Feeding Solid Foods to Your Premature Baby: A Guide for New Parents

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Most full-term babies have similar growth patterns in the first year of life. The pediatrician provides feeding advice based on these predictable developmental milestones. For instance, these babies start receiving solid food at six months of age. 

However, preterm or preemie babies have special requirements. As a parent of a preterm baby, you should avoid giving them solid foods until they are ready. You need to consider their corrected age instead of their actual one. For example, a 12-month-old preemie born two months early will have a corrected age of 10 months. 

Pediatricians recommend calculating a preemie’s corrected age to assess their developmental growth until they are two. In this blog, we will discuss everything you need to know about introducing solid food to your preemie. 

When Should You Introduce Solid Food to Your Preterm Baby?

According to a Karger report, you must consider your preemie’s nutritional needs based on organ development and delayed motor skills. Moreover, they have an increased gut permeability or risk of infection. That is why you must look for physical signs to determine whether they are ready for solid foods. 

Remember that every preterm baby will display readiness differently. Some signs of readiness include the following: 

  • Holding their head upright without support 
  • Controlling neck movements 
  • Leaning back or turning away when full after breastfeeding 
  • Taking a spoon in their mouth without gagging 
  • Displaying an interest in food by leaning toward it 

Before giving your baby solid foods, consult a pediatrician and inform them about these signs. Then, you can start feeding your baby pureed foods. 

Solid Foods You Can Feed Your Premature Baby

The first foods you can give your preterm baby include: 

  • Infant cereals high in iron 
  • Boiled and pureed fish, eggs, chicken, or lentils
  • Pureed apples, bananas, sweet potatoes, or avocado
  • Boiled water cooled down to room temperature
  • Mashed vegetables like carrots, potatoes, broccoli, etc
  • Fine porridge or rice 

The solid foods you try to feed your baby should be creamy and lump-free. You can introduce new items from the list every two to three days. 

Avoid giving them red meat during the first few months. Moreover, you should give them homemade food instead of canned infant or baby food. 

Food Items to Avoid

There are certain food items that you should avoid feeding your premature baby. First on that list are baby formulas by brands like Enfamil and Similac. Some preterm babies are given bovine-based or cow milk formula from these brands at hospitals. However, researchers have found that these toxic formulas lead babies to develop necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). 

According to TorHoerman Law, NEC causes severe gastrointestinal damage by inflaming the intestinal tissues. Premature babies can develop perforations in their intestines, leading to serious medical complications. 

After parents learned about this issue, many of them filed an NEC lawsuit against the manufacturers and hospitals. Some parents filed a medical malpractice lawsuit, while others relied on product liability lawsuits. Either way, these parents are eligible for payouts worth USD 5,000 to USD 500,000. 

You can prevent NEC by giving your infant a healthy supply of breastmilk. It is beneficial to preemies because it boosts immunity and growth hormone production. Other than baby formula, you should not give preemies the following food items: 

  • Uncooked fish
  • Spicy food 
  • Sage, parsley, or peppermint 
  • Tea 
  • Any type of nuts 
  • Soft-boiled eggs 
  • Hard candy
  • Sugary drinks or packaged juices 
  • Chocolate or coffee 
  • Raw vegetables 

These are either gassy food items or choking hazards. 

How to Feed Your Premature Baby?

A preterm baby will have issues like gagging or spitting out food. For that, you can increase the frequency of the feedings or use smaller utensils. Moreover, the baby might get upset or fall asleep during feeding. 

Hence, they might need a supplementary oxygen supply or a positive association with solid food. Remember to consider undeveloped allergies when feeding them high-allergen foods like dairy. Always consult a pediatrician before starting your preemie on solid foods. 

Additionally, remember the following feeding rules for preemies: 

  • Premature babies require food every three hours. Therefore, you should prepare the mashed food for a day and slowly feed them. 
  • These babies are slow and will take time to eat. That is why you need to be patient when feeding them.
  • Be careful when using spoons as they might have a sensitive mouth due to tube feeding.  

Tips for Feeding a Preemie 

As a rule of thumb, you should keep these tips in mind when feeding your preterm baby: 

  • Select and record a consistent time for daily feedings 
  • Your baby should be awake during feeding 
  • Ensure that your baby is comfortable 
  • Avoid forcing them to eat 
  • Use a baby-feeding spoon for small portions 
  • Avoid giving them lumpy food 
  • Do not stop giving them breastmilk 

The Bottom Line

In 2021, America witnessed 383,979 preterm births. Approximately 10.5% of all live births were preterm. These babies require special care for the first two years of their lives. They can have healthy developmental growth with proper nutrition and care.

However, parents must learn about the baby’s nutrition needs and feeding schedules. For instance, they need a healthy supply of iron, vitamins, potassium, and more. You can follow the list of solid foods to aid the feeding process. Moreover, ensure to consider the tips shared for feeding your premature baby. 

Of course, start introducing solid foods when you see signs of developmental readiness in your baby. Introducing solid foods can be an exciting process if done correctly. 

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