Breast milk has growth factors, minerals, and hormones that support your baby’s growth and development.
Breastfeeding a Premature Baby: Babies born before 37 weeks of completed gestation are called premature babies. They often face many challenges and risks, such as low birth weight, infections, developmental delays and stress. Breast milk is one of the best ways to protect and nourish premature infants, whether by pumping or direct breastfeeding. Breast milk has numerous short- and long-term benefits for preterm newborns. India.com got in touch with Dr Sanjay Wazir, Neonatologist and Pediatrician, who revealed that breastfeeding a premature infant can be challenging, but not impossible. The expert further shares breastfeeding benefits for premature infants.
Breastfeeding Benefits For Premature Infants
Mothers of premature infants need information, encouragement and support from healthcare providers, family members and peers to initiate and maintain breastfeeding. Some of the ways to support breastfeeding for premature infants are:
- Providing early and frequent skin-to-skin contact between mothers and premature infants.
- Helping mothers to start expressing breast milk as soon as possible after delivery, preferably within six hours.
- Providing mothers with adequate equipment, education and assistance for breast milk expression.
- Feeding expressed breast milk to premature infants by tube or cup until they are ready to breastfeed directly.
- Offering pasteurized donor human milk when the mother’s own milk is not available or sufficient.
- Helping mothers establish direct breastfeeding when premature infants are stable and mature enough.
- Providing ongoing lactation support after discharge from the hospital.
Nutritional Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for all babies, but it is especially important for preterm babies, who have distinct nutritional needs than full-term babies. Breast milk generated by premature newborn mothers is adapted to their individual needs. It contains more protein, fat, salt, zinc, free amino acids, and fatty acids than breast milk. The nutrients in question aid in the growth and development of premature infants’ intelligence, eyesight, neurological systems, and bones.
Immunological Benefits of Breastfeeding
- Breast milk is not only a food, but also a medicine. It contains antibodies and other disease-fighting factors that protect newborns against infections and diseases. This is especially critical for premature infants, who are more susceptible to infections than full-term babies. Breast milk can help prevent or lessen the severity of common preterm issues like necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), sepsis, respiratory infections, and retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).
- Breast milk also aids in the establishment of healthy gut microbiota in preterm newborns. The microbiome of the gut is an ecosystem of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit the digestive tract. It is crucial for digestion, immunity, and metabolism. Breast milk contains helpful bacteria and prebiotics that help preterm newborns develop a balanced and diverse gut microbiota.
Developmental Benefits of Breastfeeding
- Breast milk not only promotes physical growth in premature infants, but also cognitive, emotional, and social development. Breast milk contains hormones, growth factors, and bioactive compounds that promote brain development and function. Breastfed premature newborns have higher IQ scores, greater language abilities, and lower incidence of behavioral disorders than formula-fed premature infants, according to studies.
- Breastfeeding also allows mothers and premature newborns to bond in a unique way. Breastfeeding enhances the production of oxytocin, a hormone that improves maternal connection and decreases stress. Skin-to-skin contact while breastfeeding also helps premature infants regulate their internal temperature, heart rate, respiration, and blood sugar concentrations. Breastfeeding can also boost the self-esteem and contentment of women who may be apprehensive or guilty about their early delivery.
Being a mother is a gift that lasts a lifetime!