Feeding your baby

Before your baby was born, you may have spent time imagining their birth and how you would care for them. You may have even spent time thinking about how you planned to feed after their arrival. When your baby is born premature or sick and admitted to a NICU or SCN, you may find yourself needing to adjust your dreams and expectations.

For parents and their new baby, feeding can be a time when relationships are formed and bonds are forged. However, for parents of premature babies, it can also be a great source of anxiety and concern. In the womb, your baby received all of their nutrients via the placenta and umbilical cord. When your baby is delivered prematurely or sick, he or she will need to receive these vital nutrients in a variety of different ways.  When babies are born early and are not ready to eat by mouth, the first food they will receive will be delivered by a tube which is usually placed through the nose, or sometimes through their mouth and into their stomachs. Before they go home, they will learn to eat by mouth. It is ideal if the first food they receive is your breast milk.

Breast milk for premature and sick babies

Breast milk is important for all babies but for premature and sick newborns, it provides vitally important health benefits and acts like a medicine that only a mother can provide. Research has shown that the composition of a mother’s breast milk is different if her baby is born premature than if her baby was born full-term. It is tailored to the needs of a premature gut and is highly beneficial for your baby.

Although at times it can be exhausting and challenging, most mothers find that providing breast milk for their baby is one of the more beneficial and rewarding things they can do.

So whether you’ve decided to express milk for a short time or plan to transition to feeding at the breast later, your milk is an important part of your baby’s treatment plan.

Why is breast milk so important?

  • Breast milk provides better nutrient absorption, digestive functioning and nervous system development.
  • Colostrum (first milk) is rich in antibodies called ‘immunoglobins’ and coats the GI tract, stomach and intestines, providing protection from viruses and bacteria.
  • Mothers of premature babies produce milk that is higher in nitrogen, protein, lipids, fatty acids, vitamins, calcium and other vital elements that are important to the development of premmies.
  • Breast milk antibodies protect from viruses such as gastroenteritis, sepsis and necrotising enterocolitis.
  • Research shows that breast milk may reduce risk of conditions such as allergies, asthma and eczema.
  • The varying composition of breast milk keeps pace with the baby’s changing nutritional needs.
  • Breast milk has vital long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are essential to brain development.
Want to learn more about premature babies and feeding? 

Adapted from information provided by Miracle Babies Australia