This site is intended for health professionals only

Lack of breastfeeding support for mothers of premature babies

Some new mothers of premature or sick babies are unable to breastfeed because they do not receive the advice and support they need, says the premature baby charity BLISS. 

Thirty-eight percent of mothers that took part in a BLISS survey did not breastfeed, even though almost all of them were aware of the benefits of breast milk for their baby, and most of them expressed milk to begin with. While in some cases this may have been because breastfeeding was impossible, a significant proportion (17%) said that it was due to a lack of support from staff.  

Twelve percent said that no one showed them how to position and attach their baby to the breast, and only 36% were told about the problems they might encounter and how to overcome them. Thirty-four percent of those asked said they were not helped to have skin-to-skin contact with their baby, even though it is widely accepted that this can help stimulate milk production and is important for making the transition from expressing to breastfeeding. Only 28% of those asked were shown how to hand express (important for initiating milk production and obtaining valuable first drops of colostrum) and only 21% had access to portable pumps for cot-side expressing.
New mothers of premature babies may have missed out on antenatal classes, and are likely to be going through a very traumatic and stressful time. As a result, it is essential that they receive dedicated and specialised support and advice to help them to express their milk soon after birth, and to make the transition to breastfeeding. This support should include advice on how and when to express, access to the necessary equipment and facilities, help with having skin-to-skin contact with the baby, and advice on when and how to start breastfeeding.