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Best bottles for feeding premature babies

Some mothers choose to bottle-feed premature babies because they are not producing milk or for other medical reasons, or they may have two or more babies and want to supplement breast milk with formula milk or are balancing baby care with other family responsibilities. Expressing milk means that other family members can help with feeding by using a bottle. Whatever the reason for bottle-feeding, when it comes to baby bottles, those used for full-term babies may not be suitable at first for premature babies.

Special feeding bottles for premature babies are available, designed to help a baby with a poor sucking reflex. They may also be designed to help the baby switch from a feeding tube to the bottle. Some manufacturers provide teats for bottles that have a hole specifically designed for a slow flow suitable for premature babies.

When feeding a premature baby from a bottle, the mother and baby should be in a comfortable position before touching the teat of the bottle gently against the baby's mouth, who should take the teat and begin to suck. As breastfeeding babies are normally switched between breasts, it may help with the baby's development to also switch sides when bottle-feeding. Of course, fathers, siblings and other carers should follow the same advice.

Bottle-fed babies, particularly immature ones, are more susceptible to infection, so it is particularly important that all safety guidance for preparing formula milk and sterilising bottles are followed fully:

  • Always wash your hands
  • Clean bottles and teats thoroughly
  • Prepare the milk carefully, following the instructions
  • Use the milk as soon as possible and never store it; discard any feed that has not been used after two hours.

What is cup feeding?

For babies that struggle to suck milk from a bottle, some mothers opt for feeding cups. Feeding cups may also be used for expressed breast milk or a combination of both. Some feeding cups have a lip and channel to make it easy for the baby to feed. To use the cup, the mother cuddles the baby so he or she is in an upright position, then holds the cup with the rim against the baby's lips. The baby will need to practise but will gradually lap the milk.

Should a bottle-fed baby have kangaroo care?

Kangaroo care is the practice of giving baby and mother (or father) skin to skin contact, with the baby resting on the chest. This practice is encouraged for all new babies whether breastfeeding or bottle-feeding as it helps baby and parents bond and helps calm the baby, which can help improve development. Once a premature baby can leave the incubator parent and child can enjoy kangaroo care.

What type of formula might a premature baby get?

If premature babies are not given breast milk, they may be given special preterm low birthweight formula before moving on to a post-discharge formula to help the baby catch up on growth and then a regular baby formula. The preterm formula - which includes long-chain fatty acids for brain development, nucleotides for cell development and supporting the immune system, and prebiotics to support digestive health - may be provided initially by a feeding tube. Once the baby can swallow, breathe and suck, he or she can be bottle-fed. Babies do not learn how to suck until they are about 32-34 weeks old.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on July 12, 2013

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