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Every parent wants to make sure that their baby is taken care of right from the time of conception. Having a preterm baby comes with its own set of challenges; however, not being able to feed the baby can physically and emotionally draining. Being able to bottle feed their preemie in the NICU is a moment of pure joy for all parents, especially after having seen their baby being fed through tubes. Bottle feeding premature babies, however, is not as simple as bottle feeding a term infant and can be very tricky. Nurses are always around to assist, but here are a few tips you should know on bottle feeding your preemie.
When Can You Start Bottle-Feeding Your Preemie?
Usually, premature babies can bottle feed around 32 to 36 weeks of gestational age. The decision to bottle feed, however, is made by your team based on how well your baby is doing.
How to Bottle Feed a Premature Baby
Premature babies are often sleepy and not cooperative when you need to feed them; they may also not be strong enough to drink all the milk they need to support their growth. These factors make it hard to feed them initially. Keep these tips in mind before you bottle-feed your infant:
- Getting the time right is essential. Some babies wake up and cry when hungry, and others need to be fed on a schedule every 3 to 5 hours. Understand your baby’s rhythms and feed him when he most needs it. Feeding times ideally shouldn’t exceed 30 minutes.
- Feed the baby in a seated up position and not cradled in the arms. This is one of the best bottle feeding positions for premature babies as it ensures that they stay awake and feed on a good position. Bring him to your lap while supporting his head with your non-dominant arm. Your dominant arm can then feed the baby with a bottle.
- Offer chin and cheek support using your dominant hand while you feed your baby. The index finger and thumb go on the baby’s cheeks to give a forward and inward support. Your middle finger supports the baby’s chin to help improve sucking on the bottle nipple.
- Perform oral stimulation exercises to prepare your baby for feeding. Circle his lips with your fingers and gently squeeze the cheeks together to help him build a stronger suckling action.
- Preemies can have trouble with coordinating breathing and bottle feeding. This can lead to apnea or bradycardia in the middle of a feed. Therefore, observe for signs of danger while feeding and pause when he gags or shows signs such as a decrease in heart rate or oxygen saturation.
- Burp him frequently to release air that is swallowed during feeds. Make him sit upright and gently pat his backs for 1 to 3 minutes in between feeds or at the end.
- Some babies feed better when their NG tubes are removed. Request the nurses to take out the tube during feeds as he starts feeding better and develops strength.
- Feed him in a quiet place that is preferably dimly lit, so the feeding session goes without much fuss.
- Try the side-lying bottle feeding method for premature infants as they get stronger. Switching sides aids in physical development.
- Look out for signs of choking such as spitting up, sputtering, or the baby’s face turning pale blue.
What If Your Baby Chokes While Bottle-Feeding?
Choking is one of the most concerning preemie bottle-feeding issues, and parents must always be on the watch for signs of it during feeding. If you notice that your baby starts to sputter or spit, it is a sign that you are giving more than what he can handle. When he chokes on milk or holds his breath or turns pale and blue, take the bottle out of the baby’s mouth, and make him sit upright on your lap and gently pat his backs until he looks comfortable again.
Although it is tricky at first, you’ll eventually get it right. Babies are resilient and develop every day. Keep feeding your little one and get help and guidance from doctors and nurses to feed your baby in a proper way. Enjoy this time in bonding with your infant and be patient as he progresses and learns how to feed well.
Also Read: How to Take Care Premature Baby at Home?