Basic concepts


Breast milk is the best nourishment you can give, especially for babies born preterm or with health issues. The breast starts producing milk at around 16 weeks of pregnancy. If your baby was born early and not yet ready to nurse, you can express breast milk and feed it to him some other way.

Breast milk is easy for the baby to digest. It contains fats needed by the developing brain. Further, because breast milk gets digested faster, bacteria from breast milk don’t stick around in the gut as long as those from formula. This protection is especially important in preterm infants, some of whom are prone to severe intestinal infection.

Babies know when they are hungry and breastfed babies are usually fed on demand. However, if your baby is not strong enough to make it through an entire feeding, you can schedule shorter and more frequent feedings. If necessary, babies can also be given breast milk or hypercaloric formula by bottle-feeding or tube-feeding. The medical staff will give you guidance on initiating and maintaining breastfeeding and offer solutions to any concerns you may have.



If you are breastfeeding ,and need the convenience of having others feed the baby in your absence, you can start giving a bottle once the baby nurses properly at least twice a day.

Remember that babies born preterm or with other health issues tire easily, so they take small amounts, pause often, and require frequent feeding. When you breastfeed, there’s usually no need to supplement with a bottle. If you have any questions, a nurse can check whether your baby is getting enough nourishment. In some cases, a tube-feed may be in order.

If you are not breastfeeding and the baby was born preterm, you can start bottle feeding at around 32-37 weeks, assuming the baby is physically able and health issues permit. The medical staff will help you choose the right time to begin.



Some babies have a hard time feeding. Signs of frustration include:

  • Squirming, thrashing, splaying their fingers
  • Nibbling at the nipple
  • Crying, fussing
  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Holding their breath or having difficulty breathing
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Basic concepts

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