Breastfeeding on a Neonatal Unit

Breastfeeding a preterm or ill baby

Breastfeeding is extra-important if your baby is born preterm or is ill.  Such a baby is particularly vulnerable to infections and needs the milk which is specifically designed for a human baby, whatever stage of development they are at.  Your milk is the best thing for your baby to help him grow or recover.

Your baby may not be ready to breastfeed  directly from the breast straight away.

So while your baby is getting stronger you can pump the milk from your breasts using a technique called expressing,

Expressing is a skill that can take time to learn, and staff looking after you will give support and advice with this.

It is important to start expressing your milk as soon as possible after the birth of your baby and you will need to express your milk at least 8-10 times in every twenty four period including once at night until your baby is well enough or mature enough to be taking effective breastfeeds. Try to avoid gaps of more than three hours during the day and express every five or six hours at night. This will ensure that you maintain an adequate milk supply for your baby. The more you express the better supply for your baby.

Only a small amount of milk will be produced in the first few days after your baby is born. This perfectly normal. In the early days you will be expressing colostrum and you may only be able to obtain a few drops to begin with.  Gradually over the next few days, the volume will improve and expressing will get easier.

For mothers of premature babies, it can take a little extra time to establish a milk supply.  During the last stages of pregnancy, hormones prepare the breasts to start producing milk. If your baby is born earlier this process may have been cut short but you will eventually catch up so ask for support if you need help.  

Small Wonders is a DVD  designed to help parents to be at the heart of their baby's care. Best Beginnings, the child health charity have produced the Small Wonders DVD for families of sick and premature babies.

One of the most important things a mother can do is to provide breast milk for her baby. For this reason it will be particularly useful for you to watch the ‘Expressing and Breastfeeding’ film within the first 48 hours after birth, as it will help you to establish a good milk supply for your baby.

For further details about Small Wonders, please ask your nurse or visit


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