Waiting to start breastfeeding your premature baby requires patience, especially if your baby was born before 36 weeks. Breast milk has a special benefit for premature infants. Premature babies are those who are delivered before 37 weeks of gestation. The mother’s milk, under such circumstances, helps in supplying important nutrients to the premature infant this is like liquid gold to your baby. These nutrients help the premature infant to not only survive but also develop a strong immunity against possible infections. Whether or not your baby is ready to nurse at your breast right away will depend on his gestational age and overall health.
At many hospitals it’s standard practice to start off feeding very premature babies expressed breast milk through a nasogastric (NG) tube (known as gavage). This is to make sure the baby gets as much nourishment as possible if they are too immature to suckle from breast or bottle. Even if you plan to breastfeed, you may need to bottle feed your premmie at times in the NICU. Bottle feeding allows NICU staff to know exactly how much milk a premature baby is taking in, and it allows nurses to fortify breast milk by adding extra calories if needed.
Once your baby is ready to move on to the breast, learning how to latch on and suck can be difficult. Most babies don’t develop the suck-swallow-breathe reflex that’s critical for feeding until about week 32 in the womb, eight weeks before they’re considered full-term. It can also be challenging to figure out whether your baby is getting enough by breast alone if you’re used to supplementing feeding.
Another method used by nurses in the NICU in the lead up to breastfeeding the baby is given a small dummy to suckle at each galvage feed to help the baby associate sucking with a full tummy. You are usually given this option by the doctors & nurses and it is your choice whether you wish to go down this path.
Some mothers produce an adequate supply of breast milk, and a few produce more than enough, others struggle to express sufficient for their baby’s needs. Your baby can benefit from receiving their own mother’s milk even if it is not directly from the breast. You will look forward to the day when you can put your baby to the breast and remember that you are doing your very best in helping your baby grow so be proud of yourself for enduring the many hours of expressing &/or breastfeeding for your precious premmie.
You should speak with your paediatrician, lactation consultant or neonatal nurse for advice and assistance about breastfeeding &/or about ways to increase or maintain your supply if you are expressing for months at a time.
The subject matter provided in these articles is strictly for informational purposes alone and should never be used in the place of a doctor’s advice. Please ALWAYS contact your doctor if you ever have questions or need advice in any area where medical advice is needed or medication is suggested.