Feeding our Baby

Feeding our Baby

Feeding your baby can be a very stressful time for parents of premature and sick babies and can cause much anxiety and worry. All babies and parents are different and as such the types of feed your baby receives and the method they are feed will differ depending on the health of your baby and your personal circumstances.


Breast milk is thought to be best for all babies but particularly a premature or sick baby. It has many health benefits for your baby and you. . Only you can produce the breast milk needed for your baby and this makes you very central to your baby's care.  Providing expressed milk for your new baby does not commit you to fully breast feeding, even small amounts can make a big difference. 


 Outlined below is some information on the most common feeding types and methods used on neonatal units. 


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  • Total Parental Nutrition (TPN)

    Total Parental Nutrition (TPN) is used for extremely premature and sick babies who are too small or unable to tolerate milk feeds.  TPN contains all the nutrients and energy your baby needs to help it grow.

  • Tube feeding

    Tube feeding makes sure that your baby receives the milk or formula it needs before they are old enough or well enough to feed themselves.  There are 2 types of tube feeds:

    • Nasogastric Tube Feeding:  When a baby is fed through a small soft tube which runs from the nose down the throat and into the stomach.
    • Orogastric Tube Feeding:  When the baby is fed through a small soft tube which is placed in the mouth and runs down the throat and into the stomach.
  • Breastfeeding

    We know that having your baby staying on a neonatal unit not in your home isn’t how you imagined the start of your time with your baby.  However there are still lots you can do to be involved with your baby’s care and one of the most beneficial is breastfeeding/expressing breast milk.  The clinical staff will be very keen to encourage and support you with expressing and breastfeeding due to the many benefits to your baby.  Every unit in the South West has an infant feeding coordinator, whilst some will also have a dedicated breastfeeding support nurse.

    Advantages of breast milk

    •Breast milk provides antibodies that protect your baby against bacteria and viruses.  Premature breast milk is extra rich in antibodies and growth factors.

    •It boosts your baby's immune system and protects against infections, such as stomach and chest infections.

    •It provides nutrients, growth factors and hormones that help your baby grow and develop during the vital early months after birth.

    •It is very easy to digest and is absorbed more easily than formula milks.

    •It allows you to have skin to skin contact with your baby. Research has shown that this is very beneficial especially for premature babies.

    •Breastfeeding is good for your health too.  It can help you regain your pre-pregnancy figure, since any extra fat stored by the body during pregnancy is used to produce breast milk.  There is also some evidence that breastfeeding reduces your risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

    For more information on breastfeeding please see the links below:


    La Leche Legue

    The Breastfeeding Network

  • Donor milk

    If there is no or insufficient maternal breast milk available, your baby may be offered donor breast milk rather than an infant formula.  Donor breast milk is often used for premature babies as it is gentler on the gut and can help reduce the risk of them developing serious infections.  If they think that your baby might be suitable for donor breast milk a health professional will talk to you about the options.  Similarly if you wish to consider the use of donor breast milk for your baby you should discuss it with the consultant in charge of the care for your baby.

    Donating breast milk

    Breast milk donors help to give premature and sick babies the best possible start in life.  In the South West region we are fortunate enough to have our own dedicated regional milk bank.  It is based at Southmead Hospital in Bristol and is run by the Precious Drops Milk Bank.

    The milk bank welcomes new donors, and if you are interested in becoming a milk donor please make contact through the contacts page on the Precious Drops Website.  Please note that your first donation must be made before your baby is 6 months old.

  • Expressing your milk

    If your baby was very tiny or is unwell, he/she may not be able to go on the breast immediately.  In this case, the hospital staff will help you start expressing milk.

    To express milk for your baby, it is best to start hand expressing as soon as possible after giving birth, ideally within 6 hours of delivering your baby.  You'll need to express frequently - around 8 to 10 times a day, including once during the night.  This will help build up your milk supply for your baby.  Once lactation is established, ie milk is flowing, you might find it easier to use a hand held or electric pump – your nurse will advise you on the best time to try these methods.

    In the first few days after giving birth, mothers may make just drops of milk each time you use the breast pump so it is easy to get discouraged, but remember that these drops are very valuable to your baby's health.  His/her stomach is very small, so she will need very small amounts regularly.  The amount of breast milk you produce will grow slowly, so be patient and don't assume you are not able to produce enough milk.

    The infant feeding advisors on our units across the region will be able to provide you with advice on how to express and store your breast milk.

  • Bottle feeding

    Not everyone finds breastfeeding easy.  Some babies - and mothers - take to breastfeeding straightaway, while for others the experience of expressing or getting the baby to latch on (attach) to the nipple becomes a real struggle.

    If breastfeeding or expressing isn't going well for you then you are able to bottle feed your baby either using expressed milk or formula.  If your baby was born pre-term you may be prescribed a special pre-term formula.