Breastfeeding a premature baby: Here’s all you need to know
By NCVC Staff | Published on Sep 27, 2023
Premature babies need a lot of special care and attention, especially when it comes to breastfeeding. If they are born too early (before 37 weeks of pregnancy), they can be very small or sick, and they may not be able to breastfeed at first. But the nutrition that comes from breast milk is extremely important for your newborn. Premature babies are more vulnerable to diseases and allergies, and breast milk can protect them against such health complications. But the question is “How to feed your premature baby effectively, especially when they are unable to or refuse your breast?” It can be challenging, but there are certain techniques that can help you do so. Breastfeeding a premature baby will help in their growth and development.
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Feeding techniques for your premature baby
Mothers with premature babies have a slightly different composition of milk than a mother with full term delivery. Premature breast milk is high in protein and minerals like salt, and the types of fat it contains can easily be digested and absorbed by your baby. There are a number of ways to introduce your baby to the breastfeeding habit as it provides the best nourishment for your baby.
Here are some ways you can feed your premature baby:
1. Tube Feeding your baby
The first step in feeding your baby is to seek the help of professionals at the hospital. Premature babies are usually taken care of in the NICU of the hospital. Premature babies do not naturally know how to suck and swallow milk out of their mother’s breast if they are born before 34-36 weeks. If your baby is born before 34 weeks, you may have to use a feeding tube to feed them. This tube goes through their nose or mouth to their stomach. The hospital staff will be assisting you with this.
2. Oral/Paladai feeding
Premature baby in the range of 33-36 week while transitioning from tube feed to breast feed will require oral feeding which is done through Paladai or spoon. Once this feed is established, the baby can be gradually introduced to breast feeding and progress to exclusive breastfeeding.
3. Expressing milk
Expressing is a technique in which you squeeze the milk from your breast and store it to feed your baby. It is recommended that you express milk often ( at least 8 times a day to keep up your supply). Breastmilk can be expressed either by hand or with a breast pump. The expressed milk can then be fed to your premature baby.
4. Using donor breast milk
Some hospitals also offer this option. You can opt to feed your baby with donated milk until your own supply is established. Or your baby can also be fed with baby formula.
5. Make progress
While you are opting for these methods of feeding your baby, you should also slowly try to introduce your baby to the habit of getting it directly from your breast. You can bring your baby near your breast and see if they are gradually learning to do it. Licking your breast at first and then a few sucks are good signs.
6. Skin to skin contact is important
Skin to skin contact between the mother and the baby has a number of positive effects on the baby’s health. This will not only help you establish a bond; it will also reduce stress and promote healthy weight gain in your baby. It helps in establishing breastfeeding and will also improve the baby’s heart rate and breathing.
7. An expert’s support
Having your paediatrician or lactation consultant by your side always helps when it comes to getting valuable advice. Ask them for the best way to take care of your baby.
Breastfeeding and taking care of a premature baby can be emotionally and physically taxing for any new mother. Spend loads of time with your child as it helps in establishing a bond and promoting milk supply. Make sure to take care of your physical and mental health during this time, as it has a direct influence on your baby’s health. No matter how stressful the time is, you need to keep it cool, and the best way to do it is to surround yourself with supportive people.