Breast milk is always best, and this is even more true with a preemie. Premature babies are delivered to the world a little early and need some extra help, love, and care. Some preemies are born incredibly early, and it might take weeks before they can suckle and latch correctly. Until then, you will need to ensure your milk supply comes in and stays steady, which is not an easy task.
With some hard work and dedication, you can breastfeed your preemie.
Why Breast Is Best For Preemies
Breastmilk is perfectly suited to your baby’s needs. It helps provide your baby with the right nutritional contents and helps to protect them from illness and infection. Your milk will be different when you have a premature baby, compared to being full-term.
Your colostrum, which is your first milk, will contain more protein than that of full-term mothers. This is because preemie babies need more proteins to help them grow. Your milk will also be higher in fat and contain less lactose, as preemie babies battle to digest lactose. Lysozyme is another enzyme which is more concentrated in preemie milk, it attacks bacteria and helps your preemie baby fight off infection.
All these benefits of preemie milk make it so important to try and provide it to your little one, giving them everything they need to grow.
Expressing for A Preemie
If your preemie is born before 36 weeks, they might not be able to suckle milk yet. It might take them weeks to get to this point, so you will have to express routinely to help provide milk for your baby, and to ensure your milk supply is steady.
If your baby is not able to suckle, they can be fed breastmilk through a tube which runs down the nose to the stomach, or from a bottle or cup. In order to provide this milk, you will need to express using an electric or hand-held pump. You will need to start expressing soon after your baby is born and keep it up every 2-4 hours, mimicking a baby’s feeding pattern, in order to keep your milk supply up.
This is quite a task, but it does give you something to do when you can’t breastfeed. Many moms battle with engorged breasts or cracked and sore nipples, so nipple cream and some nipple cushions can help provide some much-needed relief and comfort.
When A Preemie Starts To Breastfeed
Skin to skin contact is a wonderful way to get your baby comfortable. It encourages bonding between mother and child and can even encourage milk production.
Once your preemie is ready to start breastfeeding, it might be a really slow process. Preemie babies can become tired quite easily, and learning to breastfeed can be difficult. You might find at first that they only manage to suckle on your breast for a short while before having to be fed through a tube. Slow progress is still progress, so stick it out and you will be happy that you did.
If you feel like you need some extra help or encouragement, look to nursing staff, a lactation consultant or a support group. They are so helpful and might be the bit of motivation and care that you need to keep on.