Preemies are often unable to nurse because of medical interventions and their inability to coordinate a sucking pattern. They are also often fed through a gavage tube that's inserted through the mouth and into the stomach. Even with these obstacles in their way, human milk is the food of choice for fragile infants. The incredible power of your milk, which is specially developed for your premature infant, will help your baby gain weight. It will also protect him in his already compromised state. Your baby will develop more quickly and be less susceptible to infections when he gets your milk, and you'll feel more connected to him and confident in your abilities as a mother.
What You Can Do
Mothers of premature infants are advised to begin using a hospital-grade breast pump as soon as practical after delivery. Try to express milk every two to three hours, regardless of how well your baby can latch or suckle, since frequent pumping will ensure a good milk supply. Every little bit helps, so don't worry about volume at first. Initially, you'll produce just a few drops of colostrum, but that's enough. Colostrum is powerful stuff.
With any baby in a special circumstance, the advice and support of a lactation consultant can make all the difference. At the same time, support groups like La Leche League give you access to other women who've successfully met the same challenges that you and your child face.
Let the hospital staff know that you'll provide your milk for all of your baby's feedings. Leave instructions that your expressed milk should be given to your premature baby with a syringe or a spoon. Finger feeding is another method that sometimes works well.
With the help of a qualified lactation consultant, begin breastfeeding your premature infant as soon as possible. Preemies are small, so pump before you begin since a taut, full breast is hard to fit into a tiny mouth. Pumping also stimulates your letdown reflex, something a preemie's weak suck might have trouble accomplishing on its own.
If you are unable to breastfeed exclusively, you can be fitted with a supplemental feeding device, like a supplemental nutrition system (see Chapter 7). After the baby is attached to the breast, a small tube from the supplementer is inserted into his mouth to provide expressed breastmilk. He learns how to breastfeed and at the same time stimulates the breast to continue milk production.
Sometimes, the positioning of a small newborn is difficult. Because their muscles might be underdeveloped, many women find the football, or clutch, hold useful. The football hold helps because it gives you control and support of your child's head and body.
Preemies have special needs that only your breastmilk can meet. Breastmilk-fed preemies have been shown to enjoy better general health than formula-fed babies. When you give birth prematurely, your breasts produce a special milk, called preterm, that's higher in calories, proteins, and fats to help your baby grow quickly. This superior food for your infant is something that only you can provide.