by Allison Micarelli-Sokoloff
February 19, 2013
Premature babies can breastfeed even if they are born very early and need special care. While human milk is important to the health of all newborns, preemies benefit most from the infection protection human milk provides. All babies, including those born premature, have immature digestive systems making human milk the ideal food. Human milk also adjusts to the individual needs babies regardless of when they are born (preterm, near term, or full term). So there is no need to worry about meeting your baby’s nutritional needs.
Breastfeeding a healthy, full-term baby can be challenging for many new moms. And breastfeeding a preemie, especially one who may need intensive care, can feel overwhelming. Your medical team at the hospital, your health care provider, your baby’s health care provider, and your family can help you develop realistic breastfeeding goals.
Here are some tips from Amy Spangler’s BREASTFEEDING: A Parent’s Guide for feeding a baby who can’t breastfeed—yet:
Once your baby is ready to start breastfeeding, you will want to try a variety of positions to see which ones work best. Regardless of which positions you choose, make sure your baby’s back, shoulders, and head are well supported. For babies with weak muscles, you may want to support his chin with your thumb and forefinger forming a u-shape called the “dancer hand.”
At first, your baby may just lick and swallow the milk (as opposed to suckle and swallow). Eventually, all babies will learn to suckle and swallow as their muscles get stronger and they become more accustomed to breastfeeding. As your baby’s suckling slows down, you can massage or compress your breast to increase the flow of milk . This will also ensure that your baby gets the high fat hindmilk and the calories he needs to grow.
It is important to give your baby a chance to breastfeed, but if you don’t hear him swallow, the nurse will give him your milk through his feeding tube, while you pump to maintain your milk supply.
At first, your baby is likely to be able to breastfeed only once a day; the rest of his feedings will be through his feeding tube. As your baby grows, so will his ability to handle more feedings at the breast.
Learn more about breastfeeding your preemie in BREASTFEEDING: A Parent’s Guide.
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