Breastfeeding your premature or sick baby
Should I breastfeed?
Giving birth to a premature or sick baby is often a surprise to parents. They must make many important decisions about their baby’s care in the first few days after birth. One of those decisions is whether to provide mother’s milk for your baby’s feedings. This section will help you decide about providing mother’s milk for your premature baby.
Is my baby ready for breastfeeding?
You will learn when your baby is hungry and ready to breastfeed. Ideally, your baby will be in a quiet alert state with a relaxed face and open eyes. Crying is a late hunger cue, and it is best to offer the breast before crying begins. Some early hunger cues are:
- Clenching of fists
- Flexion of arms
- Lip licking
- Mouth opening
- Placing hands or fingers in mouth
- Increased activity
What are the benefits of breastfeeding?
All babies need breast milk for optimal growth and development. Breastfeeding can help fight off viruses, respiratory illnesses and much more.
Benefits for premature babies
There are many reasons why premature infants need breast milk even more than full-term infants. When you have a premature baby, your milk is different from the milk of mothers who carry their pregnancies to full term. The breast milk of a mother who has given birth to a preterm infant is special for preterm growth needs. Even small amounts of breast milk can provide premature babies with health benefits that last through childhood and, potentially, their entire life. There are many benefits for the baby to receive mother’s milk. Some of these are:
- Boosts digestion
- Helps baby’s immune system fight infection
- Makes your baby smarter. The longer babies are breastfed, the higher the IQ.
- Promotes eye and brain development of premature babies
- Promotes proper tooth and jaw development
- Provides bonding opportunities, warmth and physical closeness via skin-to-skin contact – something all babies need.
Benefits for mom
Providing breast milk to your baby can also help you. Some of the ways include:
- Promotes mother-baby bonding.
- The special feeling of closeness helps to make up for being separated from your baby in the early days and weeks after giving birth to your baby.
- Providing milk for your baby can help you cope with stress and the feelings of helplessness while your baby is in the NICU.
- Breastfeeding is free. There is no cost for formula, bottles, nipples or supplies.
- Breastfeeding is convenient. Breast milk is always fresh, warm and available. It doesn’t require preparation and warming as formulas do.
- Breastfeeding helps you to lose the extra weight you gained during pregnancy and speeds up your recovery after having a baby.
What are the basic principals or positioning your baby during feeding?
- Mother's should be comfortable and relaxed.
- Mother’s breasts should be easily accessible.
- Baby’s ear, shoulder and hips must be in a straight line.
- Mother’s hand should support baby’s shoulders, upper back and neck, not the head.
What to learn more about breastfeeding?
- If your baby is ready for breastfeeding and you want to learn more, please ask your baby’s nurse to coordinate a meeting for you and a Lactation Consultant in the NICU.
- Ask about our Milk Lab.