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UR Medicine / Breastfeeding Services & Programs / Services / NICU Support / Premature or High-Risk Babies

Breastfeeding a Premature or High-Risk Baby

Breastfeeding premature or sick babies is very common, but the stages are different. There are certain things that can get in the way of breastfeeding, like your baby needing to be cared for in the NICU, separated from you, or your breasts being asked to produce milk before they may have had the chance to fully develop in pregnancy. There are things that we can do to help!

Milk Supply

It can take longer for milk to "come in" if you give birth early or have complications. Instead of the usual 2 - 3 days, it may take a week, so be patient with yourself! Also, because your baby is not with you and nursing, your body needs you to tell it to produce milk.

1 hourThings That Can Help

Hand express milk within 1 hour of birth (watch the Stanford hand expression video series)

Hand express or pump every 2 - 3 hours (at least 8 hours, but no less than every 5 hours at night)

Baby latching onto mother's breastLearning to Feed at the Breast

Babies born premature or with complications may:

  • Have less muscle strength 
  • Have less coordinated suck, swallow, and breathe 
  • Take a longer time getting milk from the breast

Stages of Breastfeeding

In my own time, in my own way, and it may take me until “term” to “click!”

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Skin to skin time, or "kangaroo care," holding and caring for your baby. This helps babies learn to breastfeed, and is important to help them stabilize after birth. Their breathing, sugar levels, and hearts are more stable because of this time you spend.

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When babies start to be at the breast, licking, and getting used to the taste of breast milk and moving their mouths to eat. 


When babies begin to suckle at the breast. They may not get a lot of milk out, and you will still need to pump, but they are learning!


When babies learn to get more milk out while they nurse. 

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When you go home, and babies may still be taking supplements from a bottle as well as nursing. They will gradually transition to fully feeding at the breast as they show their strength and weight gain. We have clinics that can help with this too: call (585) 276-MILK!