Originally published on Sept. 9, 2018.

I am deviating slightly from my planned post as I was on a course this week to brush up my knowledge and skills around breastfeeding. I am pleased to say that more and more of the premature babies are coming to me and still breastfeeding, or trying to. In the past it was more usually the case that I would find when taking the background to a case, that breastfeeding had been started and then stopped before a baby reached me, often on medical acvice. This is less often the case now. I think that this is partly owing to Speech and Language referrals being made earlier in the service I work in (hooray!), and partly because of an increasing understanding of the amazing potential of breastmilk as medicine for our tiniest babies.

This is by no way to implythat breastmiilk is the only way forward. As someone who works with babies and children with massive feeding challenges, I have long since subscribed to the 'fed is best' philosophy. Guilt over feeding is something I would gladly see an end to. But it is a real pleasure to be able to help Mothers who want to to be able to keep breastfeeding.

In addition, in the very vulnerable premature baby population, breastmilk really does have some pretty amazing properites, in comparison to even the most specialist preterm formulas (and thank goodness we have those).

So, with thanks to Ali White, Infant Feeding Advisor, of 'Heart of England NHS Trust', an acronym of the 'BIG' benefits of breastmilk over formula for premature babies:

  • Brain
    • Improved cognitive development
  • Immunity and anti-inflammatory
    • Reduced risk of inflammmatory conditions ( such as Retinopathy of prematurity), and of all types of infections
  • Gut
    • Reduced risk of NEC (Necrotising enterocolitis), a very nasty disease of the bowel that can kill premature babies
    • More easily digested than formula
    • Promotes growth of the gut lining
    • Supports the development of friendly bacteria, specific to the environment that Mum and baby find themselves in

Breastmilk really is superior to even the best formulas on the marker, and every drop a Mum can provide for her baby is very precious. It can be difficut to maintain breastfeeding in the difficult circumstances of a special care environment, when it can be so far away from the ideal situation to promote breastfeeding. Even if you do not want to, or can't produce very much breastmilk, the first colustrum from your breasts is an amazing immune system support for your baby. Ask your unit staff for advice on maintaining milk production and supporting breastfeeding, if you want to provide this excellent medicine for your baby. Even if it is not your intention to breastfeed long-term, it is something really positive you can do for your baby in the early stages. Depending on your staff's experiences, they may be more or less confident about giving you advice. Ask to see your unit's breastfeeding advisor, if they have one.

Posts from Find the Key Speech Therapy are intended for information. They are not intended to, and cannot take the place of advice from an appropriately qualified Speech and Language therapist who knows your child. Find the Key Speech Therapy does not take responsibility for the use of any advice without appropriate professional guidance.