Premature babies don’t have the muscular strength to suckle (the more premature the baby, the more difficulty he/she will have). They can’t co-ordinate sucking and swallowing, and extremely premature babies still can’t absorb nutrients into the digestive system.
The liver is underdeveloped and large amounts of bilirubin are secreted into the bloodstream (ie the right amount for a normal baby is too much for a premature baby’s system to cope with). This is what causes premature babies to turn yellow. The baby can have several ‘tanning sessions’ where he/she is exposed to light, wearing tiny sunglasses!
They are fed through a tube inserted into the stomach and sometimes supplemented by IV. What really tiny babies need is their mother’s milk, which is perfectly adapted to his/her digestive system and contains antibodies to protect against infections. The mother’s milk can be extracted and fed to the baby through a tube, and it’s important to breast-feed premature babies regularly as soon as they can take milk (the medical team will tell you when the baby is ready). As premature babies become stronger they will be able to suckle easier, and breast milk will give them a real head start.