A NICU Nurse offering support to a Premature Baby

Premature Baby Nutrition

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As a parent or caregiver of a premature baby, you want to ensure that your babies get the best possible nutrition to support their growth and development. Premature babies are at a higher risk of health complications and require specialised care. Proper nutrition is critical to help your premature baby thrive and reach their full potential.

In this article, we will discuss the best practices for feeding and growth for premature babies. We will provide comprehensive information on the nutritional needs of premature babies, including recommended feeding techniques and appropriate supplements.

Understanding Premature Baby Nutrition

Premature babies have unique nutritional needs that differ from full-term babies. These tiny babies have a higher metabolic rate and require more nutrients to support their growth and development. To provide adequate nutrition, caregivers must understand the nutritional needs of premature babies.

Protein is essential for growth and development in premature babies. They require a higher intake of protein than full-term babies to support the development of their muscles and tissues. Breast milk is the best source of protein for premature babies. If breast milk is not available, specialised preterm formula is recommended.

Carbohydrates are also crucial for premature babies’ growth and development. They provide energy to fuel the baby’s body and brain. Breast milk and preterm formula contain carbohydrates in the form of lactose, which is easily digestible by premature babies.

Fats are necessary for the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system. Breast milk and preterm formula contain an adequate amount of fat to support the baby’s development.

A mother Breast-deeding Her Baby

Breast Milk vs. Formula for Premature Babies: Which is Better?

Providing proper nutrition to premature babies is crucial for their growth and development. Breastfeeding is widely considered the optimal source of nutrition for all babies, including premature infants. Breast milk is rich in essential nutrients, including antibodies, proteins, fats, and vitamins, crucial for developing a baby’s immune system, brain, and overall health.

Formula milk is a good source of nutrition. But, it lacks some significant benefits that the baby can only achieve through breastfeeding. Therefore, breastfeeding is the preferred choice regarding nutrition for preterm and full-term babies.

What is Breast Milk?

Breast milk is a natural source of nutrition produced by a mother’s body for her baby. It contains all the essential nutrients needed to grow and develop, and its composition changes according to the baby’s needs.

Colostrum is the first milk produced by the mother after the birth of the baby and is loaded with antibodies and immune-boosting properties critical for developing a baby’s immune system. Breast milk is also easily digested by babies. As a result, it helps prevent constipation and diarrhoea, common problems in premature babies.

What is Infant Formula?

Infant formula is a commercial product designed to mimic the nutritional composition of breast milk. It is usually made from cow’s milk and fortified with additional nutrients, including iron, calcium, and vitamins.

In addition, specialised premature infant formula is available for premature babies designed to meet their unique nutritional needs. Infant formula may also be recommended if the mother cannot produce breast milk or if the baby has specific health concerns.

Preparing formula for her Premature Baby

Recommended Feeding Techniques for Premature Babies

Feeding premature babies can be challenging, but there are recommended techniques that can help. It is essential to understand that premature babies have smaller stomachs than full-term babies and require more frequent feedings. Here are some feeding techniques that can help your baby receive adequate nutrition:

Feeding Tubes

Feeding tubes are commonly used to feed premature babies who are not yet ready to breastfeed or bottle-feed. The feeding tube is inserted through the baby’s nose or mouth and into their stomach, allowing the caregiver to deliver milk or formula directly to the stomach, and optimise the Nutrition being received.

Kangaroo Care

Kangaroo care involves placing the premature baby on the caregiver’s chest skin-to-skin. This technique promotes bonding and helps regulate the baby’s body temperature, heart rate, and breathing. It has also been shown to increase breastfeeding success.


Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for premature babies. Breast milk provides antibodies that help protect premature babies from infections and diseases. However, premature babies may have difficulty breastfeeding due to their underdeveloped sucking reflexes. In such cases, a lactation consultant can provide guidance and support to help the baby learn to breastfeed.


Bottle-feeding may be recommended if breastfeeding is not possible or if the baby needs to receive fortified breast milk or preterm formula. It also allows the caregiver to monitor how much the baby is consuming and ensure they are receiving adequate nutrition.

Kangaroo care is hugely beneficial for Premature Babies

Monitoring Growth and Development in Premature Babies

Monitoring the growth and development of premature babies is crucial for their overall well-being. It helps healthcare providers ensure that these little ones are receiving the appropriate Nutrition to thrive. Regular weigh-ins, growth charts, and developmental assessments are some ways to monitor the progress of Premature Babies, and you will be advised of this during your appointments with The NICU Team.

Parents and caregivers also play a crucial role in monitoring their premature baby’s growth and development. They should be aware of any signs of malnutrition or other health complications, such as slow weight gain, lethargy, or dehydration.

If any concerns arise, it is important to seek advice from a healthcare provider to ensure that the baby’s nutritional needs are being met.

By keeping a watchful eye on a premature baby’s growth and development, healthcare providers, parents, and caregivers can take necessary steps to prevent or address any nutritional or health-related concerns, which can ultimately lead to better health outcomes for these precious little ones.


Premature Baby Nutrition can be challenging, but with proper knowledge and techniques, parents and caregivers can ensure that their baby is getting the essential nutrients for their growth and development. It is essential to understand the unique nutritional requirements of premature babies, selecting the right feeding method, using specialised feeding techniques, and monitoring growth and development.

Parents and caregivers can promote the health and well-being of premature babies by being informed and proactive about their nutritional needs.

By using the right feeding techniques, selecting the appropriate feeding method, and closely monitoring growth and development, parents and caregivers can ensure that their little ones receive the best possible care, and minimise their risk of long-term Health issues.

With the right support, feeding and nutrition can be a positive experience for both the premature baby and their caregivers.

Premature Baby holding Parents finger


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3. Patel, A. L., & Johnson, T. J. (2013). Milk feeding of the preterm infant. Clinics in Perinatology, 40(2), 287-307.
4. American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding. (2012). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 129(3), e827-e841.
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6. Meier, P. P., Johnson, T. J., Patel, A. L., Rossman, B., & Lunt, H. (2010). Evidence-based methods that promote human milk feeding of preterm infants: an expert review. Clinics in Perinatology, 37(2), 209-232.
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9. Highlander, M. A., Strobino, D. M., & Dhanireddy, R. (1998). Human milk feedings and infection among very low birth weight infants. Paediatrics, 102(3), e38-e38.

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I'm the person who wrote this

Julie Y

Hi! I’m Julie, one of the Admin over here at The Baby Edition!

I extensively studied Children whilst completing my Degree in Psychology, with much of my research being based on the Development of Twins! Since then, I have continued to work with vulnerable families, and raised a child of my own in the Meantime!

Even to this day, I’m constantly researching Topics relating to Parenting, and love sharing what I have learned with our wonderful Readers!

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