Typically, a preterm baby can begin breastfeeding attempts once she is mature enough to do so. This is often at about 34 weeks gestational age, and your baby's caregivers will help to determine when the time is right. Because preemies can have a hard time sucking, swallowing, and breathing all at the same time, your baby may start by receiving your milk through a special tube that's inserted through the nose or mouth and ends in the stomach—until she's developed the coordination needed to go to the breast.
Your breast milk is the preferred choice for your preemie because it has immune protection factors tailored to your baby’s needs and will likely be very well tolerated by her digestive system. If you plan to provide breast milk to your baby, tell your healthcare team so they can help you begin pumping right after birth. That way, you’ll have milk stored and available when your baby is ready to receive it.
Because her organs are still developing and she is growing so quickly, it’s important that your preemie gets the nutrients she needs to grow strong.
While breast milk is the best form of nutrition, your preterm baby's nutrient needs are greater than what breast milk alone can provide. Your baby's healthcare team may add to breast milk a "human milk fortifier" that is specially designed for babies born prematurely. It enhances mom’s milk with extra protein, vitamins, and minerals to help support a preemie’s high nutrition needs for growth and development.
Compared to formulas made for full-term infants, formulas made for preemies have more calories per fluid ounce to support important tissue and organ growth. Once a formula-fed preemie leaves the hospital, she can continue to benefit from a formula tailored to her unique needs.
Even if you are breastfeeding, your baby's healthcare team may work with you on a plan to supplement your milk with a human milk fortifier or a formula that's specially made to support premature babies' development and growth after coming home from the hospital.
A post-discharge formula for preemies, like Similac® NeoSure®, has increased protein, vitamins, and minerals, compared to term formula, to help promote catch-up growth during the first year. It’s designed to support her brain, eye, muscle, and bone growth, as well as her immune system.
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