Breastfeeding Preemies

Breastfeeding a Premature Baby

When you experience 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 babies are ready to go home with them. This can be a very traumatic time, specially if the hospital is not near their home. So now maybe you are asking yourself whether you can still breastfeed your 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/her neurological development.
  • Breast milk is also much easier than formula for a premature baby to digest. Read more about gut protection in the breastfed baby. 
  • 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 from 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 a baby’s tummy).
  • After 32 weeks, your baby can be cup fed, to get ready for breastfeeding.
  • You will need to start expressing your milk the day after your 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 that 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 drain each breast.
  • If a mother is capable of expressing 800ml of milk per day, she can start expressing less (about 6 times a day).
  • Expressing should continue until the baby has a good strong suck, otherwise your breasts will not be stimulated enough to enable a "let down" of milk.
  • 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/her body supported by a pillow.

Milk Storage

  • The hospital should make provision for refrigeration of the milk until needed. Label the expressed milk with your baby's information and date/time of expression. 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 discussed. 

Other Breastfeeding problems in Connection with Premature Birth

Breastfeeding Preemies and Kangaroo Care

  • The baby wears only a nappy and a hat, he/she is placed against the mother's skin, so that her baby can breastfeed anytime he/she wants to.
  • A baby cared for in this way will maintain body temperature.
  • Babies cared for in this way will also cry less and sleep more.
  • This method has also been found to increase the mother's breast milk supply by 50%.
  • Daddies can also use this method to encourage bonding.

Signs that Preemie Babies are Ready to Breastfeed

  • Your baby will start to turn his/her head when you touch their mouth or cheek, and will open his/her 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 of premature children. Surround yourself with those who have experienced the same breastfeeding issues in connection with breastfeeding preemies.

More help and information about breastfeeding preemies at la leche league.

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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