Most babies, even those born very premature can learn to breastfeed. Breast milk provides many health benefits for all newborns, but especially for premature or sick babies in the NICU. Feeding a preemie may be much different than what you had planned. If you must pump, you may feel disappointed that you are not able to feed your warm baby on your breast. But, providing breast milk for your preemie is something special and beneficial that you can give him.
Here are tips to help you breastfeed your preemie while in the NICU.
If your baby is unable to feed or latch:
• Start pumping as soon as you can to establish your milk supply. Ask a nurse for a pump and assistance.
• If your preemie is tube feeding, your baby’s nurse can show you how to give your baby his feedings.
• Pump frequently, every 2 to 2-1/2 hours around the clock for a couple of days and nights (or 8 to 12 times during the day, so you can catch some sleep at night).
• Practice skin to skin or kangaroo care if your nurse says it is ok. Both are beneficial, even if your baby is connected to machines and tubes.
If your baby is able to suckle:
• Ask to feed him in a quiet, darkened room, away from the beeping machines and bright lights.
• Many mothers find the cross cradle position very helpful for feedings. Start with kangaroo care. Then position the baby across your lap, turned in towards you, chest to chest. Use a pillow to bring him to the level of your breast if you need to.
• Preemies need many opportunities at the breast to develop feeding skills regardless of gestational age. This requires practice and patience.
• You may need increased support to breastfeed your preemie. Look for support from your nurses, the hospital’s lactation consultant, friends or family.
Not every tip will work for every mom. Try to find the feeding methods and solutions that work best for you and your preemie. More information on how to feed your baby in the NICU can be found here.
If you have questions about how to feed your baby, email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.