Premature infant formulas meet specific premie needs

Premature infant formulas meet specific premie needs

Special considerations for premie formula feeding


Premature infant formulas are specially designed to meet the specific nutrient needs for premie babies (those born before 37 weeks of pregnancy). Babies older than that, early term babies (37 weeks until 39 weeks, full term babies (those 39 weeks to 41 weeks), late term (up to 42 weeks and the post term babies who are older than that, all do well on routine infant formulas

Premature infants needs are different from regular term babies, but they can also vary among premies. As a result, which premie infant formula is used depends on how premature a baby is, and his or her general readiness for bottle feeding.

Premature infant formula needs depends on:
  1. the baby's actual and adjusted age
  2. Any additional problems, such as reflux
  3. Whether the infant is in the hospital or has been discharged home

Early premature infant formula (for those born before 36-37 weeks)

Seventy percent (70%) of all premies are born between 34 – 36 weeks of pregnancy. But all those born before 36 weeks (early preterm babies) can have more severe illnesses and developmental delays compared to full-term babies. Some are also smaller than they should be at birth, and they may remain underweight, needing extra time to get to their eventual growth curve.

Infant formulas designed for early premies are sterile liquids to lower the risk of infection, and they're only available in hospital nurseries and intensive-care units. They are higher in protein and most vitamins and minerals compared to regular infant formula.  They also have 20% more calories than routine formulas (24 calories per ounce) to assist growth. 

Formula for home-bound near-term infants (36-38 weeks)

Babies born between 36-38 weeks, or near-term infants, don't have nutrient needs quite as high as early premie babies. However, near-term premature infants still need more calories, calcium, and other minerals than full-term babies. These nutrient needs are met with premature infant formulas that deliver 10% more calories (22 calories per ounce) than regular infant formulas. These infant formulas come in either powdered or ready-to-feed forms and are widely available in stores and online.  

How long do premies need premie formula?

Premie formula should be continued until babies are 6 months past their original due date.  Since full-term is considered 40 weeks, add the number of weeks the baby was early to the 6 months. 

Equation for premature infant formula use

[weeks a baby was born early] + 6 months = [time premature infant formula is used]

So, if your baby was born at 32 weeks (8 weeks, or 2 months early), you add those 2 months to the 6 month standard:

2 (months early) + 6 months (standard time for premie formula =

8 months

From the example, a 32 week old baby needs premie formula until about 8 (actual) months of age.  After the premie completes his or her premature formula routine, the baby can start using regular infant formula.

Can premies drink routine infant formula?

Some pediatricians may choose to concentrate regular infant formula, or have a premie drink more formula to get that extra 10% of calories and extra nutrients. One issue with using regular formula for premature infants is that regular formulas will still be lower in calcium and phosphorus. As we have mentioned, it is essential that premature infants get enough calcium and phosphorous to help them build their bones. Always consult with your pediatrician to make sure your premie's nutrient needs are met.

No soy formula for prematures

Dr. Stan's What to Feed Your Baby points out that soy formula should not be used for preterm infants because soy can affect bone mineralization and growth of premies.  

What if my premie has reflux?

Premature babies are more likely to have reflux, and it may last longer than it does for full term babies. Premature babies who have reflux, for example, are usually able to go onto the formula they need for that problem or their formula may be modified.  However, it's also important that they are stable as a premie, meaning that their temperature can be maintained and their lungs are doing well.  They may also need medication.

When can a premie switch to regular formula?

Once a premie completes his or her time on a premature infant formula, and has met the pediatrician's target weight, switching to routine infant formula is the next transition. If the baby is gaining slowly or having difficulties with intake or swallowing, he or she can continue even a little longer on the premie formula. But careful evaluation is needed, because the formula may not be the issue.

Bottom Line

Premature infant formulas are designed to meet the specific formula needs of premie babies at different ages. These tailored formulas provide enough calories and nutrients to support the growth and development of premature babies. And discuss any problem with your baby's doctor. That will usually be a neonatologist while your premie is in the hospital or your regular doctor after discharge.