Feeding difficulties can show themselves in many different ways and at different stages in a preemie’s development. As frustrating as it can be to wait, always talk to all of your doctors to make sure you have all the information you need before consulting with other parents of preemies. Be sure there are no underlying medical conditions or issues that could be contributing to your preemie’s feeding challenges.
If you’re worried about your preemie’s nutrition or eating habits, you can talk to your neonatologist, pediatrician, OT, PT, speech therapist, nutritionist – or ask your preemie’s pediatrician to refer you to the right specialist.
Feeding difficulties can feel like a blow because your preemie is doing well and it seems like it should be smooth sailing from here on. As a parent, feeding your baby, toddler, or child should be the most natural part of nurturing. For many moms and dads, feeding is the first thing they do to care for their babies. Parents of preemies in the NICU and even beyond often have to wait and then overcome hurdles before feeding is something they can do.
When a preemie is finally able to breast feed or bottle feed, moms can feel especially responsible for every ounce gained or not. All you want to do is help your premature baby gain weight. But what happens if feeding your preemie turns out to be a challenge. What if they won’t eat or even can’t eat?
First, as a parent of a preemie, you must be patient. Many preemies eat when they can and what they can on their own schedule, both in the NICU and well into childhood. After talking to your doctor and whatever specialists he or she recommends, talk to as many parents as you can.
You will learn there are so many different ways parents of preemies can help feed their babies. In the NICU, ask the nurses what you can do if bottle feeding and breastfeeding aren’t possible. Ask for tips from experience preemie parents. You never know what you can learn from them. For older children, that might be: A special cooking method, certain foods you haven’t thought of, different formulas, or other feeding strategies. Feeding clinics (some intensive, some less so) can help non-eaters become eaters.
For older preemies who are just wary of trying new foods and not dealing with medical issues, here are some tips:
- Try lots of different foods and flavors.
- Cook together.
- Grocery shop together.
- Eat as a family – as often as you can, even if that’s not every day.
Finally, remember that overcoming feeding challenges is a work in progress. Always. Babies and toddlers are constantly changing. And remember to feel proud of what you are doing. It’s not easy. But all of your hard work will pay off.
Want to connect with preemie parents who are dealing with infant feeding challenges? Check out our Facebook group for preemie feeding difficulties.