Tips for breastfeeding a premature baby

Dr Anuradha Lokare
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Dr Anuradha Lokare

Highlights

Breastfeeding is one of the important factors for a newborn and the mother. Especially when it is a premature baby, introducing the baby to mother's breast milk takes a lot of effort.

Breastfeeding is one of the important factors for a newborn and the mother. Especially when it is a premature baby, introducing the baby to mother's breast milk takes a lot of effort. Breastfeeding can act as a shield to protect premature babies from most of the health issues they develop in the initial stages. If the baby is premature and accepts mother's milk, it helps in reducing problems like gut gangrene and infection, thus aiding in quick recovery and early discharge.

Babies are considered to be pre-term if they are born before the 37th week of pregnancy. If the babies are delivered before 33 weeks, they are not strong enough to be breastfed thus keeping them away from the required nutrition. Until about 32 weeks, babies cannot coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing during breastfeed or bottle feed. The reflex of sucking and swallowing is established only after 34 weeks. Hence, mothers' need to extract the breast milk to feed the baby.

Preterm can be divided into 3 different categories.

1. Extreme preterm – babies born in less than 28 weeks

2. Very preterm – babies born between 28-32 weeks

3. Moderate to late preterm – babies born between 32 to 37 weeks

It is important to understand that the feeding procedure could be different for different gestation periods. Although breastfeeding a premature baby is not always easy, following these tips can help you get your preemie breastfeeding experience off to a good start.

Pump it and save it

Premature babies can't always nurse effectively. The mothers have to pump the milk which will then be fed to the babies through the feeding tube.

Child delivery can be an overwhelming experience. However, trying to pump the breast milk within a few hours of delivery is important for the better breastfeeding outcome. Also, it is crucial to pump the milk often as the baby needs frequent feeding. Preemie moms may have to pump milk about 8 times a day.

Read about breastfeeding:

Although breastfeeding is a natural process, it may not come naturally for all. Therefore, it is crucial to read about breastfeeding and also consulting the lactation consultant. They will help the preemie mom to breastfeed effectively. The first drops of milk which is secreted is called the colostrum which is rich in antibodies and is important to feed it to the baby .

Skin to skin contact:

Irrespective of the birth weight, skin to skin contact of the mother and baby helps in ensuring warmth and aids in initiation of breastfeeding.

Feeding from the breast

Once the premature baby is more than 34 weeks of gestational age, while holding the baby, they may try to move towards the breast. As they grow stronger, these babies can be breast fed directly. In this stage breastfeeding and tube feeding can be combined.

Breast Milk is vital to the baby. Every drop of milk that the baby gets is like medicine – strengthening and building their immune system and providing the nutrition they need to grow.

(The author is Consultant-OBG, Columbia Asia Hospital Hebbal, Bengaluru)

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