Latching Preemies

Latching a Preterm Baby

latching Preemies

How to Breastfeed a Premature Baby

A preemie baby usually needs additional support, of the neck and jaw during feeding, compared to their full term, larger counterparts.

The mother will need to find a nursing position that allows for proper support and visibility of her baby’s head and mouth. The cross cradle-hold and football hold are commonly used to breastfeed premature babies.

The mother needs to support her baby’s head, neck, and trunk, by propping the baby up with pillows, so that the baby is at her nipples level.

The mother can place her palm on her baby’s upper back and support her baby’s neck with her fingers and her thumb behind her baby’s ears. Some infants do not like to be touched on their heads, but in this position, the baby’s head is not touched. 

Breastfeeding a Preterm Baby

how to breastfeed premature baby, breastfeeding preterm baby
  • When latching preemies, expression of a few drops of milk just before a baby latches on, can entice the baby to the breast. The milk can be placed on the baby's lips or the mother's nipple.
  • Sometimes a chin-first latch can be helpful in getting a baby to latch on; this will ensure that more of the areola is taken into the mouth. 
  • The mother can use a U-hold to support her breast. 
  • If the baby is struggling with a weak suck, temporary use of a nipple shield can help. 
  • When breastfeeding a premature baby, breast compressions can encourage the baby to suck; this is especially helpful if the baby is very sleepy
  • Kangaroo mother care is recommended especially for premature babies. It has many advantages, including the fact that it encourages a baby to spend more time at the breast.

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Step by Step Deep Latch Technique 

A deep latch is very important, because not only will the baby get more milk if the baby is latched on deeply, but the mother will less likely have sore nipples. So, in most cases, if the mother will follow a few simple steps, she and her baby can achieve a deep, comfortable latch reasonably quickly and easily.

Firstly, the mother will need to tilt the baby’s head back. Babies are born with a recessed lower jaw. Just think about it, we need to tilt our heads back when we take a bite out of a sandwich, and the same applies when a baby breastfeeds.

The mother should not be leaning forward; she needs to bring her baby to the breast not bring the breast down to the baby; this will prevent backache. It is also best to have your baby at the level of your breast. The mother should preferably have a backrest behind their back and have her feet up on a stool so that her lap is lifted slightly. Some mothers use special breastfeeding pillows, others find it enough to use a ordinary bed pillow.

The mother needs to place her hand at the base of her baby’s head, with her thumb behind her baby’s ear. The other hand needs to be rested in the center of her baby’s back so that the baby’s head can fall back slightly and be supported by her fingers. The heel of your hand should be between the baby’s shoulder blades. This allows the baby a bit of freedom to extend back slightly.

Once the baby’s head is slightly tilted back, the mother can rest her nipple just above the baby’s lip. This allows the baby to open their mouth widely. Only then, when the baby’s mouth is open wide, should the mother bring the baby’s bottom jaw in for the latch. Remember lower jaw first, then upper jaw. The baby has to have a large part of the areola as well as the whole nipple in his/her mouth.

Try to be patient with yourself and your baby; this is a learned skill. You’ll have to be patient as you learn. If you have latched on and the pain seems to be less than usual, or you feel no pain at all, then you know that you have latched your little one on well.

A good, deep latch will create a pull and tug sensation, not a painful sensation. The first few seconds of a latch might cause some discomfort, but this should improve during the feed if the latch is correct.

When latching preemies, the nipple should be round and extended after feeding, not compressed or flat or bent over.

During a feeding, your baby’s mouth should look wide open and not pursed. The baby’s jaw should be well behind the areola. Your baby should be sucking and swallowing.

The Advantages of Breastfeeding a Premature Baby?

Tracy Behr, CBC, CLD (CBI)

Reference: Course information through childbirth International on the physiology of breastfeeding / latching preterm babies.

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