Is Breastfeeding Important for My Premature Baby?
The simple answer is YES! Babies that are born pre-term have a special need for their mother's milk. If your baby was born earlier than expected, you are probably awash in a storm of feelings. Feelings of protectiveness come over you when you see your baby's tiny body. You may be feeling afraid, angry or guilty. The busy, bustling medical team may be making you feel out of place and question your role as a vital partner in your child's care.
You are needed, and have a unique gift to provide: your milk. The milk from your breasts is something you alone can provide for your baby. It contains invaluable nutrients and immunities that can make a big difference in the health of your baby and in his development.
The milk produced by the mother of a pre-term infant is higher in protein and other nutrients than the milk produced by the mother of a term infant. Human milk also contains lipase, an enzyme that allows the baby to digest fat more efficiently. Your breastfed premie is less likely to develop infections that are common to babies fed breastmilk substitutes. He will be protected by the immunities in your milk while his own immature immune system is developing.
Your fresh milk is best for your baby. Donor milk must be pasteurized, which kills the infection-fighting live cells (though it is certainly the best alternative when a mother is unable to provide her own milk).
Research has found that breastfeeding is less stressful than bottle feeding for babies, so let your doctor know you prefer to put the baby to the breast when he is ready, instead of using a bottle. To encourage a reluctant baby, you may want to try a special tube feeding system on your nipple or finger. An LLL Leader or lactation consultant will be able to help you obtain one and learn to use it. (These types of devices are available from the LLLI Online Store. See the "What Are LLLI Resources For Breastfeeding My Premature Baby?" FAQ for more information.)
Providing your milk, either directly at the breast or by pumping, benefits you and your baby in other ways. The loving bond you feel as the milk flows is good for your relationship. When you pump milk for your baby or breastfeed him, you secrete hormones that enhance the bonding process. It helps you to think of your baby as a person first, your very own beloved child, and not just the doctor's medical case. This bond will sustain both of you through any difficulties that lie ahead.
You might find reassurance by reading about other mothers' experiences with their premature babies and breastfeeding. Our breastfeeding resource page on premature infants links to some excellent and reassuring articles from NEW BEGINNINGS, written by mothers who successfully breastfed premature intants.
Contacting an LLL Leader in your area may help you during this challenging time. To find a Group near you, call 1-800-LALECHE, look at our LLL Web Page Index or follow the hints on our page about finding a local LLL Leader.
For additional information, see the rest of the "Premature Infant" FAQs.
Our FAQs present information from La Leche League International on topics of interest to parents of breastfed children. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise. If you have a serious breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to a La Leche League Leader. Please consult health care professionals on any medical issue, as La Leche League Leaders are not medical practitioners.