Mother’s milk is the best nutrition source for any baby in the first years of life.
Even if your baby cannot feed by him/herself, it is essential to ensure the nutrition and benefits of breastmilk reach the newborn. The breastmilk of a preterm baby’s mother contains a higher amount of proteins and minerals like salt, as well as various fats. This aids in the baby’s development at this stage better.
Your doctor will be able to advise you on how to feed your baby, even when he/she is in the Neonatal ICU. In cases where the baby cannot feed by him/herself, methods are available to express the milk and store it safely to be fed to the baby when it can take it. Your doctor or the hospital staff will be able to advise you and guide you through the process of using a breast pump.
However, your baby requires a large amount of nutrition to grow quickly and catch up with other babies during this period and your doctor may advise fortifying the milk to meet the increased nutrients.
Many hospitals and Neonatal ICUs now promote more time spent with close contact between the child and mother. Some NICUs promote breast pumping while being in contact with the baby. This closeness has been shown to have an effect on the stability and growth of the baby. It also helps the mother when she holds the baby skin-to-skin to express milk better, even if using a breast pump.
The minimum amount advised is higher than 1.5 hrs a day to maintain an adequate supply of milk to help your baby through the developmental period. Double pumps are available which can help the mother express milk better in less time. While using any devices, always be careful not to apply too much pressure or cause friction problems on the skin.
The production of milk gradually changes from the first time its expressed after the baby is born. The initial milk is different in constitution and less in quantity but is necessary to boost your baby’s immunity to its best. Hand expression may be preferred over breast pumps at this stage. As the constitution of the milk changes in the most optimal way for the baby, some hospitals ensure to feed the baby in the order of expressed milk.
The process of breastmilk expression and feeding may seem less important while your preterm baby is in the NICU. It is important to remember that there is no better nutrition or medicine for your baby at this stage than the mother’s milk. This is also important for the right emotional development for the child and the right recovery for the mother.