Feeding Your Premature Baby: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Your baby has been getting special care in the hospital nursery. The hospital will send your baby home on a feeding schedule. This tells you how and when to nurse or bottle-feed at home.

Most premature babies need to be fed slowly until they get strong enough to suck from a breast or bottle. Your baby may be fed through a tube that runs down the nose into the belly. This is called gavage feeding. Babies who are very early or sick may be fed through a tube that passes through the skin into the stomach (gastrostomy).

If you are going to breastfeed your baby, you may need to pump your milk and feed it to your baby through a tube. Your doctor may advise adding iron, vitamins, or formula to a breastfed diet. If you are going to continue tube-feeding your baby, the hospital staff will show you how to use and clean the tube.

Feeding your baby this way is very different than how you expected it to be. But it supports your baby's life and will help him or her get strong. Your baby will need to eat often, in small amounts. Your doctor will help you and your baby set up a feeding routine and will help you handle any feeding problems.

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 or nurse call line 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.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Follow the feeding schedule for your baby. Each baby has different needs, and this schedule is designed to meet your baby's needs.
  • If you are using a feeding tube, your doctor will give you instructions for its use and care.
    • Gavage: Use a feeding syringe to drip formula or breast milk into the feeding tube. Sometimes a pump is used instead of a syringe.
    • Gastrostomy: Keep the entry site clean. Wash the area with mild soap and warm water 2 to 3 times a day. Then gently pat the area dry.
  • Give iron, vitamins, and other supplements to your baby if your doctor tells you to do so.
  • Do not go longer than 4 hours between feedings.
  • Wash your hands before handling the feeding tube and the fluids to feed your baby.
  • Feed your baby small amounts to help reduce spitting up. Your baby will eat a little bit more all the time, but it is important not to feed your baby more than he or she can manage.
  • Talk to your doctor if your baby spits up a lot or cries during or after feedings.
  • Be patient when your baby is ready to start sucking. It takes a lot of energy to suck, and your baby will get tired. You may need to offer both breast- and bottle-feeding for a while.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your baby has trouble breathing.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your baby has not urinated at least 2 times in 24 hours or shows signs of needing more fluids, such as having strong-smelling urine with a dark yellow colour.
  • Your baby is rarely awake and does not wake up for feedings, is very fussy, seems too tired to eat, or is not interested in eating.
  • Your baby is having hard bowel movements and has many days between bowel movements.
  • You see signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness around the gastrostomy tube.
    • Red streaks leading from the area where the tube is inserted.
    • Pus draining from the tube area.
    • A fever.
  • The tube seems to be blocked or comes out.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You have any problems with feeding your baby.

Where can you learn more?

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

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Current as of: July 26, 2016