Tips for Breastfeeding a Preemie

Susie McGee
tips for breastfeeding a preemie

While a baby born prematurely may need round-the-clock care and monitoring, you may be able to nurse your baby by following our tips for breastfeeding a preemie.

Important Tips for Breastfeeding a Preemie

Babies who are born earlier than 31 weeks may not be able to breastfeed right away, or at least not until their condition is considered stable. While you may not be able to actually breastfeed your infant, he or she can usually be given breast milk through a feeding tube. Once your infant is stable, you may be able to attempt breastfeeding. Sometimes formula supplementation is required as well.

Establishing a Milk Supply

A common problem in breastfeeding a preemie often involves establishing a milk supply. Breast milk contains immunological substances and fat-building calories that are great for your baby, but you have to establish a strong enough milk supply to sustain your infant around the clock. One of the most important tips for breastfeeding a preemie is to pump as early and as often as possible.

  • Unless you are physically unable to do so, begin pumping your breasts within six hours of the delivery of your baby.
  • Use a hospital grade double electric pump for the best performance. It should cycle at least 60 times per minute with a suction strength of at least 200.
  • Establish a cycle of pumping every three to four hours.
  • You should pump for a minimum of 15 minutes during each session.
  • Before your milk comes in, your body will produce colostrum, which is full of antibodies for your baby. If your baby cannot be given breast milk or colostrum, freeze anything that you are able to pump by following the requirements for breast milk storage.

Your Baby's Ability to Suck

A baby who is born very prematurely may have difficulty sucking. In fact, many clinicians believe that there is a direct relation between the gestational age of an infant and her ability to suck. To help build your baby's sucking strength, you may want to encourage her to use a pacifier. This practice is often used by NICU nurses.

Are Supplements Necessary?

In many cases, it takes a while for a mom to build up her milk supply. While your goal may be to breastfeed your preemie exclusively, you simply may not be able to produce enough milk initially. If this is the case, supplemental formula will be given to your infant. Many moms have concerns that this will affect a newborn's ability to nurse later on, however.

Be sure you inform your pediatrician and the nursing staff that you want to eventually be able to breastfeed your child. As your baby grows stronger, they may be able to stop supplementing your milk supply with formula and allow you to breastfeed only. Even if your baby is unable to breastfeed due to physical or medical issues, you may still be able to provide his entire milk supply by pumping.

Other Tips

Other tips for breastfeeding a preemie include the following:

  • You and the NICU staff should become a team, working together to create a schedule of pumping and feeding for your baby. While the nursing staff obviously cannot feed all the babies in their care on demand, with cooperation, you and they can create a schedule that will work for you and your baby. The most important point to remember is that you need to be a part of his feeding, whether that involves nursing or pumping.
  • Milk production relies on supply and demand, so even if you aren't able to nurse your baby in the hospital, you can build your milk supply by pumping on a schedule around the clock each day.
  • Remember that many times babies have difficulty transitioning from being fed formula at the hospital to nursing once they are home. In some instances, you may need to use a nursing supplementer, which is a small tube that is taped to your breast. Your baby will suck from the tube and the breast in the beginning, but eventually he will only be sucking from your breast.

Finally, for more information and help on breastfeeding, contact your local La Leche League.

Tips for Breastfeeding a Preemie