Premature Birth and Breastfeeding: A Special Journey

Premature Birth and Breastfeeding: A Special Journey

Welcoming a new life into the world is a joyous occasion, but for parents of premature babies, the journey to parenthood takes unexpected turns. Premature birth comes with unique challenges, and breastfeeding these tiny warriors is a remarkable aspect of their care. In this blog, we’ll discuss the insights on breastfeeding premature babies, shedding light on the challenges they face and exploring unique approaches to support their special journey.

Understanding the Scope

Globally, around 10% of all births are premature, with the rate varying by country. In India, the preterm birth rate is estimated to be around 12.7%, contributing significantly to neonatal mortality and long-term health complications.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm each year.

In India, the preterm birth rate is significantly higher than the global average, making it a critical public health concern.

For premature infants, mother’s milk is a crucial source of vital nutrients and immune support. However, in cases where a mother may not be able to provide breast milk immediately, donor human milk becomes a lifeline. The WHO recommends the use of donor human milk when a mother’s own milk is not available, emphasizing its role in reducing the risk of severe infections and other complications.

Unique Approaches to Breastfeeding Premature Babies

Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC): This method involves skin-to-skin contact between the mother and her premature baby, promoting bonding and providing essential warmth. KMC has shown to enhance breastfeeding success, weight gain, and overall well-being.

Paced Bottle Feeding: Premature babies may struggle with the coordination of sucking, swallowing, and breathing. Paced bottle feeding, where the caregiver controls the flow of milk, allows the baby to feed at their own pace, reducing the risk of overfeeding and supporting breastfeeding.

Breast Milk Fortification: In some cases, premature infants may need additional nutrients to support their growth. Breast milk fortification is a method where specific nutrients are added to breast milk to meet the unique nutritional needs of premature babies.

Lactation Support and Education: Providing ongoing support and education to mothers of premature babies is crucial. Lactation consultants play a vital role in guiding mothers through the challenges of breastfeeding premature infants, offering tailored advice and strategies.

Golden Hour Nutrition and Skin-to-Skin Care

Skin-to-Skin Care: The golden hour immediately after birth is a critical time for premature infants. Skin-to-skin care during this period not only fosters a strong emotional bond between mother and baby but also regulates the baby’s temperature and facilitates the initiation of breastfeeding.

Golden Hour Nutrition: The first hour after birth is a golden opportunity for initiating breastfeeding and providing essential nutrients to the premature baby. Mothers are encouraged to offer colostrum during this period, as it is rich in immune-boosting properties and sets the foundation for a strong breastfeeding relationship.

In the Absence of Mother’s Milk

In situations where a mother is unable to provide breast milk, whether due to medical reasons or other circumstances, the use of donor human milk remains a valuable option. The goal is to ensure that the premature baby receives the optimal nutrition needed for healthy growth and development.

WHO Guidelines for Premature Infant Feeding

The World Health Organization provides comprehensive guidelines on the care of premature infants, emphasizing the importance of exclusive breastfeeding when possible. The guidelines highlight the need for promoting mother’s own milk, using donor human milk when necessary, and implementing supportive measures such as KMC.

Breastfeeding premature babies is a journey filled with resilience, hope, and unique strategies. As we navigate the challenges together, it’s crucial to raise awareness about the importance of supporting premature infants’ nutritional needs and promoting breastfeeding as a cornerstone of their care. With the right knowledge, resources, and compassion, we can ensure that every premature baby receives the best possible start in life through the nourishing power of breastfeeding.


Statistics on Premature Birth:

World Health Organization. Preterm birth. Accessed November 20, 2023.

Donor Human Milk and WHO Guidelines:

World Health Organization. Donor human milk for preterm and low birth weight infants. Accessed November 20, 2023.

World Health Organization. Guideline: counselling of women to improve breastfeeding practices. Accessed November 20, 2023.

Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC):

Boundy EO, Dastjerdi R, Spiegelman D, et al. Kangaroo Mother Care and Neonatal Outcomes: A Meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 2016;137(1):e20152238. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-2238

Paced Bottle Feeding:

Flacking R, Dykes F. ‘Being in a womb’ or ‘playing musical chairs’: the impact of place and space on infant feeding in NICUs. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2013;13:179. doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-179

Breast Milk Fortification:

Arslanoglu S, Moro GE, Ziegler EE. Preterm infants fed fortified human milk receive less protein than they need. J Perinatol. 2009;29(7):489-492. doi:10.1038/jp.2008.241

Lactation Support and Education:

Renfrew MJ, McFadden A, Bastos MH, et al. Midwifery and quality care: findings from a new evidence-informed framework for maternal and newborn care. Lancet. 2014;384(9948):1129-1145. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60789-3

Golden Hour Nutrition and Skin-to-Skin Care:

 World Health Organization. Protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding in facilities providing maternity and newborn services: the revised Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative 2018. Accessed November 20, 2023.

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