Feeding Your Bundle Of Joy

Breastfeeding is a natural process between mother and child but it is not a naturally known process. It is a learned skill that both of them need many practices to know and understand the process.

Coming out fully prepared…

A baby goes through sucking motions in the womb; thus, a newborn baby is prepared with the necessary skills to obtain sufficient nutrition. With enough practice and patience, a baby can coordinate his movements well to suck, swallow and breathe in an efficient manner when breastfeeding.

In some instances, where babies are born prematurely, born with disorders such as cleft palate, or born with an oral motor problem, their ability to breastfeed and to eat solids in the future may be affected. There are also normal babies who develop difficulties due to birth injury which produces pain and causes the oral system to ‘shut down’ to avoid further pain.

How is breastfeeding affected?

A baby with oral motor problems may experience a poor coordination of the suck-swallow-breathe pattern. Coupled with a weak oral muscular system and a limited range of movements, baby’s ability to breastfeed can be significantly hampered.

The clear tell-tale signs indicating the baby’s breastfeeding troubles include difficulty latching onto breast, milk dripping out of his mouth or nose, a consistent low weight gain and noisy feeding. Whereas mums will feel nipple soreness or pain while nursing, experiencing plugged ducts or mastitis, and persistent low milk supply.

Do note that anything consumed by breastfeeding mums has an effect on the baby. If you are actively breastfeeding, inform your doctor. This is to avoid side effects of medication (eg drowsiness) in the baby that may affect his ability to coordinate sucking during breastfeeding. Other factors leading to unsuccessful sucking include mother-baby separation after birth (in premature cases), which may lead to the early bottle teats exposure. These factors are more common and are easily correctable.

Drinking or not…?

Sometimes, it is less obvious that the baby is not feeding properly. Some signs to look out for that may suggest oral motor issues in your child are:

  • Preferring bottle to breast, or refusing to nurse.
  • Contents of bottle running down baby’s chin.
  • Emptying the bottle either too quickly or too slowly.
  • Twisting the body while at the breast.
  • Coughing, choking or changing colour during nursing or bottle feeding.
  • Tongue clicking.
  • Poor lip seal.

Your baby may show some of the symptoms above, but it does not necessarily indicate oral motor problems. You may look further into the matter and see a paediatrician to ascertain if the baby truly has those complications.

What treatments are available?

Even a minor refinement in a baby’s oral motor skills can make a huge difference to the success of breastfeeding. Treatment strategies may involve:

  • Supporting the baby’s mouth by placing it into the correct position for feeding.
  • Using corrective positioning techniques while baby sucks your finger.
  • Positioning the baby more effectively for breast milk expression.
  • Physically exercising baby’s oral and facial muscles.

Because babies’ nervous systems are flexible, changes can happen almost immediately. Every child is a unique individual and working together with a professional will help cater to your child’s needs therefore making recovery successfully. NEVER give up as breastfeeding is a skill that needs to be acquired and takes time. Give your baby time to adjust. If you still do not see any improvements, do refer your child to a paediatrician or lactation consultant.

Nipple Confusion?

Did you know that switching between the bottle and breast during the first few weeks of your baby’s life could cause your baby to refuse feeding time, or to prefer bottle to breast? Although both types of nipples may seem similar, drinking from a bottle and breastfeeding actually require quite different tongue and mouth motions, as well as swallowing skills. This will often affect their oral motor skills – breastfeeding requires constant sucking and pumping from baby to get milk while milk flow from bottles can be controlled simply by placing the tongue over the nipple’s hole.

Mothers should avoid giving the bottle within the first few weeks of baby’s life to prevent this confusion; if really necessary, use a spoon or syringe to feed your baby.

Author’s Note: The author is contributing this article to Positive Parenting as she is keen to provide evidence-based information to parents. However, as a baby-food company is a sponsor of Positive Parenting, the author has declined to accept any payment for this article from Positive Parenting as she is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and is bound by the Code of Ethics to not accept any kind of support from baby food companies.

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