Learning About Infant Feeding in the NICU

Skip Navigation

Why do some babies need special feeding?

Infants who are sick or premature may need help with feeding. They may be too weak or small to suck on a breast or bottle. Maybe their bodies aren't ready to digest breast milk or formula. This can be frustrating and scary for parents. Taking care of your baby is something you want and expect to do. The staff in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) will involve you in your baby's care as much as possible. Know that your baby is getting the nourishment needed for growth.

How are babies fed in the NICU?

How your baby is fed depends on your baby's health needs. Your baby may be:

  • Tube-fed. This means that a tube goes through your baby's nose and then into the stomach. The tube delivers special fluid that feeds (nourishes) your baby. Your baby may be able to have breast milk through the tube.
  • Fed through a vein (intravenously). This is also called an I.V. A tiny needle or tube is put into a vein. When the I.V. needle is in place, fluids can go quickly into the bloodstream and into the rest of the body.
  • Breast- or bottle-fed. If this is the case, you may be able to feed your baby yourself.

What can you do?

  • Ask if you can feed your baby or be present for feedings.
  • You can hold your baby's hand or foot while he or she is feeding. Touch can help you bond. Other family members can do this too.
  • If your baby can have breast milk:
    • Start pumping right away. The staff will show you how to use an electric pump if one is available. And they will show you how and where to store pumped milk.
    • Keep pumping every few hours to keep up your milk supply.
  • You can talk to your baby. Your voice is already familiar and comforting to your baby.

What else do you need to know?

You may feel overwhelmed with emotion and information. You and your loved ones may handle issues and feelings in different ways. This can create a strain. Take time to think of yourself. Try to get enough rest and food. Arrange for and accept as much help from friends and family as you can. Visit with a friend, spiritual adviser, counselor, or social worker. It helps to talk about how you feel. Your hospital may have a support group for NICU parents.

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.

Where can you learn more?

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

Enter H973 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Infant Feeding in the NICU".

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.