Babies need the right nutrition to grow and develop. In the
NICU, there are several different ways to feed a baby.
How your baby is fed depends on his/her age, weight,
and medical condition. There are two main ways of
feeding: enteral and parenteral. Talk to your health
care team about which way is right for your baby

Enteral Nutrition
Feeding by mouth
Some babies in the NICU are ready to eat by
mouth as soon as they are born. These babies
may be fed breast milk or formula. In either
case, babies in the NICU often need extra
supplements to get the calories, vitamins, and
minerals they need.

Feeding by tube
Babies with working digestive systems who are
unable to feed by mouth may need to be fed
by tube. The tube carries breast milk or formula
directly into the baby’s stomach. There are two
main types of feeding tubes:
• Tubes that go through the baby’s mouth
(orogastric or OG tubes)
• Tubes that go through the baby’s nose
(nasogastric or NG tubes)

When is tube feeding used?
Tube feeding is most often used in premature babies. The ability to coordinate sucking,
swallowing, and breathing doesn’t usually develop until 34 to 36 weeks’ gestational age. Tube
feeding is also used for babies with medical problems that make feeding by mouth difficult.
Feeding by tube
Babies with working digestive systems who are
unable to feed by mouth may need to be fed
by tube. The tube carries breast milk or formula
directly into the baby’s stomach. There are two
main types of feeding tubes:
• Tubes that go through the baby’s mouth
(orogastric or OG tubes)
• Tubes that go through the baby’s nose
(nasogastric or NG tubes)
How long will my baby be fed by tube?
If the baby is premature, tube feeding will be used until the baby is capable of eating by mouth.
If the baby has a medical problem, tube feeding will be used as long as needed.

Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN)
What is TPN?
With TPN, the baby receives nutrition through a vein
(intravenously). TPN uses a special fluid that is similar
to breast milk and formula. It contains the carbohydrates
(sugar), protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals that your baby
needs in a form that can be given intravenously.

When is TPN Used?
TPN is usually used when the baby’s digestive system is
immature or doesn’t work properly or when the baby has
had certain types of surgery.
How long will my baby be fed with TPN?
TPN may be needed for a few days or for several months.
It depends on the baby and the baby’s health. For most
babies, the goal is to move to enteral feeding when possible

What will happen next?
Your NICU team will include at least one nutritionist or
dietician. That person will help decide which type of feeding
is right for your baby. Talk to your health care team if you
have any questions about your baby’s nutrition.

Glossary
Digestive system – group of
organs that processes food. It
includes the mouth, stomach,
liver, pancreas, and intestines
Enteral – through the
digestive system
Intravenous – through a vein
Nasogastric – from the nose to the
digestive system
Orogastric – from the mouth to the
digestive system
Parenteral – not through the
digestive system

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