Pumping For Preemies: What To Do When You Can’t Plan Ahead

Pumping For Preemies: What To Do When You Can’t Plan Ahead

Preparing for a preemie baby is almost impossible! You just don’t know when or if it’s going to happen, so many moms aren’t sure how to handle it when it does. Pumping for preemies and making sure they are getting the nutrition they need is extremely important during this time. Here are some tips to help!

My Own Experience (and how I almost had preemie babies!)

The first four months of my second pregnancy were very smooth… But one day things took an unexpected turn. I went into preterm labor very early… at only 21 weeks!

I was sitting in my bedroom and felt very weird sporadic pains in my pelvic area and thought maybe I pulled a muscle (I had walked 4 flights of stairs earlier that day). I then grabbed a glass of water and sat back down on the bed, but this time the pains were different. I felt a contraction and thought “this couldn’t be real?”

I called my midwife and my dad to tell them what I had felt and immediately my midwife said, “I need to see you now, head over to the hospital”. I was afraid, nervous, confused, and overwhelmed. I remember the contractions began to become stronger as the minutes went by… Only to find out that I was dilated to 1 cm and the contractions just wouldn’t stop. 

I remember the delivery team along with the NICU team coming in to advise and prepare me for a possible delivery of my daughter if things wouldn’t calm down. We did ultrasound scans to check height, weight, and length. She was weighing 1 pound 1 ounce... My heart dropped because the low chances of her making it were hard to think about. 

What were the next steps?

I was put on bedrest for 7 days and had to take magnesium. Let’s just say, I was HOT that entire 7 days (magnesium can make you feel hot and flushed)! The best news happened on day 5… They were able to stop my preterm labor! I continued the magnesium for two more days to make sure my body was completely stopping with labor and it worked. 

But this was a scary experience! I was not prepared to pump for a preemie if she had been born. I think it’s important to have this resource during pregnancy to be aware of your choices and to plan ahead if it were to occur.

Then, it almost happened again!

For my third pregnancy,I was also at risk for preterm labor around 32 weeks. However, it stopped within a few hours. Still, I didn't know what to do in these situations or how to prepare.

If you are at risk and know ahead of time, the best way to prepare for pumping for preemies is to learn what your options are! And if it happens suddenly, just know that you aren’t alone. Many moms go through this and have to learn very quickly how to care for their preemie baby. Learn what you can and trust that you are doing the best you can for your baby.

How Can You Pump For a Premature Baby?

Similarly to a term birth, your milk supply will take a bit to fully come in… In fact, it may seem harder depending on how early your baby comes!

However, Very Well Family explains that pumping for preemies and solidifying your milk supply is all about consistency. They explain that because a full-term baby will typically eat every few hours early, on, you should plan on pumping every 2 to 3 hours.

Additionally, you may not need very long pumping sessions early on! While you are establishing your milk supply, use mini-sessions around 15 minutes long to increase your supply. If you continue to have a low supply as your baby grows, other methods such as power pumping are great options as well.

When Pumping for Preemies, The First Hour is Critical

Although this may be a time of craziness and confusion, you want to use that first hour if possible. This is the critical time to start hand expressing or pumping because prolactin travels to the receptor sites and stimulates breast milk production. If you are unable to express or pump during the first hour, aim for within the first 6 hours of your baby being born.

It may still take some time for your milk to fully come in, especially because you are pumping for preemies and your body may not have been ready to produce milk this early. However, any little steps you can take to start bringing in your milk supply to feed your baby will help!

For example, your milk early on will come in the form of colostrum. Colostrum is the first form of breastmilk that is released by the mammary glands after giving birth. It’s nutrient-dense and high in antibodies and antioxidants to build a premature or newborn baby’s immune system. The Women’s explains that you may only get a few drops of colostrum each time you express, but it should slowly increase over time. Every drop you are able to express can go a long way to feeding your preemie baby!

Utilize Donor Milk

Donor milk is a valuable resource for premature infants whose mothers are unable to provide an adequate supply of milk. As you work on increasing your own supply through hand expressing or pumping, this can be a huge help!

The largest donor milk bank is the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. They have 31 locations so you can find and contact the one that is closest to you. The HMBANA has many guidelines for donor milk and the process is very strict to ensure that the milk you receive for your infant is safe.

For example, Very Well Family breaks down just how safe donor milk is. They explain that the screening process includes a thorough medical history, doctor’s approval, blood tests, continued screening, breast milk testing, and much more.

What to Avoid When Pumping for Preemies

With so many solutions out there, it may be hard to determine which is best for your baby! Here are a few options to be aware of and why it’s recommended to avoid them.

You want to avoid freeze-dried breastmilk. Although this is a great option later on, there is always the risk that your baby is immunocompromised because they were born early. You don’t want to risk that there is some type of bacteria or contamination at such a young age.

Informal breastmilk sharing should also be avoided with premature babies. Although this method of milk sharing may be useful to mature babies, preemie babies are much more susceptible to bacteria, disease, and other substances that may be found in breastmilk. Formal breastmilk sharing (such as donor milk) is a much better option as it is thoroughly tested and screened to be safe for preemie babies.

Additionally, you don’t need to start expressing milk before baby arrives!

I have seen some moms who focus on harvesting colostrum before their baby comes. Some reasons they do this is because it can prepare your breast and nipples by waking up your milk ducts, they don’t want to nurse but still want to provide colostrum, they have a history of low milk supply, or they are preparing for oral restrictions that may cause feeding to be difficult. 

However, this could actually stimulate contractions and lead to preterm labor if done before 37 weeks! My recommendation is that it is to wait until after your baby arrives to start expressing colostrum or breastmilk by hand or by pump unless you are expecting one of those previously-mentioned elements to occur. Remember, even if you are at risk for preterm labor and want to prepare, pumping for preemies early is not the way to go!

Can You Nurse a Preemie?

Although pumping is a great option if your child is born premature, nursing may still be a possibility!

For example, La Leche explains that babies who can breathe without help can be breastfed. However, you may still face some struggles. Premature babies tend to have less muscle tone and smaller features, making it harder to start breastfeeding. You may need the assistance of a lactation consultant to learn how to work around these problems.

Additionally, different nursing positions will be easier for preemie babies to nurse in than others. This article shares one position that may be easier for preemies to breastfeed in.

Lastly, a big struggle for nursing preemie babies is keeping them awake during the feed! Healthy Children explains that it is best to nurse during times when your baby is awake and alert… but you should still expect very short feedings as they will tire easily!

Take Time to Remember Your Breastfeeding Journey

Moms of preemie babies have a special story to share. It may be difficult and you may have gone through hard times, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a memory that shows how powerful your breastfeeding journey was! 

Breastmilk keepsake jewelry is the perfect way to remember your personal journey. You can create a piece that is as individual as your child is! Just look at my keepsake gallery… with so many different options, you can create a piece that empowers you and your journey as a breastfeeding mom.



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