All babies can benefit from breast milk. But for preemies, the benefits can be even more important.

Breast milk can help reduce the risk of certain infections and illnesses in premature infants. Moms of premature infants also make milk that’s higher in protein and other nutrients.

If your baby isn’t able to breastfeed at first, you can try expressing breast milk using a breast pump. Jill Lindquist, a lactation consultant at Methodist Hospital, offers the following tips to help you establish and maintain your milk supply.

  1. Pump often, every two to three hours. Frequent pumping mimics a newborn’s feeding pattern. This means it’s important to use a breast pump anywhere from 8 to 12 times a day, for at least the first couple of weeks.
  2. Pump to “empty.” Try to pump for at least 10-15 minutes for the first few days after birth. Once your milk comes in, it’s important to “empty” your breasts as fully as possible. (Your breasts will never fully empty.) But as a general rule, you should pump for no more than 30 minutes. You can also talk to your care team if you have questions about how long to pump.
  3. Use a hospital-grade breast pump, if possible. Studies show that mothers who are expressing milk for premature babies should use a hospital-grade electric breast pump. And, using a double collection kit makes it so you can empty both breasts at the same time. Ask your care team about renting a hospital-grade pump.
  4. Go hands-free. Using a hands-free pumping bra can help create a better seal for the pump flanges. It also frees up your hands to do other activities, which can make the time spent pumping go by faster. You can buy a hands-free pumping bra, or make one yourself. You can use an old sports bra or even a hospital belly binder.
  5. Eat and stay hydrated. Eating and staying hydrated is important for your milk production. This can be a challenge for any new mom, but especially for moms of preemies who are dealing with added stress. Be sure to drink lots of water and have snacks next to you during your pumping sessions.

Your doctor and care team can help get you started on your pumping journey and answer questions like: how much breastmilk to feed baby and how to know if they are getting enough. And, when you and baby are ready, they can help in transitioning your baby to the breast.

If you have any questions or concerns about breastfeeding, our CareLineSM (800-551-0859) and BabyLine (800-845-9297) team members are available to provide 24/7 lactation support for mothers over the phone. You can also call or schedule an appointment with our HealthPartners Como Clinic Breastfeeding Center.