Help your preemie gain ground on her growth

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Preemie catch-up growth is the additional development that premature or low-birth-weight babies may experience.

Babies born prematurely have specific nutritional needs throughout the first year as their bodies work hard to grow and develop. Catch-up growth of your baby’s heart, lungs, eyes, brain, bones, and immune system is still taking place.

The right nutrition helps influence preemie growth in ways you can see, such as weight, length, and head size. It is also vital for growth you can’t see, including rapid growth and development in these key areas:

Heart: Your baby's heart does important work for her whole body, such as moving oxygen to her brain. It helps almost every other part of her body work the way it should.

Lungs: Lungs are not needed in the womb for breathing air. Therefore, your baby’s lungs are among the last organs to fully develop.

Eyes: Your baby's eyes develop the most during the last few months of pregnancy and early months of life. Lutein is concentrated in the eye, and supports eye health.

Brain: Most of a baby’s brain develops in the last 8 weeks of pregnancy. The first year of life is an important time for brain development.

Digestive system: The digestive system goes through rapid changes and development. Preemie growth requires a healthy digestive system to absorb nutrients. And about 70% of her immune system is in her digestive tract.

Every ounce a preemie gains can feel like a step in the right direction, and it is important that they gain the right kind of weight. Although your premature baby is catching up on the outside, she may still need to do some important catching up on the inside. Having a nutrition plan can help to optimize preemie catch-up growth.

Breast milk is the best feeding for your preterm baby. In order to better meet your baby’s high nutrient needs, your baby’s healthcare professional may recommend additional nutritional strategies to enhance the nutrition provided by your breast milk. If you need a formula or choose to formula feed, consider choosing one with all of the following ingredients:

Lutein, a carotenoid naturally found in colostrum and human milk, has been shown to support eye health in preterm infants

DHA, to support brain and eye development

Vitamin E, also found in breast milk, to support developing cells

Calcium and phosphorus, to support baby's growing bones

Protein, to help develop, maintain, and repair new tissues throughout the body, including muscles