Feeding Your Premature Baby: Care Instructions

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Your baby has been getting special care in the hospital nursery. The hospital will send your baby home on a feeding schedule. This tells you how and when to nurse or bottle-feed at home.

Most premature babies need to be fed slowly until they get strong enough to suck from a breast or bottle. Your baby may be fed through a tube that runs down the nose into the belly. Babies who are very early or sick may be fed through a tube that passes through the skin into the stomach (gastrostomy).

If you are going to breastfeed your baby, you may need to pump your milk and feed it to your baby through a tube. Your doctor may advise adding iron, vitamins, or formula to a breastfed diet. If you are going to continue tube-feeding your baby, the hospital staff will show you how to use and clean the tube.

Feeding your baby this way is very different than how you expected it to be. But it supports your baby's life and will help your baby get strong. Your baby will need to eat often, in small amounts. Your doctor will help you and your baby set up a feeding routine and will help you handle any feeding problems.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Follow the feeding schedule for your baby. Each baby has different needs, and this schedule is designed to meet your baby's needs.
  • If you are using a feeding tube, your doctor will give you instructions for its use and care.
    • Use a feeding syringe to drip formula or breast milk into the feeding tube. Sometimes a pump is used instead of a syringe.
    • Gastrostomy: Keep the entry site clean and dry. Follow the directions from the manufacturer.
  • Give iron, vitamins, and other supplements to your baby if your doctor tells you to do so.
  • Do not go longer than 4 hours between feedings.
  • Wash your hands before handling the feeding tube and the fluids to feed your baby.
  • Feed your baby small amounts to help reduce spitting up. Your baby will eat a little bit more all the time, but it is important not to feed your baby more than your baby can manage.
  • Talk to your doctor if your baby spits up a lot or cries during or after feedings.
  • Be patient when your baby is ready to start sucking. It takes a lot of energy to suck, and your baby will get tired. You may need to offer both bottle- and breastfeeding for a while.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your baby is being fed through a tube and the tube seems to be blocked or comes out.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have questions about feeding your baby.
  • You are concerned that your baby is not eating enough.
  • You have trouble feeding your baby.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter Z261 in the search box to learn more about "Feeding Your Premature Baby: Care Instructions".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.