Breastfeeding Tips when Nursing Premature Babies
My baby was born premature and is too young to nurse directly at this point. What do you recommend if I would like to breastfeed but directly nursing premature baby is not an option this point because she is too young?
Breast is Best
The medical advice, “breast is best!” is even more important for premature babies. Here’s why.
- Smart fats. The brain-building fats in breastmilk, DHA, are especially important for brain and visual development. This smart fat seems to be the main reason why all babies, especially premature babies, who are breastfed have better intellectual and visual development.
- Smarter proteins. Besides more smart fats, your premature baby needs more protein to grow. Besides the fat in human milk is better absorbed, so is the protein.
- Protection against infection. A serious intestinal infection, particularly in premature babies, is called necrotizing enterocolitis. As you will learn below, breastmilk seeds the premature gut garden with immune-boosters that protect against intestinal infection. This is the most unique factor in human milk.
- I love mom. One of the newest discoveries about why breast milk is best for premature babies is the microbiota. It’s called M.O.M., Milk-Oriented Microbiota, which is special foods, like seeds, to grow a healthy gut lining. (For more about M.O.M. go to AskDrSears.com/drpoo).
If Baby is Too Premature for Direct Breastfeeding
With these motivating factors in mind, here are some options for you if your baby is not able to suck yet from your breasts:
- Pump as soon as possible. Start pumping for your premature as soon as you are able. First drops of colostrum that you produce are literally “liquid gold,” especially for a preemie baby. Ask that your baby is given your colostrum at her very first tube or oral feeding. If your baby is still in the hospital and you are already home, pump at the hospital when you visit your baby and then the nurses will be able to give her your milk only minutes after it has left your breasts. Just being in eye-contact and touch with your beautiful baby makes you likely to pump more milk, which is why many mothers prefer to pump right at their baby’s bedside.
- Use donor milk. Because of the recent discoveries that breastmilk seeds the growing gut garden, especially protecting premature babies from intestinal infections, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently advised that donor milk be the second-best milk for babies if mother’s milk is not available. So, if you’re unable to pump enough during the early weeks, ask a breastfeeding friend who you know well to pump and become a “milk mom.”
In our pediatric practice, we keep a list of “milk moms” who are delighted to become milk donors as they feel an extra dose of the “helper’s high” by donating their milk as special “medicine” to help the premature baby get a smart start in life. Medical care in a premature nursery is generally at a very high standard so that once your baby is taking oral feedings the medical staff will probably tell you how many ounces per pound your baby will need. In general, your baby will need three ounces of your pumped milk or donor milk per pound of body weight per day during the first month or two.
The more hours your baby can spend cheek-to-breast will not only encourage your milk to flow more freely, but mother’s warm, loving body is a baby’s best incubator.
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”