How to Navigate Home Feeds for Premature Babies

How to Navigate Home Feeds for Premature Babies

Bringing your premature baby home from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is an exciting and sometimes unnerving experience. One of the questions that come up for almost all parents taking their preemie home is about feeding. Specifically, how to successfully navigate home feeds. It’s understandable that after having 24/7 hands-on support in the NICU, managing feeds at home can be overwhelming but as with most things, knowledge is power.

As a Clinical Paediatric Dietician, I’ve seen first-hand how new parents doubt themselves because they don’t have adequate support and guidance once they leave the hospital. But this can be overcome by sticking to a few guiding principles. In my private practice, I advise parents of the different feeding options available and the importance of maintaining a routine similar to that of the NICU as you transition into establishing home feeds.

In this article, I will explore key feeding considerations when bringing your premature baby home, including exclusive breastfeeding, combination feeding, and exclusive formula feeding. We will also discuss the significance of keeping your baby in the NICU routine during the first week and tips for helping your baby distinguish between night and day.

Bringing Your Premature Baby Home: Feeding Options

When it comes to feeding your premature baby at home, you have several options to consider:

Exclusive Breastfeeding

Exclusive breastfeeding involves feeding your baby breast milk only, without any supplemental formula. This approach offers numerous benefits, as breast milk provides essential nutrients, antibodies, and promotes bonding between mother and baby.

Combination Feeding (Breastfeeding and Formula)

Combination feeding involves a mix of breastfeeding and formula feeding. This method allows you to provide the benefits of breast milk while also supplementing it with formula to meet your baby’s nutritional needs.

Exclusive Formula Feeding

Exclusive formula feeding involves feeding your baby commercially prepared infant formula. While formula doesn’t provide the same immune-boosting properties as breast milk, it can still provide adequate nutrition for your baby’s growth and development.

9 Tip for Maintaining the NICU Routine at Home

During the first week at home, it is beneficial to maintain a routine similar to that of the NICU. This consistency helps your premature baby adjust to their new environment. Here are some essential considerations:

Sleep and Wake Cycles

In the NICU, babies are exposed to a consistent schedule of day and night. Carry over this routine by exposing your baby to natural light during the day and minimizing stimulation during nighttime feeds. This helps establish their circadian rhythm and promotes healthy sleep patterns.

Minimize Unnecessary Nappy Changes

To avoid disturbing your baby’s sleep unnecessarily, only change their nappy when it’s soiled or during regular feeding times. This reduces interruptions and helps them differentiate between day and night.

Controlled Stimulation

During nighttime feeds, keep the environment calm and quiet. Avoid playing with your baby or engaging in stimulating activities that could hinder their ability to settle back to sleep.

Light Exposure

During daytime feeds, expose your baby to natural daylight by opening curtains or going outside for short periods. This reinforces the distinction between day and night.

Establishing Feeding Routines

Home feeds for premature babies is easier when you initially follow the feeding schedule provided by the NICU. Gradually, you can adapt it to suit your baby’s needs as they grow stronger and more mature. This helps them feel secure and comfortable during feedings.

Transitioning to Demand Feeding

Once your baby is settled into the home environment and has shown steady weight gain and feeding progress, you can gradually transition to demand feeding. Here are some tips for this transition:

Observe Feeding Cues

Watch for hunger cues, such as increased alertness, rooting, or sucking on hands, and offer a feeding accordingly. This helps your baby develop a natural feeding pattern.

Trust Your Instincts

As you spend time bonding with your baby, you will become more attuned to their needs and cues. Trust your instincts when it comes to home feeds for premature babies and respond promptly to their signals.

Seek Professional Guidance

Consult with a lactation consultant, pediatrician, or healthcare provider who specializes in premature infant care. They can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the transition to demand feeding.

Establishing home feeds for your premature baby requires patience, understanding, and flexibility. Whether you choose exclusive breastfeeding, combination feeding, or exclusive formula feeding, remember that each option has its benefits and challenges. By maintaining the NICU routine during the initial week, gradually transitioning to demand feeding, and providing a nurturing environment, you can help your premature baby thrive at home. Always seek professional guidance and trust your instincts as you navigate this important journey together.


Meg faure

Meg Faure

Hi, I’m Meg Faure. I am an Occupational Therapist and the founder of Parent Sense. My ‘why’ is to support parents like you and help you to make the most of your parenting journey. Over the last 25 years, I’ve worked with thousands of babies, and I’ve come to understand that what works for fussy babies works just as well for all babies, worldwide.