Breastfeeding is important and beneficial for all babies, more so if the baby arrives early. It is best that a premature baby can take advantage of the milk that your body will automatically produce to nourish a premature baby, with extra vitamins, protein and calories. Colostrum, or the first milk, is specifically important for a premature baby as it contains antibodies, white blood cells and other protective ingredients that are more vital to a preemie to resist infection.
At the hospital it is a standard practice to start feeding a preemie with milk expressed from the mother through a nasogastric (NG) tube called a gavage. This is to ensure that the baby will get as much nourishment as possible at the earliest time if he is not able to suckle.
Here are some steps to help you understand how you can initially feed your preemie with breast milk until you can teach him to suckle and breastfeed.
- You will have to work closely with the hospital staff to make a plan to feed your baby with your pumped breast milk since he may not be ready to start breastfeeding while still in the hospital. A preemie will only be released if he starts to stabilize and gain weight from bottle- or breast- feeding.
- Even if your baby starts nursing at your breast, he may not take that much milk during each feeding until they come closer to their full term. To encourage milk production, you have to continue to express your milk using a breast pump after each feeding. Be prepared too to nurse your baby more frequently to get his full daily nutritional requirement.
- Most preemies are quiet and there is barely noticeable indication that he is hungry, so you have to anticipate the time when he gets hungry and feed him accordingly. You have to work with a pediatrician to monitor your baby’s weight gain. He may suggest that you alternate the breastfeeding with an infant formula or fortify your breast milk with additional supplements. In some cases you may have to rent an electronic scale so you can check your baby’s weight before and after feeding to know how much milk he is taking.
- Schedule feeding sessions at least every three hours or 8 feedings in 24 hours. This is not a set schedule. Your baby may want to be fed every two hours. At times you may have to wake the baby up so you can feed him. It may even prove to be effective since disturbing his nap can actually trigger the instinct to suckle.
- In Australia, there is a practice called kangaroo care which is a way of holding the baby skin to skin with the mother which eases breastfeeding. Mothers who have practiced kangaroo care have increased milk supplies while the babies who were kangarooed breastfeed better.
Feeding and taking care of a preemie is time consuming. It will require a lot more love, care and patience until he reaches his full term. Work closely with the hospital staff assigned to the pediatric unit and gain as much information as you can from them. Read up on helpful articles to guide you, join a support group and take care of yourself, too.