Supporting Breastfeeding

La Leche League Canada

Premature Babies Need Human Milk

on July 18, 2016

One of the key recommendations from several different studies into improving the long term outcomes for premature babies is the provision of human milk either at the breast or via other feeding methods.

A 2015 study published in the Journal Mucosal Immunology stated “Breast milk is the most effective strategy to protect infants against necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a devastating disease that is characterized by severe intestinal necrosis.” If babies have developed NEC all feedings are stopped for a period of time. Human milk is the first food to be restarted because it is easily digested, it supports the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestinal tract, and boosts a baby’s immunity — which is especially important for a preemie with an immature immune system. For women who can’t breastfeed or provide enough breast milk, doctors may recommend giving the baby pasteurized human milk from a milk bank, which is considered a safe alternative.

download (22)


Another serious problem that some premature babies develop is Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). ROP causes extra blood vessels to grow in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. When the vessels grow, they can cause the retina to detach, destroying vision. The researchers in a multi-national study said that when babies were exclusively fed breast milk, the risk of any-stage ROP appeared to drop by about 75 percent and the risk of severe ROP seemed to be reduced by 90 percent. Chen’s team found that breastfeeding in any amount appeared to reduce the risk of ROP. And it appeared that the more breast milk, the better. Exclusive breastfeeding seemed to drop the odds of ROP by 75 percent compared to exclusive formula use. And any breastfeeding appeared to reduce the odds of the serious eye disease by 46 percent, the research showed. The antioxidants and immune protective factors in human milk may be part of the reason that human milk is protective. The other part may be due to the decreased risk of infection and NEC both of which may cause the baby to require oxygen therapy which has been linked to a higher risk of ROP.

Skin-to-skin contact (also known as Kangaroo Care) is a key element in the World Health Organization’s recommendations for babies who are considered clinically stable and who weigh over 2000 grams at birth. Skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby stabilizes the baby’s temperature and it encourages the hormonal environment that support breastfeeding. For more information about skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding check the LLLC website FAQ page or here.

1 Preemie


Having the support of other mothers when dealing with your premature baby and pumping or feeding a tiny baby at the breast can make a huge difference to your confidence. Call or email a La Leche League Leader.



If you need more information or have a breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to an accredited La Leche League Leader. In Canada, Leaders can be located by clicking or Internationally

If you have found this article helpful, La Leche League Canada would appreciate your support in the form of a donation at so we can continue to help others breastfeed. Thank you!


Your Comments are Welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: