Baby Care

Feeding your Preterm Baby on Reaching Home

Expressing milk, using formula and fortifying the milk.

Verified by:
iMumz Expert Panel
Updated on:
September 30, 2022

Feeding your Preemie

Getting the clean-chit from the hospital to get the baby home can come with mixed feelings: ‘Will I be able to handle the baby’s nutrition on my own?’

Firstly, trust your instincts and follow these thumb rules to know if all is well...

Babies who are feeding well will usually:

  • Wake to feed often.
  • Have 6 or more wet nappies a day.
  • Poo regularly.
  • Gain weight.

Babies born prematurely or smaller than expected often appear hungry as they try to catch up in size.

They are hungry because they need extra nutrition to support a faster rate of growth. This can also happen during growth spurts.

Your Preemie Needs Breast Milk

You may feel exhausted with the frequent feeding but your baby needs the breastmilk. Holding him close in the process of feeding also goes a long way in strengthening his immunity, bonding and overall health.

If you cannot breastfeed directly, do express the milk and feed.

Here’s a tip: express regularly even if the baby is not having it all.  Pump every 2 to 3 hours if your baby is going to use the milk immediately, every 4 hours or so if the milk is going to be frozen for later use.  

Regular pumping now will help to establish an abundant milk supply for the time when your baby takes over where the machine leaves off so it’s never a waste.  

Don’t be discouraged by day-to-day or hour-to-hour variations in supply. That’s completely normal and something you wouldn’t be aware of if you were nursing your little one directly. It’s also normal to have a drop in milk production after several weeks. Baby will ultimately be a much more efficient stimulator of your milk supply than even the most efficient pump. When actual suckling begins, your supply is almost certain to increase quickly.

Breast or bottle?

We suggest that you try offering the breast first. Studies show that low-birthweight babies take to the breast more easily than to the bottle. You can tape a tube and  use a supplemental nursing system as well. But, remember, it all depends on your situation, your constraints and what you have decided.

Fortified breast milk: what is it?

There is something called a human milk fortifier (HMF). Ask your doctor about it. She will assess if your milk needs to be fortified. Since some babies, particularly very tiny ones, need even more concentrated nutrition including more fat, proteins, sugars, calcium, and phosphorus, and possibly, more of such other nutrients as zinc, magnesium, copper, and vitamin B6 the breast milk being fed through a tube or a bottle may be fortified with human milk fortifier (HMF) as needed. HMF comes in a powdered form that can be blended with breast milk, or in a liquid form for use when adequate amounts of breast milk are not available.

How do I feed my preemie formula?

Yes, there are formulas that are specially-designed for babies.  Ask your doctor about them: don’t experiment without consulting your neonatologist. Preemies are fed using small plastic bottles marked in cubic centimetres (cc) or millilitres (ml). The nipples are specially designed and require less sucking strength from your baby. Ask a nurse to show you the correct position for bottle-feeding your preemie; it may differ slightly from that for a full-term infant.