiers for preterm baby feeding. As your baby grows older, the need for these supplements will reduce and your baby can be weaned off and fed only breastmilk.
How often to feed a premature baby?
Most premature babies need to feed once every 2 to 3 hours. However, you should note that every baby has a different feeding pattern. Feed your preterm baby only when he/she gives out cues of being hungry. This could include restlessness, crankiness or moving around a lot. If it has been more than 4- hours since a feed, the doctor may recommend waking up the baby and feeding him/her.
Preterm baby feeding – How much is too much?
On average, a baby weighing around 2 kilograms will need 350-450 milliliters of milk or formula per day. The easiest way to check whether your baby is getting enough to eat or not is to keep track of his/ her dirty diapers. You should ideally be changing your baby’s wet diapers 6-8 times a day. If your baby finishes breastfeeding quickly but continues to act hungry, you may feed him a little more.
Premature baby feeding without sufficient breastmilk
Many mothers who deliver prematurely find it hard to produce sufficient milk for their babies. To encourage breastmilk production, start pumping early and pump regularly in the first few days even if your baby is unable to consume the milk.
If this does not help, you can choose donor breastmilk. since it contains all the nutrients needed by your baby and is clinically recommended. Donor milk refers to breastmilk that has been donated by other lactating mothers and then pasteurized to make it safe for your baby. Donor milk does not need to be mixed with anything and may be thawed and fed directly to your baby.
Setting a rhythm for preterm baby feeding may take a while but do not get disheartened by this. Breastmilk is the best form of nutrition for your little one and slowly, you will see him/her grow bigger, stronger and healthier. During insufficiency of breast milk, donor breast milk can help you tide over the crisis, albeit as a stop-gap solution.