How to feed the smallest preemies


As every new parent knows, feeding a newborn baby takes patience, skill and experience.

Yet for the smallest preemies, who arrive before they are ready to suckle, feeding takes on paramount importance. These vulnerable and tiny babies can face serious risks and medical problems if they don’t get proper nutrition.

Every year, according to the World Health Organization, more than 20 million babies around the world are born with low-birth-weight – defined as less than 5.5 pounds – which is mainly a consequence of preterm birth. In the US, as measured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that’s over 8% of all new babies. The 1.4% of babies born with very-low-birthweight – less than 3.3 pounds – are particularly vulnerable to adverse outcomes, including infectious disease and developmental delay.

Very-low-birth-weight babies have dangerously immature digestive systems, which is one reason that feeding, nutrition and appropriate growth can minimize risks and optimize better outcomes.

The good news is that a new toolkit from the California Perinatal Quality Care Collaborative, co-authored by a panel that included three Stanford experts, will help spread the latest research on preemie nutrition to doctors around the world.

William Rhine, MD, a neonatologist with Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and a co-author of the toolkit, reveals that we now have compelling data that correlates optimal growth with optimal neurodevelopment.

“It’s clear that if we want the best long-term developmental outcomes for these babies, we have to focus on nutrition in the first weeks and months of life.” – William Rhine, MD

Toolkit co-author Olivia Mayer, a registered dietitian who works in the neonatal intensive care unit at Packard Children’s, echoes the sentiment: “Any way we can make the baby grow more appropriately and do well will also minimize their risk for other bad things to happen.”

While managing the nutritional needs of preterm infants, especially those with very-low-birthweight, has never been easy, we now have an updated guide that can help these babies reach their growth and neurodevelopmental potential.

To learn more about the toolkit’s recommendations, read Stanford Medicine’s Scope article.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)