A premature baby (also called a preterm baby) is a baby born before the 37th week of pregnancy. The problem with being born too early is that many of the baby’s internal organs have not fully developed yet. The baby will have difficulty living outside of the womb without the help of doctors and nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). About 1/10 to 1/8 births are premature – that’s about 490,000 premature babies born per year in the USA. [Photo from wikipedia.com]
Premature babies usually remain at the NICU for several weeks before they can go home. Depending on how early they were born, they may require a breathing tube and/or a feeding tube. Premature babies are kept in an incubator so that the environment can be regulated (perfect temperature, no draft, germ-free). Parents are encouraged to visit and stay with their new baby. But can they breastfeed a preemie?
It depends: if the baby is technically premature, but is strong, healthy, and well developed then he can be breastfed.
If the baby is very small and too weak to suck from the breast (before 34th week of pregnancy); he will be fed through a feeding tube. But what should you feed the preemie? Breast milk or formulas especially designed for preemies?
What your premature baby will eat will likely be the choice of your doctor and the hospital in which Baby was born. Some doctors feel that premature babies should be fed a high protein formula which will help Baby gain weight, grow, and survive. Some doctors feel that breast milk is best. In addition to the usual benefits of breast milk (antibodies, enzymes etc), breast milk produced by preterm mothers contain more protein and nutrients compared to the breast milk made by full-term mothers. In other words, the milk made by a pre-term mother is probably best for a pre-term baby.
If you do feed your premature baby breast milk, you will likely have to express it and then use it in the feeding tube. Use an electric breast pump – a duo breast pump – if you want to save time. Bring your baby to your breast as soon as he is strong enough to suck from your breasts directly. [Photo from wikipedia.com]
Meg gave birth to premature twin boys. She is one of those rare birds who expressed breast milk for 5 months. She never experienced the joy of bringing her babies to her breast, but she did experience the joy of giving them a healthy start in life. Her boys are now grown and both are in college studying to be medical doctors.
Having a baby will turn your life upside down. Having a premature baby will turn your life upside down and give you hours of worry. Some new mothers find it too overwhelming to care for their premature baby and express milk. It is for this reason that many mothers feed their premature babies formula; it cuts down on the work of expressing milk and give you more time & energy to care for the new baby.
If you choose to formula feed, see if your hospitals will allow kangaroo care. Kangaroo care is a way of holding your infant. With just a diaper on, place your baby on your bare belly with his head between your breasts so that he can hear your heartbeat.
Researchers have found that the close skin-to-skin contact helps baby:
– stabilize heartbeat, temperature, and breathing,
– cry less,
– sleep for longer periods,
– gain more weight, and
– leave the hospital earlier.
So, if you choose to formula feed, there’s still a way for to cuddle an love your new baby.
- go back to list of reasons why women choose formula feeding
- read about Nutritional Content of Formulas
- read about How to Choose the Right Formula for your Baby
- go to Home Page
- go to Site Map