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Should I breastfeed my infant if he or she is born preterm or at a low birth weight?

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Breastfeeding is extremely important for a preterm infant. If your child is born preterm, your milk will be higher in protein and other nutrients than the milk produced by the mother of an infant born at full term. A preterm infant is an infant who is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

Because a preterm infant is generally smaller than a term infant, it may be difficult to position your child correctly for feeding. Certain positions, such as the "cross-cradle hold," are recommended for positioning preterm infants at the breast for feeding. Visit the La Leche League website for more information on this hold and positioning your preterm infant.

Some infants who are born preterm may not be able to breastfeed at first, but they do benefit from expressed breast milk. A new mother's breast milk contains colostrum, which has certain nutrients and immune factors. To make sure that your newborn receives your colostrum, even if he or she is too small to breastfeed, you should express your colostrum by hand or pump as soon as you can in the hospital. Ask a nurse or other health care specialist to provide you with a clean container for your expressed breast milk to feed to your newborn as soon as possible after birth.1

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health. (2010, August 1). Breastfeeding: Common breastfeeding challenges: Breastfeeding a baby with health problems. Retrieved April 27, 2012, from External Web Site Policy [top]

Last Reviewed: 12/19/2013
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