Tips for Breastfeeding Preemie Babies

Tips for breastfeeding a preemie

“I just brought my preemie home from the hospital. Nursing is just not the same as it was with our first baby who was full term. Our preemie sleeps a lot, slips off the breast, and is so small. I nursed my first child perfectly, now I feel lost.” Breastfeeding preemie babies can be more challenging than even a seasoned mom may expect.

Giving birth to a premature baby is different than giving birth to a full-term baby. That being said, you can breastfeed, even if your baby spent time in the NICU or was fed via bottles or tubes. Without a full nine months of gestation, the baby’s internal organs did not have as much time to form. The nutrients in breastmilk will help the internal organs develop to their fullest potential.

The Importance of Touch

Skin-to-skin contact is an important part of nursing your preemie. Researcher, Dr. Schanberg from Duke university found with is extensive research with animals that, “when mother rats licked their babies, the action produced a cascade of much needed compounds, in fact, the growth hormones that produce normal body development.”

This primal need for touch also transfers to humans, and especially with premature babies stating encouraging the mother to touch and hold her baby this, “led to better health and shorter hospital stays.”

Skin-to-skin contact also helps when breastfeeding a preemie baby to “nurse on demand” which has been proven to help increase nutrient intake & improve growth rates.

Ashley Montagu states in Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin that, “gestation in the human being continues for as long outside the womb as it does inside the womb.” He also says, “touching and coddling a baby is needed all the time to help build the child’s immune system and emotional health.”

It may take some time and you could benefit from a few of these eco-friendly breastfeeding supplies to help you and your baby to master the skill of breastfeeding. With some patience and proper guidance, you can be successful at breastfeeding your preemie.

Here’s How to Get Started Breastfeeding Preemie Babies

1. Get a secure latch.

Premature babies tend to have smaller mouths, so it can be more difficult to latch on deeply. Try using the football hold for the first few weeks to encourage a stronger, deeper latch.

2. Keep baby awake for the feeding.

Watch carefully and listen for swallowing. If baby appears to be drifting off, take her off the breast and wake her up gently to finish the feeding.

3. Use breast compression when breastfeeding preemie babies.

Think of your breast as a clock with the 12 on the top and the 6 on the bottom. Place your thumb on the 12 and your other four fingers over the 6. As your baby nurses, compress the breast gently but firmly for five counts and release for five count. This tells your body to let down more milk and helps the baby keep up a rhythm which allows the milk to transfer easier from the breast to the baby.

4. Try finger feeding.

If baby has nipple confusion from bottles in the NICU, try finger feeding for a few days to help ease the confusion.

5. Alternate breast and finger feeding.

If your baby is taking the breast but is not putting on enough weight, try nursing for 20 minutes then follow up with 20 minutes of finger feeding.

6. When breastfeeding preemies, or any baby for that matter, make sure you have ongoing support.

As long as Mom has plenty of support, this early arrival should still be able to nurse beautifully. If these tips don’t fully solve the issue, seek help from a local IBCLC. The easiest way to find a consultant is to check the International Lactation Consultant Association’s directory and search via your zip code. Or you could ask a fellow nursing mother or someone from your local La Leche League.

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  1. Amy Marquis says:

    I had a 29-week preemie, and I BF her for 7 months. Her latch was not good, so we used a nipple shield. Contrary to what I had heard about the shield, it did not affect my milk supply.

    1. Sara-Chana Silverstein says:

      Amy that is amazing! I do use nipple shields in my office but not for latch problems, I use them for flat or inverted nipples. I am so happy your baby is 7 months and you are still breastfeeding! Bravo! Also, very happy it did not affect your milk flow. ‘You-go-girl.’