Busting Myths around Breastfeeding Preemies

Written by Himani Rathore

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November 18, 2021 | Neha Mihir Joshi 

Most lactating parents often face breastfeeding issues, and when the baby is born prematurely this number increases manifold. Preemies actually need breastmilk & breastfeeding even more than healthy, full-term infants! Here are some common myths around breastfeeding preemies:

MYTH #1: KMC is an Add-On

Fact: Kangaroo Mother Care (direct skin-to-skin contact between mother & baby) is vital for all babies, but especially preemies. Initiating it from birth & keeping it continuous can make all the difference in maintaining the baby’s physiological, metabolic, and emotional functions.

MYTH #2: Preemies can’t be Directly Breastfed until 34w

Fact: Babies can start taking the breast by 27-28w gestation, and many are able to latch on & nurse directly by 30w with KMC and early access to the breast. Of course, every baby is different and some may take longer depending on whether they’ve had health issues.

MYTH #3: Preemies Need to Be in Incubators

Fact: Evidence shows that the baby’s breathing, BP, temperature & blood sugar is maintained better in KMC than in incubators. Moreover mothers produce more milk, babies take to the breast earlier, and breastfeed better.

MYTH #4: Preemies get Tired at the Breast

Fact: Breastfeeding is hard work & the bottle is easier? No, babies need to just latch on well & stimulate the flow of milk. This, along with breast compression and supplementing with a lactation aid at the breast if necessary, will ensure the baby gets a good flow and doesn’t fall asleep at the breast.

MYTH #5: All Preemies Need Fortifiers

Fact: If the parent is pumping enough milk, babies over 1.5kgs can grow just fine with breastmilk only. If babies were encouraged to start breastfeeding much earlier than usual, fortifiers wouldn’t be necessary. In the absence of parent’s breastmilk, preemies can be provided human donor milk instead.

MYTH #6: Bottles are Vital in Teaching Preemies How to Suck

Fact: Babies learn to breastfeed by breastfeeding, not bottle-feeding! KMC and getting the baby to the breast even before 34w helps greatly to avoid bottles. Moreover due to the different muscles being used, bottle-feeding ends up teaching the baby poor sucking skills, which can be difficult to unlearn.

MYTH #7: Nipple Shields are Essential

Fact: Getting a preemie latched on well may take extra time & patience compared to using a nipple shield with the mother, but it’s worth it. Nipple shields eventually lead to a drop in the supply due to inefficient milk transfer, also making weaning them difficult.

Breastfeeding preemies is challenging but comes with a host of great benefits for both, the baby & the parent. Moreover, nearly all issues can be easily avoided, or fixed, if one reaches out to an experienced LC for help ASAP. 

 

Sources: International Breastfeeding Centre & Kangaroo Mother Care

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