Page last updated at 00:06 GMT, Tuesday, 13 May 2008 01:06 UK

Prem mothers 'need feeding help'

Premature baby
Mothers of premature babies may have to express milk initially

Mothers of premature babies need more advice and support to help them breastfeed, says baby charity Bliss.

A survey of 500 mothers found 38% did not breastfeed often because of a lack of support and 12% were not shown how to position and attach their baby.

The charity said it was also "worrying" that 5% of those questioned reported feeling under pressure from hospital staff to switch to bottle feeding.

Around 80,000 babies are born sick or premature every year in the UK.

Mothers who give birth prematurely may have missed out on antenatal classes and are likely to be going through a very stressful time, Bliss said.

I'm not surprised at the findings because even mothers who don't have premature babies are having problems getting the help they require
Janet Fyle, Royal College of Midwives

The survey, of women whose baby had been in neonatal care in the past three years, found most women were aware of the benefits of breast milk and most of them expressed milk to begin with.

But only 36% were told about the problems they might encounter and how to overcome them and a third said they were not helped to have skin-to-skin contact with their baby, which can help stimulate milk production.

Expressing milk

Mothers were also asked questions about whether they expressed milk by hand, which is important for initiating milk production, but more than two-thirds were not shown how to do it and only 21% had access to portable pumps, the survey showed.

Louise Rimmington from London gave birth to twin girls at 32 weeks.
Initially both Molly and Chloe were in the same hospital but Chloe became ill and had to be transferred to a special unit.
"I wanted to breastfeed but I was never encouraged to try and latch them on until Chloe was transferred.
"I was expressing milk for both of them but the advice I got was conflicting.
"I would have liked to have breastfed, it's a really important issue and mothers need more support." she said

Bliss said mothers of premature babies needed specialist support on how and when to express, access to the necessary equipment and facilities, help with having skin-to-skin contact with the baby, and advice on when and how to start breastfeeding.

And the baby's discharge plan must be flexible enough to avoid situations where the mother is forced to bottle-feed to speed up the process, Bliss recommended.

Andy Cole, chief executive of Bliss, said: "Providing breast milk is something incredibly positive a new mum can do for her premature or sick baby at what can be a stressful and overwhelming time.

"By ensuring that a mother has the best possible chance of successfully expressing and breastfeeding, doctors and nurses are helping to ensure the best outcome for her baby."

Janet Fyle, professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives said she welcomed the report.

"I'm not surprised at the findings, because even mothers who don't have premature babies are having problems getting the help they require.

"We know how important breast milk is for premature babies and we need to pay extra attention to these mothers and they should be encouraged to breastfeed."

The Department of Health has launched a campaign to help young mothers from low-income backgrounds to access support that will help them to breastfeed for longer.


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