Breast milk is of utmost importance for the growth and development of newborns. Unfortunately, many premature infants lack breastfeeding soon after delivery. Mothers need guidance for breastfeeding premature babies. It is necessary to educate mothers with preterm infants on when they could initiate breastfeeding and how to progress.
It is also true that some hospitals and physicians do not advise breastfeeding for premature babies, as they suggest using formula milk for preterm babies. It is because infants tend to gain weight more quickly with formula milk. However, in such cases, the infants lack all other benefits of breast milk.
Breastfeeding promotes better physical health for later life, especially for preterm babies. In addition, it can protect premature babies from neonatal infections. Human breast milk can provide protection against necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) which is a serious condition.
What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding acts as a protective shield against infections and reduces the risk of various diseases for babies. It protects newborns from many systemic disorders, including diabetes, heart problems, and obesity. It also reduces the risk of certain allergic diseases like asthma. In addition, babies with successful breastfeeding and sufficient milk feed have higher IQ (intelligence quotient). It also improves the infant's brain development.
It also minimizes the risks of breast and ovarian cancer in breastfeeding mothers. The skin-to-skin contact builds an emotional bond between the mother and the newborn babies that many moms cherish.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly recommends breastfeeding for the initial six months of a newborn's life and continuing breastfeeding until the mother and baby desire. It is beneficial for both the newborn and the mother.
How to Breastfeed Premature Infants?
Premature babies are very small or sick, and they may lack the reflexes to look for their mother's breast. All these conditions make preterm babies incapable of breastfeeding. But since breast milk is essential and possesses numerous health benefits, it is necessary to make a way for feeding your babies as soon as possible.
1. Feeding Baby With Expressed Breast Milk: Under such circumstances, expressed milk can be used for breastfeeding premature infants. Expressing milk is squeezing milk from your breast to store it and use it anytime later. Extracted breast milk can serve both purposes, it helps to maintain proper milk flow from the breast of the mother, as well as it can be stored and used later for feeding babies. The expressed milk can be frozen and stored to be used later for feeding. However, it is essential to follow the guidelines well while handling breast milk. In addition, you must follow proper hygiene and sanitization to prevent any source of infection.
2. Skin-To-Skin Contact With the Premature Baby: Breastfeeding the infant establishes skin-to-skin contact between the infant and mother. Spending close time with your baby can help in boosting your milk supply and establishing your breastfeeding. You may then continue breastfeeding when you and your baby are ready. Mothers who maintain skin-to-skin contact with their babies (also known as kangaroo care) are known to experience an increase in breast milk volume. Some studies claim that there is possibly an increased secretion of maternal milk antibodies to specific pathogens when the infants are near. There are many benefits of skin-to-skin contact for premature babies. Some of them are:
3. Tube Feeding Your Premature Baby: Preterm babies may be fed with the help of a feeding tube in the beginning as they cannot be breastfed. If your child is in the NICU (neonatal care unit), they may provide you with this tube. It goes through the nose or mouth into their stomach. The doctor or staff in the NICU may teach you how to feed your baby with this tube. However, if the baby is very premature or sick, the doctor may advise feeding through an intravenous (IV) line in the beginning.
4. Use of Donor Breast Milk for Feeding: Newborns suffering from high-risk neonatal infections need immediate care, including breast milk. Therefore, breast milk banks are mainly located in big hospitals providing neonatal care. However, you may also find human milk banks in non-government organizations (NGOs), taking care of abandoned babies. You may feed your baby with donor milk until your supply is established.
The Comprehensive Lactation Management Centres (CLMCs) store breast milk and provide milk to high-risk infants in India. India has a total of 57 CLMCs in different states.
It is suggested that you should not buy donor milk over the internet as the source cannot be confirmed. Also, there is no proof for milk screening, sometimes it could transmit infections to your babies.
5. Gradually Begin Breastfeeding Your Premature Baby: In a while, you might notice some signs from your baby towards your breasts. Initially, they might just lick your breast; the next time, they may try to suck your breasts and gradually learn to feed on your breasts. These signs can be used by mothers to know their hunger and feed them.
The first key to success is maintaining the milk flow in the mammary duct by continuing to express the milk. You may try removing the breast milk seven to eight times a day. Breast pumps can be used for expressing breast milk. Breastfeeding can be life-saving for many preterm babies. Studies claim that feeding an infant at the breast can provide the mother with physiological, physical, psychological, and pragmatic benefits. Keeping mothers together with their infants at the NICU and reducing pacifiers may help the earlier establishment of breastfeeding.
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