Mum’s milk is best for premature babies

21/Feb/2022     Mater Group

Premature babies at Brisbane’s Mater Mothers’ Hospital are being fed expressed milk just hours after being born as part of a program to improve health outcomes of pre-term newborns.

The program, called Expressing Early and Often, encouraged mums to feed expressed breast milk to their premature babies within six hours of birth.

Mater midwife Kerrie Whitlock said research[1] suggested colostrum, the milk first produced by mothers, could improve brain development, immune systems and lung health in premature babies. It also protected the gut of newborns.

Ms Whitlock said there had been a 20 per cent increase in mothers of premature babies expressing directly after birth since the program started in 2020.

“The Expressing Early and Often project is a joint effort among Mater nurses, midwives, lactation consultants and doctors to educate mothers, especially if their newborn is premature, on the value of feeding their babies breastmilk as soon after birth as possible,” she said.

“We are assessing the new findings of the project, but we know that breastmilk can reduce the risk of morbidity and mortality in premature babies.”

Ms Whitlock said the project also aimed to increase the frequency that mothers expressed with a goal of six to eight times per day.

In conjunction with the Express Early and Often project, a study by Mater’s Neonatal Critical Care team currently focuses on increasing the number of preterm babies that receive expressed breast milk within six hours from birth.

Brisbane mother Evette Ludeman learned to express just hours after having a Caesarean section to deliver her premature triplets in November last year.

The babies, Charlotte, Aria and Alyssa, were born at 31 weeks.

“I knew I wanted to give breastfeeding a go but I thought I’d have problems because I’d been  diagnosed with polycystic ovaries and endometriosis,” Ms Ludeman said.

“The lactation consultant showed me how to do it and, once my milk came in, I was able to express every two hours, three hours and then four-hourly.

“The triplets have not only benefited from the immunity of my breast milk, but by breastfeeding consistently, it has increased the amount to sustain them on demand.”

Mater Health Lactation Consultant Megan Mahoney said expressing or breast feeding early and often optimised milk supply in mothers. 

“Mothers of babies in the intensive care or special nursery often have multiple risk factors that adversely affect their ability to produce a good milk supply,” Ms Mahoney said.

“They also have to cope with being separated from their babies or have the stress of an unwell baby and may need to rely on expressing to establish a milk supply.

“Hospitalised babies are often vulnerable, and breastmilk can reduce the risk of morbidity and mortality in these babies.”

Ms Whitlock said the Expressing Early and Often project provided new mothers at Mater Mothers’ Hospitals with an expressing kit, information resources and access to lactation consultants for education and support.

Benefits of breastfeeding

  • Your preterm milk is uniquely produced to meet the needs of your preterm baby.  It’s a living fluid with antibodies and growth factors.
  • Breast milk is more easily digested and tolerated than formula.
  • Breast milk protects the baby’s gut from complications such as necrotising enterocolitis(NEC)
  • Breast milk reduces the risk of babies developing diabetes, allergies, SIDS, childhood leukaemia, infections

[1] British Association of Perinatal Medicine, Optimising Early Maternal Breast Milk for Preterm Infants

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