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Breastfeeding Your Premature Baby

Breastfeeding Your Premature Baby

Giving birth to a premature or other high-risk baby or babies does not mean that you can't breastfeed. In fact, it's important that you do provide your own milk and breastfeed. Providing your milk for your baby lets you care for your baby in a very important way. The benefits of mother's milk are very important to the high-risk newborn. You are able to do something for your baby that no one else can.

Breastfeeding may also be called chest feeding. Breastmilk may be called human milk.

Benefits of mother's milk for the premature baby include: 

  • Better digestion and digestive function

  • Fewer infections

  • Better brain and eye development

  • Better health benefits for you and better bonding with the baby

How your milk will be used by the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) depends on the health status of your baby. Even babies who are not eating yet will benefit from breastmilk. The nurses will use your milk to clean your baby's gums. This is called oral care. This adds healthy bacteria to your baby's body. As your baby gets stronger, your milk will be used to give them calories through a tube or bottle. When it can be done, the NICU staff will help your baby breastfeed to get milk. As the mother of a high-risk newborn, you may have to overcome problems that a mother and full-term healthy baby are unlikely to have when learning to breastfeed. But you and your baby will learn to breastfeed. It may take a bit more patience and work. How soon you and your baby can start to breastfeed will depend on how mature your baby's brain and body systems are.

Until your baby is able to fully breastfeed, express your milk. Expressing means removing milk from your breasts regularly. This helps your breasts start and continue making breastmilk. Milk expression also allows your high-risk baby to get the benefits of your milk as soon as their digestive tract is ready to handle feedings. Plan to continue to express your milk until you know your baby is able to get all the milk directly from your breasts. As soon as your baby is stable, ask the healthcare providers and nurses when you can hold your baby skin-to-skin. This is called kangaroo care. It's good for your premature baby's overall health as well as breastfeeding. 

Reviewed Date: 06-01-2022

Breastfeeding Your Premature Baby
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Breastfeeding Quiz
Diseases & Conditions
Adding to Mother's Milk
Anatomy of a Newborn Baby’s Skull
Apnea of Prematurity
Assessments for Newborn Babies
Baby's Care After Birth
Breast Milk Collection and Storage
Breast Milk Expression
Breastfeeding and Delayed Milk Production
Breastfeeding and Returning To Work
Breastfeeding at Work
Breastfeeding Difficulties - Baby
Breastfeeding Difficulties - Mother
Breastfeeding the High-Risk Newborn
Breastfeeding When Returning to Work
Breastfeeding Your Baby
Breastfeeding Your High-Risk Baby
Breastfeeding: Getting Started
Breastfeeding: Returning to Work
Breastmilk Is Best
Breastmilk: Pumping, Collecting, Storing
Breathing Problems
Care of the Baby in the Delivery Room
Caring for Babies in the NICU
Caring for Newborn Multiples
Common Conditions and Complications
Common Procedures
Congenital Heart Disease Index
Developmental Care for Babies in the NICU
Difficulty with Latching On or Sucking
Digestive Disorders
Effective Sucking
Equipment That Is Used in the NICU
Expressing Milk for Your High-Risk Baby
Expressing Your Milk - Helpful Equipment
Fever in a Newborn Baby
Flat or Inverted Nipples
Hearing Loss in Babies
Hearing Screening Tests for Newborns
Heart Disorders
High-Risk Newborn Blood Disorders
How Breastmilk Is Made
Infant Feeding Guide
Infant of a Mother with Diabetes
Infant Play
Infant Sleep
Infection in Babies
Inguinal Hernia in Children
Intravenous (IV) Line and Tubes
Keeping Your Baby Warm
Low Milk Production
Male Conditions
Managing Poor Weight Gain in Your Breastfed Baby
Maternal Nutrition and Breastfeeding
Maternity Leave
Megaureter in Children
Micropenis in Children
Milk Production and Your High-Risk Baby
Neurological Disorders in the Newborn
Newborn Appearance
Newborn Babies: Getting Ready at Home
Newborn Behaviors and Activities
Newborn Complications
Newborn Crying
Newborn Health Assessment
Newborn Measurements
Newborn Reflexes
Newborn Screening Tests
Newborn Senses
Newborn Sleep Patterns
Newborn Warning Signs
Nutrition and Fluids in the NICU
Overactive Let-Down
Parenting in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
Physical Exam of the Newborn
Plugged Milk Ducts
Preparing for Your New Baby
Preparing the Family
Skin Color Changes
Sore Nipples
Storing Your Breastmilk
Substance Exposure
Surgery and the Breastfeeding Infant
Taking Care of Your Breast Pump and Collection Kit
Taking Your Baby Home from the NICU
Thawing Breast Milk
The Benefits of Mother's Own Milk
The Growing Child: Newborn
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
The Respiratory System in Babies
Thrush (Oral Candida Infection) in Children
Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn
Umbilical Cord Care
Using a Breast Pump
Vision and Hearing
When to Call Your Child's Healthcare Provider
Your Baby and Breastfeeding
Your High-Risk Baby and Expressing Milk

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.