Feeding can be an issue for any new mom. Should you breastfeed or use formula? What is the proper way to hold your newborn for feeding? How do you get a baby to latch on? What can you do about colic? Face it: there’s a definite learning curve when it comes to caring for an infant, even if you read every book on the market. And it can be especially difficult if your baby is born prematurely. Many preemies cannot feed normally and may have trouble swallowing and breathing at the same time (at least at first). Although your milk is the best thing for them, they may not be able to breastfeed. They could also need additional vitamins or other nutrients. Because of this, you may have to seek out alternative ways to get them the nutrition they need. Here are a few options.
1. Intravenous. If your baby is born more than eight weeks early, they will likely need to be fed intravenously for awhile. However, this doesn’t mean that they will never make the switch to breastfeeding. If you plan to give them mother’s milk at some point, you will need to start pumping your milk right away to ensure that it doesn’t dry up. The milk can be frozen for later use just in case they refuse to latch on.
2. Tube feeding. In addition to intravenous nutrients, the NICU will probably give your baby formula through a feeding tube as soon as possible to supplement their diet and get their digestive system in good working order before they are sent home (although you may need to continue this regimen for awhile if they can’t seem to regulate breathing and eating).
3. Eye dropper vs. bottle. While your preemie is still pretty small, they certainly won’t be able to breastfeed, but they might also have problems with a regular size of bottle. While you can find a very small bottle (or preemie nipples) suited to feeding a smaller infant, you may have to employ other tactics if you find they have trouble sucking and swallowing. For this instance, and eyedropper may work and you can often find them with liquid measurement lines to make sure you are not over- or under-feeding.
4. Finger feeding. If your baby has become accustomed to bottle feeding (or another method) and is reluctant to latch on when you try to breastfeed, you may need to get them accustomed to the experience. Finger feeding is an excellent way to accomplish this. You will need a feeding tube, a bottle that fits to the tube, and reserved milk or formula. From there you simply wash your hands well, position the end of the tube parallel to your finger, and prompt your baby to feed (tickle the lip, etc.). Once they have become comfortable with this method, they should have less trouble latching on.
5. Breast feeding. Once your preemie reaches what would have been full term (40 weeks), they should be ready to begin breastfeeding (barring other problems like breathing, heart rate, etc.). They will likely still need some supplemental formula for additional nutrients, but before long they should be feeding every 2-3 hours and soiling diapers 7-8 times a day, just like a full-term baby.
Sarah Danielson writes for EverydayHealth.com where you can find answers to all of your health related questions.