Breast milk: Preemies depend on it

Published 9:58 pm Sunday, November 19, 2017

It’s a sad misconception, but many moms believe if their babies are born prematurely, they won’t be able to breastfeed.

Not only is this a myth, it is even more crucial for premature infants to have breast milk.

Premature infants (born three weeks or more prior to their estimated due date) missed out on critical developmental time while in the womb, and the mother’s breast milk protects them in a way that formula cannot.

Email newsletter signup

Premature infants are more susceptible to a variety of illnesses — illnesses that breast milk can help protect them from.

These are illnesses/diseases that preemies are not only prone to during infancy, but things that can affect them into adulthood.

Common ailments that premature infants are more likely to experience, like necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), asthma and other breathing problems, dental problems later in life and brain development issues, are less likely to occur in breastfed infants as well as numerous other complications.

Mother’s milk provides antibodies and the perfect amount of nutrients for the developing infant. For an infant who is even more fragile, mother’s milk has immeasurable value.

According to the March of Dimes, a baby’s brain at 35 weeks gestation only weighs 2/3 of what it will weigh at 39 or 40 weeks gestation. This means the last four to five weeks of pregnancy are critical for brain development.

Breast milk has been shown to drastically improve the development of a premature infant’s brain, protecting them during infancy and beyond.

Kangaroo Care, or skin-to-skin, is simple to do during a nursing session. Allowing any infant, especially a premature infant, to have time with mother skin-to-skin is shown to benefit both mom and baby. For infants, Kangaroo Care can help regulate their heartbeat, body temperature, breathing and better breastfeeding. For mother’s, skin-to-skin helps improve bonding and has been shown to increase mother’s breast milk supply.

Although there are several infants born prematurely who are able to latch onto the breast immediately, many are not able to do so.

When this happens, moms can feel discouraged, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t able to provide her child with breast milk.

For mothers with infants who are not able to latch onto the breast, it is important to be begin expressing milk as soon as possible after birth, preferably within the first hour if possible.

Mothers should keep a strict pumping/expression schedule (every two to three hours around the clock) until her baby is able to latch on and feed him or herself on demand.

For mothers who wish to breastfeed, whether she has a premature infant or full-term, the key to being successful is support. Support doesn’t just come from her family, but from medical staff who are able to guide her and help her with any issues she faces.

The Clark County Health Department’s WIC program offers the Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. This program offers on-demand breastfeeding support, to assist moms in reaching their breastfeeding goals. For more information, call 744-4482.

Clark County Health Department supports families through a variety of programming and services including nutrition therapy, family planning, immunizations, WIC, HANDS, community education events and Cooper Clayton smoking cessation. For more information, call 744-4482 or visit