Breastfeeding a Premature Baby
Breastfeeding a Premature Baby

Breastfeeding a Premature Baby

All babies need proper nutrition to grow, but it’s especially important that premature babies gets the nutrients found in breast milk.

When it comes to breastfeeding, preemies and their mothers face a unique set of challenges. We’re breaking down the various aspects of feeding and the best ways to ensure your little one gets the nourishment they need.

Benefits of breastfeeding your preemie

Your preemie has a lot of growing to do and breast milk plays a pivotal role in their development. It’s packed with tons of nutrients and contains special elements which help boost underdeveloped immune systems. It promotes brain development and reduces the risk of allergies, infections, and illnesses in adulthood. Breastfeeding can also foster an emotional bond between mom and baby.

When should I start breastfeeding my preemie?

When it comes to being ready for breastfeeding, every mom and every baby are different. And it may come a little later when you have a premature baby because they are less developed, and you’ve had limited time to start producing milk. That said, it’s not uncommon for moms of preemies to be able to breastfeed their babies from birth.

Problems you may encounter breastfeeding a preemie

Some preemies are simply not strong enough to stay latched on your breast and feed. Another common feeding problem is the interruption of the placental-foetal circulation when the digestive tract is underdeveloped. These issues will generally resolve themselves once your baby has had a little more time to grow. In the meantime, there are ways to ensure they get the nutrition they need.

Recommendations for producing milk

If your preemie can’t breastfeed yet or is still in the

, you can use a breast pump to extract milk. Pumping frequently, at about the rate your baby would feed naturally will help ensure you’re producing a steady milk supply. The milk you extract can be given to them through a bottle or tube at any time.

If for any reason you’re unable to express milk in the first weeks of your preemie’s life, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to later. When the time is right, you can try relactation, the process of resuming the production of breast milk. Nipple stimulation can jumpstart things and can be done through nursing, hand expression, pumping or a combination of these techniques. This will often lead to milk extraction, which signals to your body that it needs to continue producing more milk. It generally takes a few days to a few weeks to completely rebuild your milk supply.

Fortifying breast milk

While breast milk is a nutritional powerhouse, preemies with a very low birth weight need additional nutrients to grow at the optimum rate. If your baby was under 1,500 grams at birth, they require extra protein, phosphates, sodium and calcium. To provide your little one with everything they need, you can fortify your breast milk with nutritional supplements that come in liquid and powder form.

What if breastfeeding isn’t possible?

If breastfeeding isn’t an option, your pediatrician or neonatologist will manage your baby’s feeding to ensure their special nutritional needs are being met. Once your little one is ready to leave the hospital, they will let you know the quantity and frequency of feeds, as well as the specific nutrition they’ll need. Ask your baby’s doctor about supplementing with a formula and preemie formula options that are specifically made for your little one’s needs.

Breast milk is especially important for premature babies. It helps them grow stronger and provides them with immune support and brain-building nutrients. Breastfeeding a preemie isn’t always easy, but luckily there are ways to ensure they get the milk they need.