The decision to breastfeed a preterm baby is not always an easy one, even for women who planned on nursing at term. A major attraction of breastfeeding, close mother-child contact, is usually absent, at least at first. Instead, a cold impersonal pump stands in the way of an intimate experience, making nursing a mother-machine-child affair. But though almost all women find pumping their breast exhausting and time-consuming, most persevere, knowing that this is the one way in which they can contribute to the well-being of the baby from whose care they otherwise feel excluded.
The following tips can make the effort to feed a preterm baby in the best possible way more efficient and less tedious:
- Asked about in-hospital facilities for expressing milk. Most hospitals have a special room with comfortable chairs and an electric breast pump set aside for mothers to use.
- Begin expressing milk as soon after delivery as possible, if your baby isn’t ready to take it. Express every 2 to 3 hours if your baby is going to use the milk immediately; every four hours or so if the milk is going to be frozen for later use. You may find getting up to pump once in the middle of the night helps build up your milk supply; or you may value a full night’s sleep more.
- It’s likely you will eventually be able to express more milk than your tiny baby can use. Don’t cut back, however, figuring you’re wasting too much. Regular pumping now will help to establish a plentiful milk supply for the time when your baby takes over where the machine leaves off. In the meantime, the excess milk can be dated and frozen for later use.
- Don’t be discouraged by day-to- day or hour-to- hour variations and supply. Such variations are normal, although you wouldn’t be aware of them if you were nursing directly. Also normal when milk is expressed mechanically are an apparently inadequate milk supply and/or a drop in production after several weeks. Your baby will be a much more efficient stimulator of your milk supply than even the most efficient pump. When actual suckling begins, your supply is almost certain to increase quickly.
- When baby is ready for feeding by mouth, try to nurse first, before the baby is given a bottle. Studies show that low-birthweight babies take to the breast more easily than to the bottle. But don’t worry if yours does better on the bottle – use it while you’re baby gets the hang of breastfeeding, or use a supplemental nutrition system.