So, you have given birth to a preemie and now heading back home. The first thing on your mind would be to get the best preemie formula for your baby so that he may grow at a rate close to that in the womb. And without sugar-coating anything, walking down a superstore’s aisle and choosing formula milk made to meet your preemie’s nutritional needs might become the toughest task at hand at that moment.
Premature birth, as evident in the name, refers to childbirth before the estimated due date. A baby born three weeks or more before completing nine months is called a preemie. Such babies are often predisposed to several short- and long-term complications. This is because they usually have an underdeveloped immune system and, therefore, need a longer hospital stay than full-term babies.
So without a doubt, it is imperative to catch up with the baby’s nutritional requirements to keep them from harm’s way. Formula milk for preemies comes with all nutrients and ingredients that your baby would get in the womb. But choosing the suitable milk formula can be challenging because nutritional requirements vary from baby to baby.
In this article, we will describe some rules and protocols that must be kept in mind when buying formula milk for premature babies.
Nutritional Requirements for Premature Babies
Premature babies are born with nutritional deficiencies that must be addressed to help them grow optimally. Although medical experts in a hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) will take care of your preemie until you leave the hospital, it is essential to continue providing your baby with specialized nutritional support after you get back home.
- Some babies may require proteins, iron, calories, vitamins, and calcium in additional amounts. Therefore, a supplement called human milk fortifier may be added to their feedings. This supplement comes with the said nutrients along with vitamins A, C, and D and folic acid.
- Preemies who are breastfed may still need supplements. Based on your baby’s nutritional needs, you can give them multiple servings of iron and vitamin D supplements along with fortified breast milk. This diet is particularly for babies who do not get sufficiently nursed for any reason.
- As a rule of thumb, a baby should get enough nutrition supply to wet 6-8 diapers every day. When changing diapers, watch out for bloody or watery stools, as they can indicate a problem.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Formula Milk for Premature Babies
Preemie formulas come with nutrients that are vital for the baby’s growth and development, such as vitamins, proteins, and minerals. However, the type of formula and your feeding plan significantly depend on your baby’s particular dietary needs. You must also look out for the allergic reaction a baby formula product might trigger.
Moreover, you may need to change the baby’s formula after some time. This requirement generally occurs due to the baby’s changing nutritional needs as they grow. In some cases, you may notice that your baby prefers some other product over the current one. However, it is always crucial to speak to your doctor before switching the formula.
When choosing a baby formula, be sure to check whether it meets nutritional safety requirements. The best way to ensure this is to buy from well-known and well-reputed brands. And it goes without saying that you must always check the expiration date on the package.
Types of Formula Milk for Premature Babies
With some research about different products, you may realize that ‘standard’ preemie formulas are not that standard after all. This is because every baby formula comes with a different nutritional composition and is suitable for only a particular group of babies. At that point, you may think of preparing a customized preemie formula at home, but most medical experts do not recommend this due to safety concerns.
Premature babies have weaker digestive systems than full-term infants and, therefore, are more prone to developing digestive issues. For instance, most preemies have an allergy to cow’s milk, which is the primary ingredient of a majority of standard milk formulas available on the market. Medical experts generally prescribe a nondairy formula for those babies.
Preemie formulas are available in many types, but three of them are the most common.
- Amino Acid-Based Formulas
Preemie formulas containing amino acids as a primary ingredient are generally suitable for preterm babies with an allergy to cow’s milk. Amino acids are simple proteins that are different from milk proteins.
- Lactose-Free Formulas
Lactose is sugar in cow’s milk. Some preemies have difficulty digesting lactose and, hence, may be better candidates for lactose-free formula milk. However, please note that some lactose-free formulas may still contain milk proteins and might not be suitable for your baby. In such a scenario, you can give your preemie the soy-based formula.
- Hypoallergenic Formula
Hypoallergenic preemie formulas are prescribed for babies allergic to cow and soy milk. According to research, hypoallergenic formulas can help prevent atopic diseases in infants. These formulas are also beneficial for babies with a higher predisposition to allergies than others.
Preparing and Feeding Formula Milk to a Premature Baby
Once you have found the suitable formula milk for your preemie, you must follow some preset protocols when preparing a serving and feeding your baby. Here are the instructions:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after preparing a serving.
- Make sure that the feeding bottle and its teat are properly sterilized.
- Practice caution when preparing milk. The water you use should be freshly boiled and left to cool for about 30 minutes before you mix formula milk powder into it. Ideally, the water temperature should be 70 degrees Celsius, which is hot enough to eliminate bacteria in the powder. Let the prepared milk formula cool before feeding your baby.
- Do not store prepared formula milk serving, even in the fridge. This is because bacteria can regrow in a serving that has been stored for future use.
- Clean the bottle and teats with hot and soapy water after feeding your baby. Brush them properly to clean any milk residue. Use cold water to rinse the bottle and teats.
- Store hot water in a thermos flask when going out with your baby.
Preemies are more vulnerable beings than full-term babies. This is why they require special care at the hospital and at home. They particularly need specialized and careful feeding so that they do not run the risk of nutritional deficiencies, which seem pretty inevitable at times. Therefore, it is crucial to pay proper attention to what and how you feed your preemie.
For more information and support, stay in contact with a qualified doctor. Not only will they instruct you about proper baby feeding, but they will also help you take good care of your preemie from all other aspects.