Supporting healthy growth in your preemie

  • Most babies born prematurely continue to have special nutritional needs, even once they’re home.
  • Feeding plans may include breastmilk, special infant formulas, or both.
  • Your baby’s doctor will adjust your baby’s feeding plan depending on his growth.

The doctors and staff that cared for your baby in the NICU may have talked to you about the importance of nutrition. While your baby is now big enough and strong enough to be home with you, he may still have special nutritional needs. 

While weight gain is very important, keep in mind that weight is not the measure of growth. All babies need to grow in weight, and also in length and head size. Preemies need the right balance of nutrients to help promote growth and to help their muscles and organs develop well.

Your baby’s feeding plan

When your baby is getting ready to leave the NICU, his doctor or dietitian will work with you to develop a special feeding plan. The plan may include only breastfeeding, breastfeeding and formula-feeding together, or formula-feeding alone. After leaving the NICU, your baby’s pediatrician will continue to monitor the feeding plan, and adjust as needed.

Breastfeeding and Providing Breastmilk

Breastmilk provides many benefits to your premature baby. Breastfeeding is an important time for you and your baby to share, and can help the two of you bond. 

Unless your baby has a special medical situation, his doctor will likely encourage you to breastfeed and provide breastmilk. However, depending on your baby’s age, weight, and how much he’s eating, breastmilk alone may not provide quite enough nutrition. In this case, your baby’s feeding plan may include a combination of the following:

  • Some breastfeeding sessions
  • Pumped breastmilk that has been fortified with a special formula 
  • Some feeding sessions of a specialized premature infant formula 
Supplementation of your breastmilk may continue for a few weeks to months after your preemie goes home, depending on his growth rate. As soon as your baby’s doctor feels his growth is on track, he’ll likely advise you to breastfeed exclusively until complementary foods are added to the diet.

Formula Feeding 

Your baby's doctor will advise you on the best feeding plan to follow at home and what formula to feed.

All infants grow differently, so your baby’s growth will be monitored closely by his doctor and the feeding plan adjusted accordingly. If you’re having any trouble with breastfeeding or think your baby’s formula should be changed, discuss this with his doctor. 

How was the information in this article?
What causes reflux in babies?
How to breastfeed
Preparing for a wonderful, challenging experience
Read More
A baby feeding schedule
Tips and advice for feeding your preemie
Read More
How to bottle feed
Tracking a preemie’s growth and development
Read More