Feeding a baby born too soon

NG tubes

NG tubes

In January the Smallest Things dedicated a week to raising awareness around the realities of feeding a premature baby.

A babies suck reflex develops at roughly 34 weeks gestation, meaning many babies born too soon are not yet able to coordinate the suck and swallow action that is required for them to feed safely. Others are simply too small or not medically stable enough to feed and for some their mothers are not well enough and recovering from the trauma of birth. Babies born too soon are therefore given milk (expressed breast milk, donor milk or formula) through a nasogastric (NG) tube – a fine tube passed through the nose down into their tummies – to establish feeding and to enable them to grow. Feeding becomes an integral part of NICU life and for many is the key to coming home.

Before having their baby some mothers had strong views on how they planned to feed; for others they hadn’t even thought that far ahead – after all they hadn’t anticipated the sudden and early arrival of their little one! I’ve spoken with mums who were sure before birth that they would bottle feed… only to find themselves plugged into an expressing machine on the neonatal unit and well on their way to breastfeeding. Others I know had been sure they would breastfeed and were then devastated when for one reason or another they couldn’t.

The course of establishing feeding in NICU rarely runs smoothly and the Smallest Things are grateful to all the mums who shared their stories to help raise . In her post photo 2Mikaila describes her guilt at continuing to breastfeed her baby despite his slow weight gain. Of how she wondered if he would come home more quickly if she converted to feeding with bottles. Her determination to feed her baby though won through, helped by the added confidence she had gained from it being her second time around.

In Charlotte’s guest blog she describes the frustrations of trying to establish breastfeeding on the unit. Of arriving to feed her baby only to find that he’d already been tube fed. Or arriving to feed her baby only to find that his feed times had been changed. This frustration of poor communication and handover is often mentioned by parents who have spent time in NICU. I remember it well – arriving, breasts full ready to feed, only to find that your baby is fast asleep with the remnants of formula milk in their NG tube. Yes, there is frustration, but there is also heartache too as you head to the mothers room to express your milk when instead you should have been putting your growing baby to your breast.

You can read others in our feeding series here: 30ml Mum | Establishing breastfeeding in NICU: The ups & downs | Second time around | I need a breast pump! A mothers need to provide for her baby | Best Laid Plans |

In our next series of guest posts the Smallest Things will be looking at communication. If you have a story to share please do get in touch. Write to Catriona at e. smallestthings@yahoo.com

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