The journey of a premature baby is indeed a different one every moment. The care, caution and attention needed for a premature baby is a little more in comparison to healthy babies. A mother usually worries whether she can handle her premature baby well. All she needs to do is become aware on the ways to take care of her baby. The most important way to nourish a premature baby is through breastfeeding.
Breast milk is one way to help a premature baby’s vulnerable tummy to mature and fight infection. The baby can digest breast milk more easily as compared to infant formula. Breast milk also has growth agents that help the baby grow and become strong. There are possibilities for the mother or the baby to not be well enough to be breastfed directly from the breast. In such scenarios, the mother needs to spend more time close to the baby that helps promote breastfeeding and boost breast milk production. It is essential for the mother to express breast milk even if the baby is not ready to be breastfed as this will help her build supply.
Dr. Sunil Eshwar from Apollo Cradle, shares few tips on breastfeeding premature babies:
- Mothers need not fret as the nurses in the hospital always help to get the milk supply established so that the mother can start breastfeeding her premature baby.
- It is advisable to start expressing milk as soon as possible after giving birth within 24 hours. The first breastfeed involves the supply of colostrum, the rich and thick nutritious first milk which massively helps in the baby’s growth.
- It is easier for the mother to express by hand and the electric pump also works well for the first feed. There can be an increase in colostrum supply if the mother massages the breasts gently before breastfeeding.
- It is ideal for the mother to breastfeed the baby around six to eight times a day. She needs to ensure leaving a gap not more than 6 hours to breastfeed the baby.
- Mother’s can also have an electric pump as well as a neonatal unit at home as this can help her breastfeed the baby.
There are scenarios where the baby is not breastfeeding. In such cases there are certain step that needs to be taken by the mother.
- She needs to keep the milk going by expressing even if the baby is not ready to feed. This way the issue of blocked milk ducks can be avoided.
- The mother needs to provide the skin to skin touch and warm care to the baby called ‘Kangaroo Care’. This type of comforting contact increases the chances of you breastfeeding.
- The mother also can start offering the baby emptied breast before and during tube feeds as it helps the baby practice suckling. This is a method that helps the baby move on to feeding by mouth sooner.
- Once the baby starts to take milk from mother’s breast, the baby may take few drops at first. Premature babies get tired very easily while being breastfed. Mothers need not get disheartened if the baby does not stay at the breast for long.
- If the mother is not sure about breastfeeding, she can still give herself a trial period for one month. Even if she stops breastfeeding after sometime, the baby gets that little breast milk and receives benefits from it.
By Dr Sunil Eshwar, Consultant Gynaecologist, Apollo Cradle, Bangalore