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Feeding and Nutrition For Premature Babies

NICU preemie with bottle
Feeding is the way in which a premature baby increases her size. This is important because in general the larger a baby is, the healthier she will be. A growing premature baby is usually a baby who is thriving and getting stronger and healthier day by day. This section will address the different methods of feeding premature babies, which are devised to maximize their growth and health. This section will also address the complications that can interfere with the various feeding methods and growth.

The goal of feeding a premature baby is to approximate the growth and weight gain that the baby would have experienced in the womb, in the third trimester of pregnancy. Head size should also increase with the size of the baby; the size of the brain has a corresponding increase. In general, premature babies should increase their length by 1 cm per week; should increase their head circumference by 0.7 cm per week; and should gain about 15 g per day in overall weight. Premature babies are measured and weighed to assess how much they are growing and therefore how well they are absorbing the nutrition.

Unlike some other procedures in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), feeding is often something in which parents can participate. No matter which method is used to feed the baby, there is likely a way that parents, and mothers when it comes to breastfeeding, can help. Many NICUs will encourage parents in this manner since it promotes bonding and indeed the baby’s health. 

Along with certain types of food, there are several ways in which a premature baby can be fed. The type of food and the method used to deliver it will depend on the circumstances of the baby and, in some cases, the mother of the baby.

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Chris Tomlinson, MBChB, BSc