Babies born before their due date need special care, especially if they were very small at birth (less than 3 pounds). Feeding premature babies is a unique challenge; it mainly depends on how early they were born, whether they have any medical issues and the severity of those issues. It is also important to track how often your baby eats so you can share this information with healthcare providers and other caregivers.
Breast milk is ultimately the best source of nutrition for a new baby; it has proteins in it that can help fight infection and to promote growth. If your baby was born before 34 weeks they often can’t feed from a bottle or breast due to the fact that they have trouble coordinating sucking, breathing and swallowing all at the same time. However those born after 34 weeks may be able to feed from a bottle or the mother’s breast.
A good rule of thumb is to feed your premature baby 8 to 10 times per day and that will help prevent dehydration. Six to 8 wet diapers a day is one indication that your baby is getting enough fluids. If your head is now spinning with the “how many”, the “when” and the “how much” you may find it helpful to take a moment and track this information. Premature babies tend to sleep more often than full-term ones but the duration is usually shorter. In addition, with premature babies, sometimes you need to awaken them to feed them.
Soon after the birth of your premature baby start pumping if your baby is not able to breast feed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and do not hesitate to make sure those caring for you know your desire to breastfeed. Once your milk supply is strong enough you can decrease how often you pump. At 36 to 40 weeks, premature babies usually are able to suck and will most likely breast feed every 3 to 4 hours, but they may still need additional formula. Once your baby is able to start nursing be prepared to nurse frequently and since they cannot take in much as milk at each feeding until they’re closer to term pump afterward to keep your milk supply up. Some new mothers find it helpful to track this; either how often pumping occurs and how much, how much formula is given at each feeding and information on whether or not the baby was content, fussy or tired.
The video below shows you how to track breast and bottle feedings using the Babble Soft Baby Insights Day Tracker. These online tools are meant to help new parents easily track feedings and monitor baby’s fluid intake. There is also a feed tracking worksheet that you can print out to quickly write down feeding information to input later. By entering the feeding and intake data into Baby Insights, then parents can take advantage of the various graphs and reporting that is readily available and can help you identify patterns and monitor baby’s weekly intake or intake across multiple days. Parents of premature infants have found these charts and graphs especially helpful when meeting with baby’s pediatrician.