The benefits of breast milk far outweigh those of formula. Not only due to the baby's ability to tolerate breast milk much better than formula. Although premature babies often have trouble latching on. Even when they don't a lot of them will often have problems with the suck, swallow, breathe routine and quickly become exhausted, therefore the mother will opt for the breast pump. Pumping the breast milk and storing it for use later on. When using the pumping method the baby will sometimes need to be fed through a tube until they can handle the bottle. It is an important decision for the mother of an early preemie to breast feed, be it naturally or with a pump due to the preemie specific benefits of breast milk. If the mother does decide to feed her baby breast milk it is very important that she start pumping almost immediately after delivery (within six hours of birth) due to a preemies susceptibility to illness. It is also recommended that the mother pump as often as feeding a full term baby approximately eight times a day or every three to four hours. It is also a good idea for mothers to keep a journal or log of frequency of pumping and volume of milk produced. Premature babies are highly susceptible because of their underdeveloped immune systems so the anti-infective and anti-inflammatory protection of breast milk help to protect the baby from a bacterial infection, especially to early preemies. Studies show that premature babies can't digest formula as well as they can breast milk due to their under developed digestive systems. Breast milk also contains more easy to digest whey than formula does, not to mention lipase which helps baby digest fats more completely, helping them gain weight, which is all important at this stage of their development. The preemies survival rate is said to be strongly linked to to quantity and early start of breast milk feeding. Preemies are much smaller than their full term counterparts, therefore preventing weight loss and weight gain are much more important.
Premature babies are often anemic for several weeks after birth due to an iron deficiency. Full term babies receive a large dose of iron at thirty seven weeks gestation. Preemies are usually deprived of this high dose of iron due to their shortened gestation. Often times a mother's milk may be fortified with dietary supplements or human milk fortifier to provide additional nutrients. There are also conditions like reflux and apnea of prematurity.
Bottle feeding your baby can be quite a challenge due to the preemie's lack of strength and the amount of energy that it takes. Mothers are often concerned with how much to feed their baby. Be sure to have a bottle ready for when your baby shows signs of being hungry, such as sucking on fingers or crying. Premature babies are notoriously slow eaters. This is mainly due to their underdeveloped digestive systems and inability to digest breast milk as quickly as full term babies, although it is easier for preemies to digest than formula. Breast milk is also high in calories, promoting rapid growth. Of course, you should always consult you neonatalogist or pediatrician for advice on how much and how often to feed your baby. Breast milk gives your baby some protection from a serious bowel infection, called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) that occurs in premature babies. There is no medicine or formula that can offer the same protection that breast milk can. My son was stricken with this illness while in the NICU. It was luck for us that he was in the NICU when it occurred both times, because it cause his bowel to become perforated, which required multiple surgeries to correct. When the bowel becomes perforated fecal matter the body cavity via this perforation causing the a serious infection and the skin to darken.
If you do decide to feed your baby breast milk. The milk that you pump can be stored:
for four to eight hours @ room temperature (below 77°F) or (25° Celsius)
for up to two or three days in a refrigerator @ 32°-39°F (0°-3.9° Celsius)
for up to two weeks in a conventional kitchen freezer (refrigerator/freezer)
for three to four months in the back of a freezer @ 0° F (-18° Celsius)
for six to twelve months in a deep freezer @ 4°F (-20° Celsius)
When storing milk, regardless of the volume pumped, it is always a good idea to store it in small portions (two to four ounces) or (59.1 or 118.2 milliliters)Once thawed frozen milk cannot be refrozen, but it can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. Once your baby drinks from a bottle any milk remaining in that bottle must be discarded. When frozen or refrigerated breast milk may take on a slightly discolored look. It may have a bit of a blue, brown or yellowish tint to it, it might also separate into a creamy looking layer on top of a more watered down milky looking layer.
A lot of parents still think that it's okay to warm up the baby's milk in the microwave, it can be if you take the necessary precautions. The microwave may cause hot spots in the milk, so you've got to be sure to shake the bottle vigorously for a while and test it's contents on the inside of your wrist. Even though the bottle may not be hot the contents could be hot enough to scald your baby. Another thing to be cautious of about using the microwave to heat up baby bottles is the fact that some bottles contain BPA, a chemical used to make certain types of plastics that when heated in a microwave release toxic chemicals into the milk that cause serious health problems for infants. So just to be safe I recommend special bottle warmer running it under warm water. You can feed your baby breast milk for as long as you like. Some mothers opt to continue to use pumped breast milk in lieu of breastfeeding.
If you do decide to breastfeed your baby rather than continue to pump and bottle feed. Your baby will be able to breastfeed for longer periods of time and more frequently as they develop. When you first begin to breastfeed your baby your breasts may still feel full after a feeding, so you may want to use your breast pump to empty the breast. Many moms choose to breastfeed for approximately one year after birth. When your baby is not breastfeeding very good, you might have to use your breast pump to stimulate an adequate supply of milk. Some preemies will spit up a little bit after feeding, this is normal. It could be due to their digestive system being underdeveloped or even something as simple as a wet burp or having eaten too much. The amount of spit up often looks like more than it actually is. As long as your baby is growing steadily and at a healthy rate the spitting up is no reason for concern. Be aware that there is a difference however, between spitting up and full blown vomiting. If your baby seems to be spitting up the whole feeding you should consult your neonatalogist. In rare cases there may be an allergic reaction or a digestive problem. One sign of this is if your baby is vomiting forcefully. If this is happening frequently and on a regular basis, you should keep a record of when it happens and about how much. This will help your doctor to diagnose the problem if there is one. Its important to burp your baby regularly during feeding.
Every three to five minutes during breastfeeding
Every one to two ounces during bottle feeding
Be sure that during feedings and immediately after your baby is held in an upright position to avoid any vomiting or spitting up, especially if your baby has been diagnosed with reflux.
Breast milk is the most nutrient rich thing you can feed your baby. As well fortified as breast milk is it still doesn't supply your baby with all of the vitamins that he/she needs during this very essential time in their development. Breast milk doesn't contain sufficient concentration of vitamin D. So babies who rely on breast milk as their primary source of nutrition should be given a daily vitamin, but of course be sure to consult your physician before starting your infant on any vitamin regiment. It has been stated that infants do not need a fluoride supplements during the first six months of their life (full term or preemie). It can be very dangerous for a baby to receive too much fluoride. Most cities near major metropolitan areas fortify their water supplies with fluoride whereas well and bottled water do not contain fluoride. So the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that after six months of age, children should receive fluoride supplements if it's not contained in the water your child is drinking. As always consult your physician before giving your baby any supplements.
Visit our site at Raising a Preemie.com to read more about my son Aiden and the hell that the doctor put us through in the months leading up to his birth. Learn more about premature birth, babies and all the hardships that they sometimes face. Feel free to leave a comment or question.