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Breastfeeding support for premature babies

Breastfeeding has lots of benefits for you and your baby. As well as the health benefits, breastfeeding is a great way to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby. Skin-to-skin contact helps with bonding and has also been linked to several health benefits for you and your baby.

Why is Breast Milk Best for Baby?

Colostrum is the first milk you produce after your baby is born. It is yellow in colour, thick in consistency, and it is normal to produce only a few millilitres in the first few days.

Colostrum has been termed 'drops of gold' because it delivers its nutrients in a very concentrated low-volume form but contains all the nutrients your baby needs for the first few days of life. This is ideal for all babies' adaptation and development but is especially important when your baby is in the neonatal unit.

Breast milk contains hormones, nutrients, growth factors, and antibodies tailored to your baby's needs. As a result, breast milk boosts your baby's immune system, protects against infections and provides the nutrients and hormones for growth and development. Breast milk is easy to digest and is absorbed more efficiently than formula milk. It also has a mild laxative effect, which can help your baby to clear the gut of meconium (the first dark, sticky stool), this can help to prevent Jaundice

After about three days of birth, your breast milk will change to more mature milk, produced in larger volumes. Babies fed with breast milk have been shown to have improved short-term and long-term health outcomes compared to those who are artificially fed.

Premature and sick babies are very vulnerable. Breast milk acts as one of the best medicines to protect them from illness and infections, as well as help their systems to mature, particularly the digestive system. 

Even if you did not plan to breastfeed your baby, it is beneficial to give them your expressed breast milk whilst they are in the hospital.


A neonatal or maternity team member can support you with expressing and with any questions you may have. We have added some information on breastfeeding to these pages. However, it is not designed to replace your nursing and medical team conversations.

Benefits for the Mother

Breastfeeding mothers have been shown to have:

  • lower risk of breast cancer

  • lower risk of ovarian cancer

  • less diabetes

  • less hypertension (high blood pressure)

  • lower risk of heart disease

  • lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis

  • lower risk of postnatal depression

More information can be found here

Benefits for the Baby

Breastfed babies have been shown to have:

  • tailored and improved nutrition

  • fewer infections

  • less gastrointestinal infections (diarrhoea and vomiting)

  • less respiratory infections

  • fewer ear infections

  • lower risk of heart disease in adulthood

  • fewer instances of allergies, eczema and asthma

  • lower risk of childhood cancers, including leukaemia and lymphomas

  • lower risk of type 1 and type 2 diabetes

  • lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

  • improved bone health

  • Improved brain development

  • lower blood pressure and cholesterol

  • Increase IQ

  • fewer mental health concerns in childhood and adolescence

  • fewer dental concerns in childhood and adolescence

  • effecting method of pain relief

  • Improved bonding

In addition to these benefits, the benefits for preterm babies include:

Worldwide benefits 

The benefits are seen in both high and low-income countries, with a study published in The Lancet in 2016 finding that increasing breastfeeding rates around the world to near-universal levels could prevent 823,000 annual deaths in children younger than five years and 20,000 annual maternal deaths from breast cancer.

​Breastfeeding also contributes to significant savings for the NHS through the prevention of illness and disease. 

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Common Feeding Challenges
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