Is breastfeeding a preemie different than a full term baby?

preemieThe answer is yes.

You’ve probably spent the last few months anxiously getting ready for your baby’s arrival. You’ve probably also thought about and decided how you are going to feed your baby after birth. Unfortunately, your breastfeeding plans may need to change in order to accommodate your baby, if you gave birth prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy).

Breastfeeding in the NICU

If your baby is in the NICU, you may need to start pumping to establish your milk supply. Although you won’t have your warm baby at your breast, give your baby any expressed colostrum or milk you produce. Breast milk provides many health benefits for all newborns, but especially for premature or sick babies in the NICU.

Read our tips and tricks to breastfeeding your baby in the NICU.

Late preterm babies

If your baby was born late preterm, between 34 weeks and 0 days and 36 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy,  the good news is that she may not need to spend any time in the NICU. The bad news is that breastfeeding a near-term baby can be very difficult. Late preemies are often very sleepy and lack the energy they need to latch, suck and swallow. Also, late preterm babies are vulnerable to hypothermia (low body temperature), hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), weight loss, slow weight gain and jaundice among other conditions, which may interrupt your breastfeeding progress.

Full term babies

Breastfeeding a full term baby has its challenges, too. But, compared to a preterm or late preterm baby, there are more opportunities to be successful with breastfeeding from the start, due to fewer health obstacles.

Stay positive

If your baby is spending time in the NICU or having trouble breastfeeding, the breast milk you provide your baby through expression or pumping is very beneficial to his growth and protection from illness and infection. Seek help when you need it through a Lactation Consultant, a nurse or your health care provider. If you are in the hospital, ask your nurse if they have a support group where you can connect and share with other moms going through the same situation.

Learn more in Breastfeeding 101.

Have questions? Text or email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

 

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