Breastfeeding a premature baby is one of the most important things a mother can do for her child. Indeed, it is quite normal for a healthcare team to encourage mum to breastfeed after giving birth to a premature child, even if doing so was not part of her original plan. It turns out that breastmilk is the best kind of food for a premature baby who did not fully develop in the womb.
Breast milk contains hormones and growth factors that will help the baby's digestive tract fully develop. It also contains the extra calories, vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients premature babies need to grow. Tying it all together is the fact that breastmilk is much easier to digest than infant formula. A premature baby who is successfully breastfed tends to do much better during the early stages of development than one who is fed primarily with infant formula.
We should note that breastfeeding is usually reserved for babies born at or after 34 weeks. Prior to 34 weeks, it is up to the healthcare team to determine whether the premature baby is capable of consuming breastmilk. If not, the team will devise another means of feeding the child that is best for him or her at that time.
Breastfeeding a newborn baby seems so natural that we expect every mother to just be able to do it. Yet it turns out that breastfeeding is not as simple as that. Even when a baby is born full-term, mum can suffer from all sorts of anxiety that prevents her body from producing enough milk. Furthermore, some babies may have difficulty feeding if they sense that mum is anxious. When a baby is premature, additional complications may make breastfeeding more challenging. But the new mother should not give up.
Though your own experiences may be somewhat different, the average mother of a premature baby can expect the following:
A premature baby may need to be directed toward the breast until he or she is strong enough to move directly and independently. This is to be expected. Furthermore, it may take several feedings before the little one has the confidence to continue feeding until full.
Should a premature baby not be able to breastfeed because of size, early term or any sort of complication, there are options. The best option is for mum to express her milk which can then be fed to the child. Expressing milk is also good for mum in that it will help her lose weight and strengthen the bond between her and her baby, even though breastfeeding is not yet taking place.
Mum can express her milk using an electric or manual breast pump. Some hospitals keep pumps on hand to loan to mothers while they are in the hospital. If that's not possible, pumps can be purchased by the mother.
What happens if mum cannot produce enough breastmilk by herself? Again, there are options:
Even if a premature baby cannot breastfeed right away, chances are things will improve over time. This is why it is so important for mothers to express their milk even if they are not breastfeeding. If milk is not expressed, the mother's body will gradually shut down the production process to the point of the milk supply drying up. At that point, it would be impossible for breastfeeding to take place.
Breastfeeding premature babies is possible. In fact, experts prefer it that way. Breastmilk is the best food a new baby can consume in the first several months of life. It's even more important for premature babies to help encourage rapid and healthy development.