Premies: Breastfeeding


If you’re wondering if it’s important to breastfeed your premie – the simple answer is YES! Babies that are born pre-term have a special need for human milk. If your baby was born earlier than expected, you may be awash in a storm of feelings. Feelings of protectiveness come over you when you see your baby’s tiny body. You may be feeling afraid, angry or guilty. The busy, bustling medical team may be making you feel out of place and question your role as a vital partner in your child’s care.

You are needed, and have a unique gift to provide: your milk. The milk from your breasts is something you alone can provide for your baby. It contains invaluable nutrients and immune factors that can make a big difference in the health of your baby and in his development.

The milk produced by the mother of a pre-term infant is higher in protein and other nutrients than the milk produced by the mother of a term infant. Human milk also contains lipase, an enzyme that allows the baby to digest fat more efficiently. Your breastfed premie is less likely to develop infections that are common to babies fed breastmilk substitutes. He will be protected by the immunities in your milk while his own immature immune system is developing.

Your fresh milk is best for your baby. Donor milk must be pasteurized, which kills the infection-fighting live cells (though it is certainly the best alternative when a mother is unable to provide her own milk).

Research has found that breastfeeding is less stressful than bottle feeding for babies, so let your doctor know you prefer to put the baby to the breast when he is ready, instead of using a bottle. To encourage a reluctant baby, you may want to try a special tube feeding system on your nipple or finger. A La Leche League Leader will be able to give you more information about this.

Providing your milk, either directly at the breast or by pumping, benefits you and your baby in other ways. The loving bond you feel as the milk flows is good for your relationship. When you pump milk for your baby or breastfeed him, you secrete hormones that enhance the bonding process. It helps you to think of your baby as a person first, your very own beloved child, and not just the doctor’s medical case. This bond will sustain both of you through any difficulties that lie ahead.

Premies: Kangaroo Care and Skin-to-Skin Contact
Premies: Positioning
Premies: Pumping
Breastfeeding Premature Babies, by Teresa Pitman
The Importance of Skin-to-Skin Contact, by Jill Bergman
It Takes A Village, A Mother’s Story
Vulnerable Pretoria Baby gets Skin to Skin

Further Reading: Global Health Media 

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