Breastfeeding premature babies
You might be preparing yourself for the probability of your baby being born prematurely, but did you know what you can breastfeed your premature baby?
Most pregnancies last 40 weeks. A premature or pre-term baby is a baby born before the 37th week. Fortunately, thanks to modern medicine, 90% of premature babies survive and go on to live normal lives. Very premature babies are at a higher risk of developmental problems, being born at 23 to 24 weeks. Babies born before 32 weeks may need to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) until they have developed enough to survive on their own.
Importance of breastmilk for premature babies
Breastmilk is extremely beneficial for newborns. DHA (a fatty acid vital for healthy brain and eye development) and immunoglobulin G (an antibody) are transported from mummy to foetus via the placenta throughout pregnancy. But since premature babies arrive early, they may not have received these important factors. However, the milk from the mums of premature babies contains more fats and immunoglobulin than milk from full-term babies.
Premature babies also have immature gastrointestinal tracts, so they need foods that are easy for them to digest. Breastmilk contains enzymes that help your baby with digestion and helps their intestines mature.
Breastmilk is extremely important for premature babies. You might want to consider donor milk from the milk bank if it is available to you to help to bridge the gap, rather than using formula.
Will I have milk
After the placenta is delivered after the baby is born, your pregnancy hormones drop, triggering colostrum production. Usually, a mum’s milk supply will be triggered by her newborn baby latching onto her breast and sucking, but if your baby comes early, he might not be able to feed at first.
You can reproduce the sensations by stimulating your breast and nipples with your hands or by using a pump, to collect colostrum to give your baby.
What if my preemie can’t feed from the breast?
Many babies born before 34 weeks struggle to coordinate their sucking, swallowing, and breathing. Until they have developed enough to do this, nurses will place a tube into their tummy to feed them. In this case, continue to pump and express milk until you can feed them. Talk to your healthcare professionals to find out how you can give your child breastmilk.
Hospital policy on breastfeeding preemies
Breastmilk is important for the best growth and development for your newborn, and especially so for premature babies. However, there are a few reasons why hospitals don’t encourage it.
Breastfeeding may not be a priority for hospital staff who are focused on other aspects of care; premature babies often have significant medical problems and needs.
Hospital routines also make it difficult for mothers to establish milk production and get the baby latching well. It’s also a difficult time for mothers, who will be worrying about the baby. Hence, they might not be able to build a good milk supply.
Kangaroo care is when parents keep their newborn skin-to-skin against their bare chests for extended periods, as it helps to calm and regulate the baby’s breathing and heartbeat. Preemies with kangaroo care often have better health. If possible, you can even breastfeed your premature baby during kangaroo care.
Looking after yourself
Recovery from pregnancy and birth is not easy, but the added stress from your baby being in the NICU can really make it difficult. It’s important to remember to look after yourself. The more smoothly you recover, the more strength and energy you must be involved in your baby’s care. This is the best time to say yes to as many offers of help as you can. It’ll make things easier for you and keep you going at a difficult time.