Breastfeeding Your Premature Baby

Giving birth to a premature or other high-risk baby or babies does not mean that you can't breastfeed. In fact, it's important that you do provide your own milk and breastfeed. Providing your milk for your baby lets you care for your baby in a very important way. The benefits of mother's milk are very important to the high-risk newborn. You are able to do something for your baby that no one else can.

Breastfeeding may also be called chest feeding. Breastmilk may be called human milk.

Benefits of mother's milk for the premature baby include: 

  • Better digestion and digestive function

  • Fewer infections

  • Better brain and eye development

  • Better health benefits for you and better bonding with the baby

How your milk will be used by the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) depends on the health status of your baby. Even babies who are not eating yet will benefit from breastmilk. The nurses will use your milk to clean your baby's gums. This is called oral care. This adds healthy bacteria to your baby's body. As your baby gets stronger, your milk will be used to give them calories through a tube or bottle. When it can be done, the NICU staff will help your baby breastfeed to get milk. As the mother of a high-risk newborn, you may have to overcome problems that a mother and full-term healthy baby are unlikely to have when learning to breastfeed. But you and your baby will learn to breastfeed. It may take a bit more patience and work. How soon you and your baby can start to breastfeed will depend on how mature your baby's brain and body systems are.

Until your baby is able to fully breastfeed, express your milk. Expressing means removing milk from your breasts regularly. This helps your breasts start and continue making breastmilk. Milk expression also allows your high-risk baby to get the benefits of your milk as soon as their digestive tract is ready to handle feedings. Plan to continue to express your milk until you know your baby is able to get all the milk directly from your breasts. As soon as your baby is stable, ask the healthcare providers and nurses when you can hold your baby skin-to-skin. This is called kangaroo care. It's good for your premature baby's overall health as well as breastfeeding. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
Online Medical Reviewer: Mary Terrell MD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2022
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