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Breastfeeding Benefits for Preterm Babies: What Mothers Need to Know

Breastfeeding Benefits for Preterm Babies: What Mothers Need to Know

For newborn babies, breast milk is always the best and most complete source of nutrition. More so for premature babies, especially since the breastfeeding benefits for preterm babies are numerous. Read on to learn more about how breastfeeding benefits preterm babies.

Breastfeeding benefits for preterm babies

Compared to full term babies, preterm babies are especially vulnerable because their bodies have yet to fully develop.

This is why they need extra care and support in order for them to grow healthy and strong.

In fact, with proper care and breastfeeding, preterm babies eventually grow up to be as healthy as their full term counterparts.

One of the best ways of doing this would be through breastfeeding.

In fact, breastfeeding benefits preterm babies more than other babies, because breast milk can provide all of the nutrition that preterm babies need.

This is why doctors always recommend breastfeeding, regardless of whether or not a baby was born full-term or preterm.

Here are some of the breastfeeding benefits for preterm babies.

Breastfeeding strengthens preterm babies’ immune systems

One of the most worrying things for parents of preterm babies is knowing that their baby has an underdeveloped immune system.

What this means is that preterm babies cannot easily fight off illnesses, so they are more vulnerable to infection.

In fact, a common problem among preterm babies is that they can fall prey to bacterial infections, which can lead to problems such as pneumonia.

Pneumonia is one of the leading causes of child mortality; about 1.4 million children died in 2010 because of pneumonia.

One way of strengthening a preterm baby’s immune system and lowering the risk of acquiring pneumonia is through breastfeeding. This is one of the most important breastfeeding benefits for preterm babies.

Everything You Need to Know About Neonatal Pneumonia

According to studies, when preterm babies are exclusively breastfed, the chances that they develop pneumonia or more serious illnesses are significantly lower compared to those who were formula-fed.

The reason behind this is that when a mother produces breast milk, she also passes along some of her antibodies.

When a newborn baby drinks breast milk, the antibodies contained in it can help strengthen their immune system and helps with fighting off disease.

And for preterm babies who are especially vulnerable, breastfeeding is one of the best ways to ensure that preterm babies stay healthy and free from diseases. Remember this as one of the breastfeeding benefits for preterm babies.

Breastfeeding benefits preterm babies by boosting their development

Preterm babies have a higher risk of having developmental problems compared to their full-term counterparts. This is because the bodies of preterm babies are not yet fully developed, so they still need to “catch up” in terms of development.

One way of measuring a preterm baby’s growth is by measuring their weight gain.

However, preterm babies tend to gain weight at a slower pace, because they are using most of the calories they receive in order to grow and heal.

An amazing thing about breast milk is that if a mother gives birth prematurely, her body will adjust the milk she produces according to her newborn baby’s needs.

This means that the breast milk of preterm mothers usually has more protein to help boost growth, and an enzyme called lysozyme strengthens the immune system. This is one of the breastfeeding benefits for preterm babies.

In addition, their milk would also have more fat and less lactose. Preterm babies use the fat for energy, while the lower lactose content makes it easy to digest.

By providing breast milk, preterm babies, can receive not just the essential nutrients that their growing bodies need, but also the calories that their body uses as energy for their growth.

This means that by breastfeeding, preterm babies can gain weight faster and catch up with full-term babies.

Breast milk can easily be digested

Another one of the breastfeeding benefits for preterm babies is that babies can easily digest it. In fact, even preterm babies can readily digest breast milk.

One problem with formula milk is that it can sometimes cause allergic reactions, or even stomach infections. This can also put a lot of stress on a newborn’s kidneys, and can cause vomiting and/or diarrhea.

These problems might seem small to us adults, but for preterm babies, it can be very dangerous.

By giving preterm babies breast milk, these problems can be avoided.

breastfeeding benefits for preterm babies

How can mothers provide breast milk to their preterm baby?

Breastfeeding preterm babies can be difficult, especially since some mothers might not yet be lactating when they give birth.

Here are some tips to make breastfeeding a preterm baby easier:

  • Preterm babies can have a hard time suckling, so expressing your milk by hand can be helpful.
  • Using a breast pump can also be effective, especially if you want to store your milk.
  • Skin-to-skin contact is important, and can even help increase your milk supply. Consult your doctor if your preterm baby is ready to latch directly onto the breast.
  • Be sure to eat healthy foods and also drink a lot of water for hydration that can increase your milk supply.
  • Try to breastfeed as often as possible, since your body starts to produce more milk if you breastfeed regularly.
  • Massaging your breasts can also help improve milk production.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for help from nurses or midwives when you want to breastfeed your baby.

Breastfeeding benefits for preterm babies are numerous. By following these tips, you can ensure that your preterm baby is healthy and will develop well as they grow.

Learn more about Premature Baby Care here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Providing Breastmilk for Premature and Ill Newborns – HealthyChildren.org, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Providing-Breastmilk-for-Premature-and-Ill-Newborns.aspx, Accessed October 15, 2020

Successfully breastfeeding your premature baby – La Leche League GB, https://www.laleche.org.uk/successfully-breastfeeding-premature-baby/, Accessed October 15, 2020

Breastfeeding premature babies | Raising Children Network, https://raisingchildren.net.au/newborns/premature-babies/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-premature-babies, Accessed October 15, 2020

Breastfeeding your premature baby – NHS, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/breastfeeding-premature-baby/, Accessed October 15, 2020

Feeding your premature baby | Tommy’s, https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/pregnancy-complications/premature-birth/your-babys-time-hospital/feeding-your-premature-baby, Accessed October 15, 2020

Breastfeeding for reducing the risk of pneumonia morbidity and mortality in children under two: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3847465/, Accessed October 15, 2020


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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Jun 03
Medically reviewed by Ruben Macapinlac, MD, DPPS