Feeding Your Premature Baby - Part 1
For most, the birth of your baby is a much anticipated and very happy event. But, for one in eight couples, for the babies who arrive a little earlier than expected, or for those who arrive and are sick it can be a very traumatic time. A baby who is born sick or prematurely (before 37 weeks gestation) will most likely end up in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). This unit is a specialised space that is geared to handle anything from mildly sick babies to those who have some very severe problems.
The NICU is full of strange sounds, lots of machines and very tiny babies. Getting to know the nursing staff, asking questions and becoming involved in your baby’s care will be sure to curb some of the fright.
What to expect
There are various baby beds in the NICU each one specific to that baby’s needs. The NICU will generally be kept very calm and dimly lit to limit unnecessary stimulation. Breathing problems are the most common issue for perm babies as the lungs are one of the last organs to develop. For this reason, many premature babies will be hooked up to breathing apparatus.
The sucking and swallowing reflexes do not fully mature until about 36 weeks gestation. Your baby will need to be able to coordinate these reflexes simultaneously in order to drink milk. For this reason, your baby may be fed your expressed colostrum and later breastmilk through a nasogastric tube (a tube that is fed through the nose and directly into your baby’s stomach) until she is ready and able to latch.
At this stage, it is a good idea to offer your baby a dummy during feeds. By doing this, your baby will learn to associate suckling with the feeling of fullness. If you are able, you can also hold your baby at your breast during tube feedings.
Work closely with hospital staff as well as a qualified lactation consultant during this time as they will be able to determine when your baby is ready to nurse at your breast. In the mean time, continue to express every 3 hours during the day and every 4 to 5 hours at night in order generate a good milk supply. You may also want to ask your healthcare professional to help you spend some time with your baby in Kangaroo Care - this has been proven to not only speed up growth and development in premature babies but also to help establish and maintain successful breastfeeding.
Perseverance is key in these early weeks of breastfeeding. Keep in mind that learning to breastfeed is a big deal for both you and your baby. Remember that every little bit of progress, no matter how small means that you are one step closer to taking your baby home.
Why is breastmilk so important for my preemie?
Your breastmilk is tailor made for your baby and for this specific time. Preterm milk contains higher concentrations of fat, energy, protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, chloride and iron. It is quite different to the milk that a mother of a full term infant would be producing.
Immunoglobulins protect a newborn against infections. Since premature babies are more susceptible to infections and disease, this is a very important benefit.
Protein is vitally important for growth and development in your baby. The type of protein in breastmilk is very easily digested which means that your baby is using less energy for digestion and more energy for growth.
Fat aids in brain development and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, this is of course your baby’s primary source of calories.
Carbohydrates: Lactose is the primary source of carbohydrate in human milk and aids in the absorption of minerals as well as limits unhealthy bacteria in your baby’s gut.
Minerals: Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc are all present in breastmilk, the amazing thing is that breastmilk also contains facilitators for each of these minerals making the absorption of minerals that much more efficient.
Read Feeding Your Premature Baby - Part 2
Recipes that compliment this discussion:
Mango & Banana Smoothie
Salmon Surprise Puree