Victoria is one of the approximated half a million babies (about 12 percent of all births) who are born prematurely. An individual is said to be born prematurely if they are born before the thirty-seventh week of gestation (the period in which an embryo develops) and weighs less than five pounds and five ounces ("Premature Infants"). According to studies, "the rate of premature infants born has dropped 4% over a two-year period" (Reinberg). These infants are brought into the world too early and, therefore, are not equipped to deal with the world around them. Although the rate of premature infants has dropped within the past two years, those who are unfortunately born before the thirty-seventh week of gestation have a better likelihood of survival and are more capable of thriving with the consumption of their mother's breast milk, the comfort and care of a parent, and today's medical advances.
When an infant is born prematurely, he or she often requires help with three essential needs that are necessary for their survival: keeping warm, breathing and feeding. When in dire need of these necessities the baby is most often taken to the NICU for intensive medical attention. When the baby is taken away from its mother, although the initial sense of attachment is present, the enhanced infant-mother attachment can no longer be established. Through the methods of breast feeding, the baby, as well as the mother, is able to feel this much needed sense of attachment. A mother from the UC San Diego Medical Center experiment is quoted:
"You can't be there [physically in the NICU] all the time. So it was my way to be able to be there for them all the time. I'm providing for them." (Whit)
Since the mother cannot always be in the NICU, breastfeeding is a way for the mother to feel they are providing for their child in that they are supporting their newborn. Mothers of underdeveloped infants need to be dedicated in order to improve the outcome of their child's life. Staying close to the infant helps build the much needed bond between the two individuals. The closeness between the two helps the mother produce the babies' much needed breast milk. "Just hearing the infant cry will help promote milk production" (Palmer 130).
Breast feeding not only helps bond the mother to their infant but is also beneficial to the preemies' health than basic bottle fed formula. Breast milk is a source of medicine for the weak child, protecting him or her from infectious diseases, helping the infant's digestion and immune systems, and enabling the baby to gain weight (Bradford 122). Studies have shown that infants who received maternal breast milk were much more alert during social interactions, showed a maturity in their motor skills, and provided a more affectionate touch (Feldman). Although for many mothers formula bottle feeding can be much more convenient and less time consuming, the health benefits breast milk provides exceeds those of formula feeding. Premature infants often have a higher risk of infection for they have not developed the antigens to protect their underdeveloped bodies. According to Palmer, "among the tiniest preemies, there are 45% more serious infectious diseases in those children exclusively fed formula" (117). A mother's milk is able to provide those antigens that may have not been developed in the infant's premature state. Studies have suggested that when an infant is fed breast milk, their growth rate- although may seem very slow - replicates a similar growth rate as if the neonate was still inside the womb. Although the infant's underdeveloped skills inhibit their ability to suck, breast milk is beneficial.