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Feeding your premature baby: the first few days

Your baby needs good nutrition to grow and develop. It has an impact on the health of your baby now and in the future.

Premature babies (born before 37 weeks) have increased nutritional needs. They may need extra support and patience. They need time to mature and develop their feeding skills.

Feeding in the hospital

In the early days in the hospital, your baby may not be able to feed from the breast or a bottle. They may need tube feeding. The tube will contain expressed breast milk or a special formula for premature babies.

As your baby matures and grows stronger, they will progress to feeding from the breast or a bottle. The transition often starts in the hospital and continues at home.

The journey from tube feeding to feeding by mouth may not be easy. You may feel anxious and need some extra support.

Your baby will stay in hospital until they are feeding enough and growing.

After your baby leaves the hospital, you will get support from your public health nurse (PHN) and GP.

You may need to bring your baby back to the hospital for appointments. Your hospital will continue developmental checks if your baby was very premature.

Read about expressing breast milk for your premature baby

Read about feeding options and supplements for your premature baby

Feeding at home

When your baby is at home, they should be able to feed well enough by mouth to meet their nutrition needs for growth.

Feeding should be a relaxed and enjoyable experience for you and your baby.

Give your baby time to feed. Their feeding skills will improve with time and practice.

Continue skin-to-skin contact. This improves your baby's feeding reflexes, which helps them to breastfeed or bottle feed.

Your PHN or GP will check that your baby is:

  • growing
  • able to feed with no problems
  • improving their feeding skills

Coming home from a neonatal or special care unit

Neonatal intensive care and special care baby units

Page last reviewed: 5 November 2021
Next review due: 5 November 2024

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 8.