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Premature babies are at a higher risk of developmental delays compared to full-term babies. This is because most premature babies do not have fully matured organs such as the brain, lungs, etc. Over the years, numerous studies and research works, has conclusively proven that Optimum human milk nutrition helps reduce complications in early life, lowers the risk of adverse health events in later life and improves the quality of life.
It is also proven that with better nutrition in the early postnatal phases higher scores of verbal intelligence quotient (IQ) scores and cognitive abilities can be achieved for premature babies.
How Can Nutrition Be Optimized For Premature Babies?
Human milk is the most suitable food for premature babies because it contains many protective nutrients such as oligosaccharides, carbohydrates, and proteins that play an important role in the maturation of tissues and organs. It also protects against infection, and babies have better developmental scores at 18 months of age than formula-fed infants. However, to compensate for the growth deficit due to premature birth, there may be a need to add or fortify certain components of breast milk.
Feeding Premature Babies
Human milk loses its nutritional profile over a period of lactation but premature babies nutritional requirements keep increasing. Thus, there is a need to add fortifiers that help in supplementing nutrients present in breast milk. To achieve this, mothers are advised to supplement human milk with fortifiers – which are protein and mineral supplements and can be added separately to the milk.
For a premature baby, the mother should nurse around every one to two hours during the first 2 days after birth. This helps in improving milk letdown and ensures that the mother can supply adequate milk to the baby.
In case the baby requires additional nutrients in addition to what he or she receives from his mother, an additional supplement of nutrition can be provided while feeding. This can be advised appropriately by a pediatrician.
Premature babies experience catch-up growth, which is noted by observing the growth of the baby’s head, length, and weight. Catch-up growth is the accelerated growth to overcome the growth deficit. That is why premature babies are best advised to be exclusively fed breast milk until their growth parameters are within the normal range for their age. Once that is achieved, the baby can start consuming age-appropriate feeds.
Care Of The Premature Babies And Essential Vitamins
Vitamins D, E and K, and folic acid are especially important for premature babies. Vitamin D is necessary for bone growth, while vitamin E and K are necessary for cellular and skin tissue growth respectively. Even if there is no apparent deficiency in vitamins it is still advised for premature babies – to be given vitamin supplements.
In addition to vitamins, supplemental iron is also a good addition, as it aids in brain development in premature babies. However, it should be kept in mind that although iron aids in brain development, too much iron can cause harm to the liver, heart, and pancreas. Thus, this supplement should be given to babies under strict observation of your pediatrician.
Our Two Cents
Even though premature babies are vulnerable to slower growth and development, they still can lead a healthy and fulfilling life without any major health concerns if nutrition is optimised. Timely and appropriate care of premature babies with proper nutrition ensures all-round development and improves overall quality of life for both the baby and parents.
So, if you are expecting your little one soon and worried about premature birth, talk to your doctor today, and they can guide you towards options that ensure the best nutrition for your little one.