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Feeding your Prem

Like so many of our dreams of what will when our baby is born, our ideas on feeding our newborn changes dramatically when that baby is born prematurely. The mother who had plans of bottle-feeding may feel that expressing breastmilk for her tiny one is one of the only things she can do for her baby. And the plan of putting the newborn to the breast in the labour ward is shattered when the baby is whisked away for live saving treatment.

Remember that no plan set down in pregnancy is unchangeable, and even as your baby grows your ideas and expectations will change. Whatever you choose to do will be the one that is right for you and your baby. Breastmilk has many wonderful advantages but babies will thrive on a formula as well.

For the very premature baby it could be weeks before the baby is strong enough and mature enough to tackle the challenges of feeding from a bottle or the breast. At first all feeding will be intravenously until the doctors feel the baby will be able to digest milk (breast or formula) given to him. When milk is finally given, she will be fed by a gavage tube. This is a thin tube that is fed into the baby’s stomach. The milk is put into a syringe, which is attached to the gavage tube and held up above the baby to allow the milk to flow slowly through the tube into the baby’s stomach. This is a job parents can do for your baby when you are in the nursery. The nurse will set up and start the feed and you can hold the syringe. Not quite the way you may have planned your baby’s first feed, but the time will come when he will graduate to either the bottle or the breast.

Breastfeeding your prem is a bigger challenge than breast feeding a full term baby. But the challenges can be overcome. If it is your desire to breastfeed your baby, please advise your baby’s doctors, have it noted on your baby’s chart especially if you do not wish them to be bottle fed at anytime. But be flexible, some babies have a lot of trouble feeding, my own experience was my prem was never able to latch on and suck, but she was still fed my breastmilk for the first 12 months exclusively.

If you are hoping to breastfeed, you will need to learn how to express your milk. Expressing needs to start as soon as possible after birth. Ask your nurses to show you how to express your milk, they should show you how to hand express and also how to use the breast pumps that your hospital will have. Hospitals with intensive care and special care nurseries usually have electric breast pumps you can use while at the hospital. These pumps will make the task of getting your baby milk a lot easier so use them whenever possible while at the hospital. For use at home, you will have to look at hiring a electric pump or purchasing a hand operated pump.

It is important to start expressing as soon after birth as possible even if it is weeks before your baby is given any milk. Breastmilk will freeze and keep until your baby needs it.

The following link is to a site by an Australian Lactation Consultant and has all the information you need to know about expressing for your premature baby.

For more information on Breastfeeding you might like to contact the
Australian Breastfeeding Association

Breast milk is the best and most natural food for your baby. But for some baby’s and some mother’s breastfeeding will not be an option. Many things will affect the mother’s ability to produce milk some of these include the stresses of having a sick baby or the length of time before your baby is able to start feeding. For some baby’s taking their feed from a bottle is easier work than from the breast.

Whatever the reason, it is your decision. Make it clear to your baby’s doctors and nurses and they will support your decision. On the market today there is many good formulas for baby’s, even some that are made for specifically for baby’s born prematurely. These will have a different composition than the normal full term formulas and will supply the extras that your prem will need.

If you make the decision to bottlefed, before you take your prem home, ensure that you are discuss which formula will suit your baby, how to make it up, how much to give your baby and how to sterilize all equipment used in feeding.

The primary aim of PIPA is to provide practical and emotional support to the parents and families of premature infants. However we do not offer professional advice. We are parents of preterm baby’s and not medical staff. We do offer understanding, support, encouragement and friendship.

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