If your baby was born before 37 weeks, he was premature. Some babies who are born between 34 and 37 weeks are healthy and large and strong, but they need to be watched closely to make sure they feeding well and gaining enough weight.
Babies’ brains grow and develop a lot during the last few weeks of pregnancy. If your baby was born early, his brain is still growing and developing just as it would if he were still in the womb. As his brain grows, he becomes more and more ready to take all of his meals from breastfeeding; but in the early weeks, he might not be ready, and supplementation may be necessary.
It is very possible for you to breastfeed your premature baby, but you might face some challenges. You might have to pump frequently to make sure you establish a good milk supply if your baby does not have the stamina to take a full meal from the breast. Before your baby’s brain is mature enough, he might not be able to stay awake long enough to take full meals from the breast. There are distinctive suck patterns that you can look for to know when your baby is strong enough and awake enough to take a full meal at the breast. A weighed feeding will also help you know how much milk your baby is taking, and if he needs more.
It is important to remember that your early baby is probably behaving and feeding normally for his age and that feeding challenges are not your fault! A Lactation Consultant can help you make a plan that allows for your baby to thrive while guiding you toward your breastfeeding goals. When working with an IBCLC, you will be able to figure out how much supplement your baby needs, and explore different feeding options that work best for you.
I would love to help you make a feeding plan that works for you and your family. I am available to visit you in your home, with my hospital-grade baby scale, so we can evaluate how your baby feeds and how much milk he gets during breastfeeding. I am usually available within 24 hours of your request. Please call or email me if you have any concerns about breastfeeding your premature baby! I can help you!
Beth Sanders, BSN, RN, IBCLC