It is especially important for premature babies to receive breast milk, although direct breastfeeding can be complex. Read our expert’s advice to help you offer your baby all the benefits of your milk. Choose the best baby wrap for preemies.
If the baby is born before the 37th week of pregnancy, it is classified as premature. We don’t always know what causes premature birth, but some factors make it more likely. These include twin or multiple pregnancies, certain health conditions affecting the mother or fetus, or have had a premature baby previously.
Because premature babies have lived less time in the womb, they must finish the growth process and may be more prone to disease and infection. In addition, they may need to be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Why is breast milk so important for premature babies?
Breast milk is important for the optimal growth and development of full-term babies and is even more important for premature babies.
Important factors, such as DHA (a fatty acid vital for proper brain and eye development) and immunoglobulin G (an antibody), are transported from the mother to the fetus via the placenta during pregnancy. By being born early, premature babies do not receive all of these important factors in the womb; however, the milk of mothers of premature babies contains more fat and secretory immunoglobulin than the milk of mothers of full-term babies.
Premature babies also have immature gastrointestinal tracts, which can cause problems with digestion and absorption of nutrients; therefore, these infants need food that is easily managed by their delicate intestines. Your breast milk contains enzymes that aid your baby indigestion as well as an epidermal growth factor which in turn helps his gut ripen. Premature infants fed primarily breast milk have significantly reduced intestinal permeability compared to those fed primarily formula milk, which means that the number of (potentially pathogenic) particles that pass through the lining of their gut into the bloodstream is reduced.
Breast milk is so important to premature babies that if for any reason their moms initially can’t get enough milk, they can be fed milk donated by other nursing moms rather than formula milk to compensate.
Does breast milk allow premature babies better outcomes?
Breast milk contains protective agents that can help prevent complex situations your baby is prone to, such as severe infections, retinopathy of premature babies (which can cause vision loss), and bronchopulmonary dysplasia (a chronic lung disease).
The more breast milk the baby receives, the lower his risk of disease. Each additional 10 ml of milk per day per kg of your weight reduces the risk of sepsis by 19%. In addition, the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a potentially fatal intestinal disease, is up to ten times lower in premature babies who receive breast milk than in those who are formula-fed. Therefore every drop is precious!
But more importantly, premature babies fed their mom’s milk tend to be discharged on average two weeks earlier than those fed formula milk. In addition, in the first year of life, they are almost 6% less likely to be hospitalized.
Finally, a long-term benefit is that breast milk improves mental and physical development (research shows that infants who are underweight at birth who received breast milk in the ICU have an IQ five points higher than those who did not. received), as well as having better heart function in old age.
Will I be able to produce milk if my baby is born premature?
Yes, moms are ready to produce milk in the middle of pregnancy. When the placenta is expelled after delivery, the levels of progesterone (the pregnancy hormone) decrease, allowing the breasts to start producing colostrum, your first milk. Breast milk production is usually triggered when the baby latches onto the breast and sucks rhythmically however, if your baby is born prematurely, he or she may not be able to breastfeed at first.
You can reproduce the sensations that trigger milk production by stimulating the breasts and nipples with your hands or by using a breast pump that can help you pick up the nutrient-rich colostrum to give to your baby. (Learn more about what to do if your baby premature is not yet able to breastfeed (see below).
Usually, breast milk “arrives” two or four days after delivery, but if delivery occurs prematurely, sometimes the milk appears late. However, a recent study showed that in mothers who expressed their milk within one hour of giving birth, milk showed up at the expected time . This is also why it is important to start expressing breast milk as soon as possible.