Nursing a Preterm Infant
Give your baby the best
BEST for Preterm Infants
Preterm infants need human milk
Why human milk is BEST
- Baby can easily digest human milk, and it helps with developing and protecting the digestive system.
- Eating human milk provides antibodies and other substances that shield your baby from disease.
- Special nutrients are provided in human milk to help infant grow and go home sooner.
- There are over 200 components to human milk that are not available in human milk substitute.
Nursing your preterm infant
If your baby cannot nurse
In the beginning, you may need to pump human milk that can be given to your baby through a bottle or tube. Your baby will still get the same rich nutrients from your pumped human milk. If your baby cannot nurse, pump both of your breasts using an electric pump. It’s important to start as soon as possible and to pump often. The more you nurse or pump, the more milk your body will make. WIC has pumps for nursing parents who are enrolled in the program. If you think you may need a pump and are enrolled or eligible, talk to a WIC Lactation Consultant. If your baby needs milk before your milk comes in, you may be able to get milk from your local milk bank. Eventually, your baby will be strong enough to nurse from your breast. Most preterm babies become much better at nursing around the time of their original due date, so don’t give up if your baby doesn’t latch right away. Keep trying! You can also get help from a WIC peer counselor.
How often should I pump?
If your baby is in the hospital or unable to latch onto the breast, you will need to pump each time your baby would have had a feeding. This will ensure you have plenty of milk for your baby. Plan to pump 8-10 times throughout the day and night, or every 2-3 hours, for the first two weeks. Pump both breasts at the same time for 15-20 minutes each session, or at least 100 minutes a day per baby. Mothers of multiples will need to pump longer and more frequently.
How much milk should I get?
The importance of skin-to-skin care
It’s important to ask the nurses and staff whether you and your partner can have “skin-to-skin” (link to Benefits of skin to skin page) time with your baby while your baby is in the NICU. Some people call it “kangaroo care.” No matter what you call it, it will benefit both you and your baby.
During skin-to-skin care, your baby will be placed against you, dressed only in a hat and diaper, with a blanket over her back. Contact with your skin will help your preterm infant feel calm and relaxed, and it will help your baby gain weight. It will also help your body produce milk that protects your baby from bacteria while in the hospital. You should plan to spend at least an hour every day holding your baby like this while she is in the hospital.
Each time you feed your baby, you’re stimulating your body to make more milk.
Try to pump your milk right after holding your baby against your skin. This contact will help release hormones that allow you to pump more milk, and this will help you build your milk supply. The hospital will most likely be able to provide a hospital-grade pump you can use. Bring your pump with you to the hospital if they don’t have one you can use.
BEST for late preterm infants
Late preterm infants are born between 36-39 weeks old. Although they often look like mature babies but smaller, they often lack some of the developmental skills that a full-term baby should have, so we have to help them with feeding:
Baby should feed every 2-3 hours to help them learn to self-regulate. At first, you may need to wake baby to feed.
Express after each feeding and offer extra human milk by cup or spoon to help infant, as the sometimes struggle with transferring enough milk.
Skin-to-skin keeps baby warmer and helps with weight gain and growth.
Take time to change positions and keep infant awake and engaged. Baby may tire more easily, and need smaller, more frequent feedings.