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Premature Baby: Weight Gain Tips

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Nov 13, 2022

    Premature Baby: Weight Gain Tips

    Premature babies or “preemies” are those born before the 37th week of pregnancy. They often look less rounded than term babies due to lack of fat stores, have low birth weight, and might face many medical problems depending on how early they were born. One of those problems is feeding difficulties that prevent them from thriving. Here are some premature baby weight gain tips for parents.

    premature baby weight gain tips

    Work closely with the healthcare team

    The first step in helping premature babies gain weight is to work closely with the healthcare team. You see, babies require individualized interventions, depending on what they need at the moment, and only the healthcare team can determine what’s best for your preemie.

    Some premature babies need to be kept in the incubator because they cannot regulate their body temperature yet. Others have respiratory issues and require temporary oxygen therapy.

    As much as you want to hold your little one right away and care for them as you would a full-term baby, remember that they might have special needs that only the hospital can provide.

    Give them breastmilk

    One of the best weight gain tips for a premature baby is to give them breastmilk as it contains just the right amount of nutrients for the preemie. Moreover, breastmilk offers protection from certain infections, which preemies might be vulnerable to.

    According to experts, breastmilk from mothers who gave birth prematurely is different from full-term milk because preemies have different nutritional needs. To help your baby thrive, give them appropriate breastmilk when possible.

    However, please note that you may not be able to breastfeed your baby directly, especially when they are premature. Preemies often have problems feeding by mouth because they are not mature enough to coordinate sucking, breathing, and swallowing.

    In helping premature babies gain weight, the doctor may order the following interventions:

    • Parenteral Nutrition, wherein your baby receives their nutrition intravenously (IV).
    • Gavage, wherein the baby receives milk through a tube that passes through the mouth or nose into the stomach.
    • Cup feeding, wherein your baby receives milk through a special cup.

    Remember: if possible, provide your breastmilk for gavage and cup feeding, as this is the best for your preemie. In case you’re unable to pump breastmilk, the World Health Organization recommends human donor milk or (premature) infant formula.

    Keep track of your baby’s weight

    While still in the hospital, particularly in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the healthcare team will monitor your baby’s weight daily. Please note that your baby may lose some weight (+/- 10%) in the first few days (mostly water weight).

    But knowing that your baby will soon gain weight may help give you a sense of relief. The rate by which they gain weight varies: tiny preemies may gain just 5 grams daily, while babies born at 33 weeks or more may gain 20 to 30 grams a day.

    Your doctor will not allow your baby to go home until he or she is steadily gaining weight and when they can fully take feedings by mouth without supplemental gavage feeding.

    As much as possible, spend time with your baby

    One of the most helpful premature baby weight gain tips is to spend time with your preemie as much as your—and their—situation allows.

    At least one study shows that maternal interaction (speaking to your infant, touching them and holding them close to you, called “skin to skin contact”) helps premature babies grow and gain more weight. For this reason, take advantage of the time given to you to interact with your little one.

    Most hospitals allow mothers to enter the nursery to feed their baby or promote skin contact. Just be sure to follow protocols, like proper handwashing and wearing the appropriate protective equipment to reduce infection risk.

    Once discharged, follow your preemie’s feeding plan

    And finally, one of the weight gain tips for a premature baby is to adhere to the doctor-approved feeding plan.

    Don’t be tempted to feed your baby aggressively because their intestines are not yet fully mature. Ask your doctor about how much they need to receive and how frequent their feedings must be.

    If you’re breastfeeding, learn about proper positioning and latching. If you cannot breastfeed, discuss with your doctor about the most appropriate way to feed for your infant.

    Learn more about Premature Babies here. 


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Nov 13, 2022

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