First things first: if a baby is born prematurely, the issue of feeding will be discussed immediately and fully clarified in hospital. No child born prematurely is allowed home until this is done. At the hospital they’ll also look at the question of breastfeeding (or mother milk nutrition) with the parents. You also have to realise that you won’t be left on your own if your baby is born early. Maternity and paediatric clinics will be there for you with help and guidance. In consultation with you they’ll arrange and organise the entire procedure.
To help you get informed in advance, in this breastfeeding tip we explain the things you should bear in mind:
Mother’s milk best food for babies
If possible, a premature baby should also be given mother’s milk from the outset. It’s the optimum food for a newborn, helping strengthen its immune system, and promoting its growth and the healthy development of its brain. After birth – including premature birth – the production of pregnancy hormones slowly tapers off and the mother starts to produce milk. The production of milk is further stimulated when the newborn feeds at the breast. But if the baby is too small and doesn’t have enough strength to suck at the nipple, this stimulus can also be provided by pumping milk. Colostrum (often called first milk) is particularly rich in nutrients. It’s very important for newborns, so premature babies too should also receive it.
You should already start pumping six to twelve hours after the birth. According to the swissmom forum, you should pump at least eight times every 24 hours. After around two weeks it’s sufficient to pump six times a day to keep the milk flowing. Don’t be discouraged if you can only pump a small amount of milk at first. It’s important to keep pumping on a regular basis, because this stimulates the mammary glands and ultimately helps you produce more milk.
If a premature baby isn’t getting milk direct from the mother’s breast as a normal newborn would, it’s crucial to pay attention to hygiene. Make sure to:
- Wash your hands thoroughly
- Disinfect the breast pump regularly
- Wash the breast with clean water each time
- Cool pumped milk immediately in an appropriate container
Mother’s milk for a premature baby can be kept for a maximum of 24 hours in the fridge and a maximum of four hours without refrigeration. If you want to keep it for longer, it’s advisable to freeze it. If your child has to stay in hospital for the first few days, it also makes sense to transport the milk in a coolbox or pump it at the hospital. That way you’re sure it stays cool.