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Tips for Breastfeeding Preterm Babies


baby laying on back with doctor's stethoscope on chest



Babies who are born too early are called pre-term and often don't feed well.

Some babies arrive so early that they are cared for in a special nursery at the hospital.

Some babies arrive so early that they’re cared for in a special nursery. If your baby is early, but close to being full term, she may stay with you in your hospital room but you’ll likely both stay in hospital a bit longer.

If your baby can be with you, ask for help to make sure she’s feeding well. And remember to hand express after feedings. Any colostrum you express can be given to your baby with a spoon or cup. Having your baby skin-to-skin on your chest also encourages breastfeeding.

Watch a video on expressing milk for preterm or ill baby.

Need transcripts?  You can get them here.

Watch a video on how to express breast milk.If you’re separated from your baby, it’s important to start hand expressing as soon as possible after birth or at least within the first six hours. Express a minimum of eight times in 24 hours. After about 24 hours, hand express and pump. (See box). If you aren’t feeling well, ask your support person to help you express and pump. It’s important to express your milk regularly during the night. Ask your nurse or healthcare provider when you can put your baby skin-to-skin and start breastfeeding.

Did You Know?

If you have a premature baby, using hand expression and a breast pump will help you make more milk:

  • If your baby cannot feed well at the breast, you will need to express colostrum and milk. 
  • If you are separated from your baby, it's important to start hand expressing as soon as possible after birth or at least within the first six hours. 
  • Hand expression usually works better than a breast pump during the first 24 hours or so. 
  • After that, combine hand expression and pumping at least eight times in 24 hours if your baby still isn’t breastfeeding well.

Resources & Links:
Quick Tips: Successful Breastfeeding
Feeding Your Premature Infant 
Storing Breast Milk 

VIDEO: Admission to Postpartum - Keeping Your Baby Skin-to-Skin
VIDEO: Baby's Feeding Cues and Behaviours
VIDEO: Breastfeeding Positions
VIDEO: Hand Expressing Milk
VIDEO: Latching Your Baby

Last Updated: August 4, 2013