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Breast Feeding

Breastfeeding My Premature Infant

06/22/2001

Question:

I am 29 weeks pregnant and on bed rest due to premature labor. Although I am taking medications, my doctor anticipates I will deliver within the next 3 weeks. This is my second pregnancy. I breastfed my 3 year old son for 10 months without any difficulty. I very much want to also breastfeed this baby. What do I need to know about breastfeeding a premature infant? Will he/she be strong enough to suck or will I have to use a pump and a bottle? What happens when he/she is in the hospital? Does a premature baby wet as many diapers as a full term baby? Does he/she gain weight in the same way? Can you recommend some books on premature infants? I am getting some resistance from both grandparents not to attempt to breastfeed. I`m afraid I might give in. Any help you can provide would be appreciated. Thank you.

Answer:

Breastfeeding is a wonderful gift only YOU can give your child, and the premature child needs all the love and support you can give. First the advantages of breastfeeding a premature infant:
  1. Human milk is easier to digest
  2. Human milk contains enzymes that help the baby to digest milk fat more efficiently, an important source of energy for their growth
  3. Human milk contains antibodies to give the baby`s immune system protection from infections
  4. The premature human milk your body produces is uniquely suited to the premature infants needs, and has higher levels of protein, sodium iron and chloride, along with higher levels of antibodies than term milk.

    Depending on the age at which your baby is born, will determine many things. If your baby is very early she may not be able to breastfeed immediately, and may require intravenous fluids and or feedings. But pumping and storing your milk during this time for later use will be a benefit to her later. Many preterm babies do not have a developed sucking reflex, so they will need to learn to suck, before being put to the breast. This does not mean the baby cannot receive breast milk because milk can be given through a syringe, from a cup, or if she has a nasogastric tube through the tube.

    It would be a good idea for you to contact the lactation consultant at the hospital you will be delivering your child to further discuss your situation.

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Response by:

Tina   Weitkamp, RNC, MSN Tina Weitkamp, RNC, MSN
Associate Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati