Nutrition and Breastfeeding

Good nutrition is important for the growth and development of all babies, but especially for those born early and those who are unwell. At first, many babies are too small or too weak to nurse or suck. The Special Care Nursery (SCN) staff uses special techniques to feed them until they are able to breast or bottle feed.

  • At first, babies who are not able to feed by mouth will be provided nutrients through an intravenous (IV) line. You may hear this referred to as “NPO,” meaning “nothing by mouth.” Your baby will have an IV placed in a vein that is then connected to tubing attached to a bag of fluid containing the nutrients your baby needs. This fluid may be clear and contain glucose (sugar), or it may be a yellow fluid called TPN (total parental nutrition) or hyperalimentation (HAL) fluid. TPN fluid contains glucose, protein, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes needed for growth. This fluid is especially made for your baby based on his or her lab results, which are re-checked often so that the fluid contents can be adjusted if needed. Also, your baby may have a white fluid that contains lipids, which supply the fats needed for growth. TPN and lipids can meet all of your baby’s nutrition needs until he or she is able to have your breast milk or formula. Medicines may be given through this IV line, too. If you plan to breast feed, please continue to pump every two to three hours when your baby is unable to feed. This milk will be frozen and saved for later use. Breast-feeding help is available if needed.
  • Babies unable to take a bottle may be “tube-fed” until they are able to breast or bottle feed. Tube-feeding means that the baby will have a small tube passed through the nose or mouth and down into the stomach so that special infant formula or breast milk that you have pumped may be given to the baby. You may hear this referred to as “NG feedings” or “OG feedings depending on where the feeding tube is (nose or mouth).” In addition to milk and formula, medication may also be given through this tube.
  • PO means that the baby is able to be fed “by mouth,” either by bottle or breast. Babies who are ready may begin to try to take a bottle. For the growing premature infant, this may be introduced slowly as one or two bottle-feeding attempts a day and increased as possible. Some babies will be ready to breast-feed, but many will not have the necessary energy or coordination and will usually start on a bottle first. The nurse will test your baby’s sucking skills on the bottle to determine if he or she has the coordination needed to breast-feed. Each baby is unique and will let us know how fast to progress. Do not be discouraged if your baby cannot immediately breastfeed; breast milk provides the same advantages even if given by tube or bottle. Also, do not hesitate to ask if the baby can “kangaroo” or nuzzle. Please let your nurse know if you would like to speak with one of our lactation consultants. Having a baby is the SCN is stressful, and if the baby is premature, he or she may take some time to get used to breast-feeding.