Breastfeeding a Premature Baby
Was your baby born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy)? Did you breastfeed your baby? Did you receive extra help or support to do this (perhaps from special care nurses or a lactation consultant)? We would love to hear about your experiences with this.
Breastmilk is the best milk for all babies and this is especially the case with premature babies. In fact, the breastmilk produced by the mums of premature babies is different to the breastmilk produced for full-term babies (i.e. babies born from 37 weeks of pregnancy). Breastmilk produced before 37 weeks gestation is higher in calorie content and contains the fats that the baby would have been receiving from the placenta in the last weeks of pregnancy. This breastmilk also contains enzymes which help to develop a premature baby's stomach. This is alongside all the usual breastmilk advantages such as increased immunity to illnesses (which is particularly important for premature babies) and wonderful bonding times between mum and baby.
If you and your baby can, it is best if you can breastfeed your premature baby directly at the breast. This can help with bonding and the extra skin to skin contact helps to relax your baby.
However, some premature babies will not be able to drink directly from the breast at first. This may be because of special equipment needed to support them or it may be because they are born too early to suck well. Babies generally begin sucking well from 34-36 weeks. Before this time babies can be given expressed breastmilk through a special feeding tube.
Please be encouraged if you have a premature baby. You can still give your baby expressed breastmilk if they cannot be fed directly at the breast and many, many women who have a premature baby successfully breastfeed. It is wise to get all the extra support and help you can from professionals such as; special care nurses, lactation consultants, specially trained breastfeeding midwives and breastfeeding peer support workers.
If you are expressing your breastmilk for your premature baby then (unless they are drinking directly from the breast) it is best to start pumping as soon as possible following the birth. A hospital grade pump is best in these circumstances and a double pump is best so that you can express from both breasts at once. You should aim to pump at least every 2-3 hours (in the day and night) and for at least 15-20 minutes at each session. If you can, pumping in view of your baby can help with your letdown. These early days are vital with breastmilk expressing as in the first 2 weeks your body is setting up the breastmilk amount for the first 6 months of life.
Most mums of premature babies find it beneficial to keep a expressing diary in order to keep track of how often and how long you have expressed for. You also need to carefully label your breastmilk with the date and ideally time it was expressed. The first milk (colostrum) will be fed to your baby first.
Breastmilk is the best milk for your baby to have. There are immense advantages to a premature baby having breastmilk and you should be fully supported to do this.
Please do share your premature baby breastfeeding stories and experiences here.
We wish you all the best with breastfeeding your baby.