Breastfeeding a sick or premature baby

When expressing milk, you should express as often as possible to match your newborn baby's feeding pattern. This means expressing about ten to 12 times in 24 hours, including once during the night.

You can find more information on caring for your baby in a neonatal unit here.

Premature babies

A baby is premature when they’re born before the full nine months of pregnancy. Premature babies benefit from the antibodies, hormones, enzymes and growth factors in breast milk.

Expressing breast milk early

If your baby cannot feed from the breast, it's important to express milk early, within two hours of your baby's birth. This establishes your milk production so you have a supply when your baby is ready to breastfeed.

Hand expressing milk in the first few days allows you to collect colostrum more easily. You only express small amounts because that's all your baby needs in their first few days.

After two to five days, your milk supply increases. Hospital staff looking after your baby can give you advice on how to express as much milk as possible. This could mean using a double breast pump to express both breasts together,

Your baby’s feeding pattern

When expressing milk, you should express as often as possible to match your newborn baby’s feeding pattern. This means expressing about eight to 10 times in 24 hours, including once during the night.

Feeding breast milk to a sick or premature baby

A sick or premature baby can take expressed breast milk:

  • through a tube
  • in a syringe
  • in a cup

Establishing breastfeeding

As your baby grows and gets stronger, they can breastfeed directly. A small baby benefits from skin to skin contact with their mother and being close to their breast. Your baby will know your scent, taste and touch.

Keeping your baby close helps them:

Hospital staff will help you with breastfeeding when your baby is ready. You need to be patient as it can take several attempts to establish breastfeeding.

Sometimes your baby may open their mouth to latch on but they don’t suck. Hand expressing some drops of milk onto your baby’s lips can encourage them to latch on.

Your baby will learn to breastfeed if you do this once or twice every day.

Milk Bank

The Human Milk Bank provides donor breast milk for babie sin hospital neonatal units if their mother's own milk i snot available. The mother might have a low milk supply or need drug therapy, which could harm her baby if passed into her breast milk.

The Human Milk Bank in South West Acute Hospital accepts brest milk from donor mothers. If you would like to donate your milk, you can contact the Human Milk Bank to find out how at [email protected] or call 028 686 28333.

Informal Milk Sharing

It is never recommended that breastmilk is shared between mothers outside milk banks that follow accepted guidelines. There are significant risks as informally shared human milk could be contaminated with disease causing bacteria. It could also contain viruses as a result of the mother having unknown infections such as HIV or hepatitis. In addition, the shared milk may contain medications taken by the mother, as well as alcohol, nicotine, drugs and other contaminants.

Breastfeeding Locations