When you think of supplements, your mind likely jumps to the unregulated herbal variety such as ginseng, Echinacea, and even ephedra. This descriptor may conjure up all sorts of negative connotations in your mind of side effects that you don’t want to associate with your newborn child. And yet, you probably take all kinds of supplements yourself, even if you don’t know it. A daily vitamin, for example, is a supplement, one that helps you to get all of the vitamins and minerals you need (and can’t possibly hope to obtain through food alone). In the same way that you need this supplement, your preemie may need additional nutrients that you are not able to adequately provide through either breast milk or formula. So if you’re interested in supplementing your infant’s diet, here are just a few items you may want to ask your doctor about including:
- Iron. Deficiency of this necessary mineral is common for preemies. Although many babies experience iron deficiency due to rapid growth (and the eventual switch to cow’s milk), preemies are even more susceptible to the condition because they haven’t had the same amount of time to develop iron stores while in utero (so that their meager stores become depleted more quickly). Luckily, you can pass on the iron your child needs by consuming it yourself (under doctor supervision) or you may opt to purchase iron-fortified formula.
- DHA. If you are familiar with omega-3 fatty acid, then you may have heard of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Everyone can benefit from adding this supplement to their diet because it is said to affect the cells of the body in such a way that they communicate more effectively with the brain (and it has been linked to decreased risks of cardiovascular and other diseases). But studies have shown added benefits for premature babies; it can help to boost brain function as well as eye development, and may even be taken by pregnant mothers to give these benefits to babies in the womb. It can be found in both flaxseed and fish oils.
- Vitamin D. It is not uncommon for preemies to suffer from reduced bone density (as compared to full-term babies), especially as they begin to age. By providing additional vitamin D during their infancy you may be able to ensure that they avoid some of the bone weakness, breaks, and even diseases like rickets that they could otherwise face as they grow.
- Vitamin C. This vitamin, essential to all living beings because of its antioxidant status (that helps protect bodily tissues) could help preemies with both brain and lung problems. Studies have shown that deficiency of this vitamin, common in preemies, may lead to an inability of the body to stop potentially harmful effects from too much oxygen exposure. Early use of supplements could mean fewer incidences of illness and disabilities later in life, although more research will have to be done to confirm this theory.
- Probiotics. You might know of these beneficial bacteria if you have suffered digestive problems. Often found in yogurt (for adults), they can help to regulate your digestive system when consumed as part of a daily diet. And while they can certainly aid your preemie in the same way, reducing upset stomach and increasing motility, studies also show that infants with extremely low birth weight may gain more quickly with the addition of probiotics to their diet.