Nutrition Spotlight: Nutrition for Premature Infants

Posted on May. 16th, 2011 at 5:00pm

In the last trimester of pregnancy, a fetus grows rapidly and stores important nutrients. Premature infants often miss much of this critical time in the womb, and as a result, face many challenges and may require specialized nutrition support.

The goals for caring for and feeding preterm infants are to promote growth and weight gain similar to that which would have occurred in utero, and to maintain relatively normal concentrations of nutrients in the blood and tissues.

Mead Johnson’s research and collaboration with neonatal intensive care units continues to result in feeding regimens and clinical nutrition products that provide premature infants with the support required to have the best start in life.

Nutrients and Growth

Because premature infants may miss some of the third trimester, they have a greater need for protein, certain fats, vitamins and minerals than full-term infants. They also have a critical need for carbohydrates, such as glucose, which act as an important energy source for the brain.

There are several key needs that occur through the third trimester that help a fetus prepare for life outside the womb, including:

Higher amino acid requirements, met through the mother’s protein intake, to facilitate lean muscle growth and increase in length;

  • Important dietary fatty acids, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA), to help support energy needs and provide building blocks for brain development; and

  • Placental transport of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, among other vitamins and minerals, which are used and stored to support healthy growth and development.

Feeding Premature Infants

Meeting the necessary energy and nutrient requirements for catch-up growth and development is challenging. Among these challenges, the immature digestive systems of premature infants alter the absorption and tolerance of nutrients. Also, premature infants often have trouble performing the suck-swallow mechanism necessary for breast or bottle feeding. In these cases, the infant may need to be fed breast milk or infant formula using a nasogastric tube or orogastric tube until they develop the ability to feed orally.

Mead Johnson continues to investigate ideal forms of protein, carbohydrates and fats to feed infants with immature digestive systems. With a better understanding of these special nutritional needs, Mead Johnson continues to enhance its science-based pediatric clinical nutrition products that help provide premature infants with the best start in life.

The Nutrition Spotlight is part of a continuing series of brief articles compiled by the Mead Johnson research team about common topics in infant nutrition. All topics can be found by visiting the Nutrition and Your Child page.