Premature Babies

I am sure these nurses have only the best intentions for the care and health of these babies but you have to stop and wonder if anyone back then thought a mother’s natural milk would be best for her premature baby. Do you think that occurred to any of them at any point?

Well, the short answer has to be “no” because the medical establishment taught nurses and doctors that cow’s milk was the optimal nutrition for a child that is born prematurely. How that logic came to be held so prominently is beyond me. Here are three nurses giving formula to babies born too soon in 1939.

If I’m not mistaken some hospitals these days recommend that mothers of preemies express milk for them as opposed to giving them formula. Correct me if I’m wrong on that.

9 thoughts on “Premature Babies”

  1. A lot of hospitals do exactly that, and there are even women who donate their milk specifically for premies. For some premies, they respond EXTREMELY well to something called “Kangaroo Care”, which is just letting the mother hold the baby skin to skin on her chest, with a blanket over him, nursing on demand. Her body warms to keep him warm, and his heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and breathing stabilize all just by being at his mother’s breast. Most importantly, their cortisol levels go down, which is a serious concern for NICU babies, because cortisol inhibits bloodflow to the brain and over time can damage it. It’s a tossup what premies are damaged from most- being born early, or being away from their mothers.

  2. Good points, Katherine. Everything you mentioned is so intuitive. It’s a shame that the medical establishment systemically stripped this from mothers. I’m glad that mothers are taking motherhood back!

    Thank you for stopping by.

  3. That was my shock not even the bottled milk but the fact, why wasn’t one of the parents feeding the baby. Babies need their parents and need the cuddles. Makes me want to cry and hold my own baby extra tight.

  4. I was a premature baby born in New Zealand in 1944. I was 6 weeks premature. My mother didn’t even see me until Christmas Day when I was a week old. She was allowed to see but not touch. I went home at 6 weeks of age and my mother said they could have given her any baby, there was no bonding. I think it is a testament to the power of motherly love that we were able to bond after that, even though I refused the breast and the bottle and was cup fed.

    Contrast that with this – my youngest daughter had identical twin girls in Brisbane, Australia, last year, They were born at 29 weeks and have never had formula. They were tube fed expressed colostrum then milk until they were able to nurse. They are now 6 months old and exclusively breast fed.

  5. Hi Jennifer

    I’m glad to have come across your site, and I’ve added it to my bookmarks. It’s good to see social situations when breastfeeding was taken for granted. In my part of the world it’s now rare, and the local hospital has just closed its breastfeeding clinic for financial reasons. With its C-section rate of 90% or so (ugh!) I don’t hold out much hope for the next generation of babies getting enough breast milk. Luckily breast milk feeding of prem babies IS encouraged, and donor human milk is accepted. The breast milk bank I started is gaining acceptance… see … and we believe we have saved the lives of many vulnerable babies.

    Best wishes!

  6. Jennifer, I love your blog–the photos are fascinating and thought provoking. Katherine gave great info re: breastfeeding and kangaroo care for preemies. My son was born via emergency c-section at 33 weeks due to preeclampsia. I was lucky to be in a hospital that encouraged breastfeeding for all mothers. Not that they needed to encourage me, as I was asking for a pump immediately after the surgery. I did, indeed, pump milk for my son, which he received through a feeding tube until he was strong enough to nurse on his own. We also practiced kangaroo care, and watched as his progress amazed the NICU staff. Long story short, my son is now a happy, healthy, and still-nursing three-year-old. :-)

  7. Jennifer, what an inspiring blog! A late comment for your preemie post: I also had a c-section due to preeclampsia. My son was in the NICU for two weeks with an NG tube for the first week and I pumped (and pumped and pumped) to bring my milk in. There was a nice little room for expressing milk with a freezer for storage with hospital provided labels for each baby’s milk. Out of curiosity, I counted the number of mommies who were expressing and it was about a dozen out of approximately 60 babies in the unit.

    After managing to get my son off the bottle and onto the breast at two weeks, I ended up having to supplement with formula, because he wasn’t gaining weight. (I don’t even have words for how frustrating that was.) Originally we used a preemie formula to supplement, but switched to a standard milk based at three months…and promptly ended up the emergency room with a terrifying allergic reaction.

    After starting foods at six months, I was able to eliminate formula as more of my son’s diet was made up of food, and continued to nurse until fifteen months, when I finally dried up after I stopped using the hospital grade pump at one year(!) to increase flow.

    One more thought on nursing in public: I agree that women should be able to nurse anywhere and it’s lovely when they do, but I admit enjoying being able to slip off by myself and having some quiet time with my son. Those were some of the nicest moments I had during a really stressful period of time.

  8. I delivered our triplets nine weeks prematurely and because my milk didn’t come in for several days, all three of my babies received donated breastmilk. Once they were old enough to nurse – I nursed all three of them until they were at ages ranging from 11 to 17 months old. Currently, I’m nursing their “baby” brother who is almost 20 months and he shows NO signs of slowing down.

    For premature and micro-premature babies > the hospitals absolutely prefer to give breastmilk over formula because it is so easily digested. But what I didn’t realize, until a lactation consultant informed me, is that a mother’s milk is perfectly formulated for her baby at the exact gestational age they are born. So, if her baby is born prematurely, her milk is compositionally different than if she had given birth to a full-term baby. The human body never ceases to amaze me. Especially the body of a woman!!

  9. I am also the mother of a nursing premie. My son was born at 36 weeks and only 4 lbs 7 oz (he was induced due to the small size). He was tube fed formula along with my colostrum until my milk came in. I did research on premie nursing during my many pumping sessions and found that the calorie content was higher since your body knows the baby needs it. The nurses seemed surprised that my milk was so thick it looked like cream. I was encouraged to keep nursing him, but struggled while in the hospital. We switched to bottles so he could come home sooner and brought him home at 8 days old. Right before his due date he started nursing really well for me and now refuses to even take a bottle. It was the hardest 3 weeks of pumping and bottle feeding, but I wouldn’t change it for the world now that I have a happy, thriving, exclusively breast-fed 4 month old boy!

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