How breast milk helps premature babies?

Your body knows that the baby was born much earlier than normal and begins to take care of ensuring his/her survival. Since premature babies require a higher amount of protein, fat, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium and other trace elements, in the first 2-4 weeks after birth your body tends to produce milk, which contains more of those.

In the last three months of pregnancy, large protein molecules – immunoglobulins – pass through the placenta and accumulate in the baby’s body. As their name suggests, they provide immunity against various infections once the baby is born. Your baby was born earlier and failed to accumulate enough protective factors for life outside the womb. Therefore, your body starts to concentrate immunoglobulins in the milk in order to transfer them to the baby and continue to protect the baby.

During breastfeeding, part of these protective factors “pad” the lining of the digestive system and help it mature faster. This reduces the incidence of all types of infections in premature babies. It is also one of the mechanisms through which your milk significantly reduces the risk for your baby to develop one of the extremely dangerous conditions in premature babies – necrotizing enterocolitis (a serious inflammation of the bowel requiring surgery).


The maturation factors in breast milk help for the development of your baby's lungs as well. They are also one of the reasons why breast-fed premature babies rarely develop problems with eyes and eyesight (retinopathy of prematurity).

Not only the baby's body, but also the baby’s brain develops rapidly in the weeks before the term. In the last months of pregnancy, the brain doubles its size and weight – and therefore needs the special development ingredients contained in breast milk. According to research, premature babies fed breast milk have a better chance of developing a full intellectual potential.

The maturation of the brain helps for the quicker development of the baby’s feeding reflexes. Breastfeeding – direct breastfeeding! – from the moment it is physically possible, is less stressful to the baby than bottle feeding. At the breast, the baby can control the milk flow and stop when necessary. This way the oxygenation stabilises, the cardiac rhythm remains steady and your body helps to maintain the baby’s body temperature.

Last but not least, babies who are fed breast milk only or whose diet consists of mainly breast milk, leave the intensive care unit on average 1-2 weeks sooner! Your milk helps your baby go home sooner!

How breastfeeding and expressing breast milk for your premature baby helps you

Each bottle of breast milk reminds you that you are helping your baby return more quickly to you and you are guarding and defending your baby all the time.

Through breast milk, you give your baby a feeling of you, your scent and the taste of the food you eat – and this will help you “recognise” each other more easily when you finally cuddle your baby.

The moment your baby is able to attempt to suck, breastfeeding automatically provides you with time for cuddling your baby. You know how valuable, how brief and frustratingly insufficient this contact is while your baby is in hospital – breastfeeding is the ideal strategy to ensure maximum physical contact, cuddling and feeling the baby while he/she is still in intensive care.

Last but not least, the skin-to-skin contact helps both you and your baby. Cuddling your baby gives you a feeling of peace and hope and helps you express breast milk more easily. The physical contact is a proven way to increase the amount of breast milk!

The time spent in your hands gives the baby invaluable sensory stimulation. You provide movement, smell, heat, your voice (which sounds especially for your baby!) and the taste of your milk changing from feeding to feeding. These experiences may seem small but in the womb, they are natural and typical, whereas in intensive care you and your baby are almost completely devoid of them if the infant is not breastfeeding and is not getting your breast milk. Perhaps the better brain development that occurs in breast-fed immature babies is partially due to the stimulation of all the senses through the contact with Mom!


Welcome to  "All About Premature Babies" website.
This is a project of "Our premature babies" Foundation based in Bulgaria. The book is a result of a team’s hardwork that includes doctors, psychologists, breastfeeding consultants and premature babies parents. The common information about premature babies which you can find here will help you understand better the situation you've been facing.
Please keep in mind that some of the information related to the neonatal intensive care units is prevalent only in Bulgaria.

We hope that this website and the book are going to help you to be more informed, calm and confident. We wish you and your baby best of luck and health.

Our Premature Children Foundation. © 2015. All rights reserved. The content in this website is subject of copyright. Publishing, copying and using content from this website is permitted only with mandatory reference to the source!