by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC
Here's What You'll Find Below:Do preemies need to be kept in an incubator?
Do all preemies need fortifiers?
Do I have to wait until 34 weeks to put my baby to the breast?
Do I need to wear nipple shields to help my baby latch?
Does my baby need a bottle to learn to suck?
Should I limit nursing time so baby doesn't get tired?
Does test weighing tell if my baby is getting enough milk?
Should we continue the fortifier at home?
Too often mothers have preventable problems with breastfeeding. Many hospital routines make it difficult for mothers and babies to breastfeed successfully. When the baby is born prematurely, mothers may have even more difficulty with breastfeeding, and this is unfortunate because premature babies need breastmilk and breastfeeding even more than healthy full term babies.
The reason for mothers not getting the help they need is that many of the "techniques" used to save the lives of premature babies were developed during the 1960s and 1970's when breastmilk, never mind breastfeeding, really wasn't a priority in neonatal intensive care units (NICU's).
Unfortunately, despite much about what we have learned since that time about how to help mothers and babies to breastfeed, NICU's seem to be, in general, with some exceptions of course, resistant to change the way babies should be fed. Even worse, some techniques have been adopted that make the situation even more difficult.
1. Myth -- Premature babies need to be in incubators...
Actually premature babies, even very small ones, often do better skin to skin with the mother (or father) than they do in incubators. Evidence shows that premature babies (and term babies too for that matter) are more stable metabolically when they are skin to skin with the mother. Their breathing may be more stable and less distressed, their blood pressures are more normal, they maintain their blood sugars better and their skin temperatures better in Kangaroo Mother Care (skin to skin care for most of the day) than they do in incubators.
Furthermore, mothers and babies in Kangaroo Mother Care will more likely produce more milk, she will get the baby to the breast earlier and the baby will breastfeed better. A document from the WHO discusses this at length with many references. Please show this document to your baby's doctor(s). You can get it at the WHO website free of charge.
2. Myth -- Premature babies all need fortifiers...
Actually, most don't need fortifiers. If the mother is expressing enough milk, babies over about 1500 grams (usually about 32 weeks gestation babies weigh this much, though there are exceptions) can grow just fine with breastmilk only, perhaps with the addition of vitamin D or phosphorus, maybe.
The real problem behind this "need" for fortifiers is that it has become a gospel, carved in stone, for many NICU policies that babies must grow at the same rate outside the mother as they would have had they not been born so early.