All babies can benefit from breastfeeding. Although formula does an adequate job, breast milk is specially tailored to meet a baby’s needs. Breast milk isn’t just a source of calories, vitamins, sugar and protein – it also includes things like digestive enzymes, hormones, antibodies and lymphocytes that cannot be found in formula. These antibodies and lymphocytes are especially important for premature babies since they have immature immune systems. Premature babies need all the help they can get, which is why you should strongly consider breastfeeding them. Many women find breastfeeding in general to be difficult and more so when dealing with a preemie. Although it may not be easy at first, here are some tips that will hopefully help you ease into breastfeeding your preemie.
1. Talk to a lactation consultant. Just because breastfeeding is a natural thing does not mean it will come naturally. There is no shame in needing some help. A lactation consultant can be a wonderful source of support and information.
2. Babies born earlier than 37 weeks may not be able to nurse or suck from a bottle. If that’s the case, they’ll be fed via a feeding tube. You can still give your baby breast milk, but you’ll have to use a breast pump. To help establish your breast milk supply, it’s a good idea to start pumping as soon as possible – within six hours of birth ideally.
3. You will need to pump your breasts often in order to provide your baby with enough milk and to keep the milk supply going. It’s a good idea to pump around eight times a day – every two to three hours during the day and every three to four hours during the night.
4. Practice kangaroo care with your preemie. Kangaroo care is when you strip the baby down to a diaper and hold them against your bare chest. Kangaroo care will help you and your baby bond, increase your milk supply, help your baby to breathe better, gain weight and have stable temperatures. When your preemie beings to nurse, it will also encourage them to breastfeed better and more often.
5. There may not be many chances to hold your preemie baby since they spend most of the time sleeping. If they’re in an incubator, the opportunities to hold them may be even fewer. However, all babies need to be changed and assessed several times during the day – ask the nurse if you can be present during these times so you can hold and touch your baby. If your baby is being fed via a feeding tube, ask if it would be possible to hold your baby during the feeding so the baby will associate being fed with being in your arms.
6. If you’re having trouble with your milk supply, there are several things you can try. For example, women have been using the herb fenugreek for centuries to increase their milk supply. You can also try brewer’s yeast, blessed thistle, or Metoclopraminde. Always consult your doctor before trying out any herbal or medicinal remedies.