Breastfeeding Preemies

Breastfeeding a premature baby ( Breastfeeding preemies )

When you have a premature birth you are thrown into a situation where your baby might be sent into intensive care and might even be hooked up to breathing tubes... Mothers are often released from hospital before their baby is ready to go home with them. This can be a very traumatic time, specially if the hospital is not near your home. So now maybe you are asking yourself whether you can still breastfeed baby.

Yes, you can still breastfeed your baby.

Advantages of breastfeeding preemies

- Breast milk contains all the important antibodies that a premature baby would need to resist infection.

- Studies have even shown that breastfeeding a premature baby can improve his neurological development.

- Breast milk is also much easier than formula for a premature baby to digest.

- Your body will automatically produce milk that's specifically designed to nourish your premature baby, with added calories, vitamins, and protein for premature baby development

- Breast milk also contains proteins that promote growth

So you may be asking “How?”

- You will need to use a breast pump until your baby is mature enough to start feeding on your breasts. (Exclusive pumping guidelines)

- The milk that has been pumped can be given to your baby via a gavage tube. (Tube that is put directly into baby’s tummy)

- After 32 weeks baby can be cup fed , to get ready for breastfeeding

- You will need to start expressing your milk the day after baby’s birth.

- You will have to use a good hospital grade pump. You'll also ultimately want to rent one to use for the first few weeks at home, until you're certain your baby is feeding well at your breast

- You should try to express at least 8 times every 24 hours and each time for as long as it takes to empty each breast.

- Once you start to express about 800ml of milk per day you can start expressing less (about 6 times a day)

- Expressing should continue until baby has a good strong suck, otherwise your breasts won't be stimulated enough to enable let down of milk.

- Make sure that when you do breastfeed again that you let your baby finish one breast before giving him the other one, this is so that you can build milk supply

- A daily weight gain of 25g is good. A breast milk fortifier should be added to the expressed breast milk of a low birth-weight infant. It will provide extra calories, calcium and phosphorous.

- Breastfeeding preemies usually feed well in the football hold position - tucked under your arm with his body supported by a pillow.

Milk storage

- The hospital should make provision so that you can refrigerate or freeze the milk until needed. Just make sure you label it and put the date on the bag or bottle. Fresh milk can be stored for 6 hours in room temperature, 3-4 days in the refrigerator and two weeks frozen.

- Defrost the frozen milk under warm water not hot water.

- Do not microwave breast milk to heat or thaw it, it will destroy some of its benefits.

- Breast milk storage guidelines

Things that could affect breastfeeding due to baby being premature:

- Sucking and swallowing problems: Most premature infants have problems with sucking. During tube feeding, the baby’s lips should touch the nipple. Training baby to latch takes time, but the smell and taste of the breast milk and the contact between mother and baby will help increase milk production. You will need to pump after feedings to keep up your milk production.

- Tongue thrusting: Baby repeatedly thrusts out his tongue while trying to latch on to the breast. Other tongue problems discussed here.

- A premature baby has a higher chance of being allergic to certain foods... read more on breastfeeding a food allergic baby

- Preemies are more prone to acid reflux - read more on breastfeeding a baby with acid reflux here

- Wet lung syndrome

- Heat loss

- Premature babies have weak neck muscles, so mother will have to support the neck of baby by placing her hand behind the neck and her index finger and thumb lightly over the ears

- Some premature babies might fall asleep more often during feedings or even before mom gets a chance to feed. Read more here on how to wake a sleepy baby for breastfeeding

Breastfeeding preemies with Kangaroo Care:

- Baby wears only a nappy and a hat, he is placed against moms skin underneath her clothing so that baby can breastfeed any time he wants to

- A baby cared for in this way will maintain his body temperature

- Babies cared for in this way also cry less and sleep more

- This method has also been found to increase the moms breast milk supply by 50%

- Daddies can also use this method for bonding

More on Kangaroo preemie care here

Signs that preemie babies are ready to breastfeed:

- Your baby will start to turn his head when you touch his mouth or cheek and will open his mouth

- Your baby has the ability to latch on to a normal bottle and suck

- Your baby is more awake during feedings

- Your baby seems comfortable during feedings


It can be helpful to stay in contact with other parents with premature children that have the same breastfeeding issues and some that have already gone through breastfeeding preemies

More help and information on breastfeeding preemies at la leche league


Many moms feel that they want to give up on breastfeeding after a while due to the many different difficulties they might be experiencing during breastfeeding, but can I please encourage you to read our page on the benefits of breastfeeding, not just for your baby, but for your sake too.


Other pages on “Breastfeeding problems” in connection with this page

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Site by BFeeding Mamma, Tracy Behr. Currently studying through Child birth International (CBC, CBD). Also an accomplished author and Mommy of two.

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