Should I Breastfeed My Preemie?
Why It's Important!
"After all the insecurities of delivering a premature baby, one of the most important things I felt I could give my baby was my breast milk. It was my way of bonding with him in a way that no one else could. It was the special touch I felt he needed to thrive and grow. It was what kept me from falling apart during his time in the neonatal intensive care unit." -Anonymous mother
Breast milk is great for all newborns, but it can do wonders for a premature baby. Research shows that the breast milk mothers make for their premature babies is different from the milk that mothers make when their babies are born at term. A mother's body will automatically produce milk that's specially designed to nourish premature babies.
Scientist have found that there are over a hundred different good things in breast milk. Proteins, enzymes, antibodies and vitamins will all help protect your premature baby against illnesses and infections. This is particularly important for premature babies because their immune systems are not yet strong or mature enough to fight off germs.
Expressing Your Breast Milk
Premature babies may be born too small to breastfeed, so moms must express breast milk in order to establish a milk supply. Many neonatal ICU staff will feed your baby through a nasogastric (NG) tube with the breast milk that you have expressed. It is important for you to try to express your breast milk at least eight to ten times a day and it is very important to express at least once during the night.
There are several methods in which to express your breast milk. One way is by hand. Using a small plastic handheld pump you can be discreet by using a shawl over your shoulder. You may also be able to use an electric breast pump that is available from the hospital. The hospital may have one that you can rent or borrow to use at home. Some electric pumps are designed so you can pump both your breasts at once, which can save a great deal of time.
If gentle hand massage and expressing does not help you make more milk in the usual way, medication can help produce milk and is available with the approval of her doctor.
Breast Milk Storage
Perhaps for the first few weeks you may only be making a small amount of breast milk. But as you become more experienced with the process you will make more milk. Expressing as much milk as possible at any feeding will not be a waste. Refrigerate milk within one hour after expressing. Use or freeze the milk within 48 hours. Frozen breast milk should be used within two to three months.
If you are having any difficulty or are unsure of how you are doing, seek help from the staff in the neonatal ICU or consult the hospital lactation specialist.
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