Breastfeeding and Special Needs (Part 2 of 2)
In part one of Breastfeeding and Special Needs, we covered how infants are naturally drawn to breastfeeding no matter the circumstances of how they were born. Breastfeeding is instinctive for any new-born. We defined special needs as a variety of congenital disorders that hamper breastfeeding and how breast milk and breastfeeding can specifically impact these babies. We'll now go over the challenges and solutions to breastfeeding a special needs baby.
Challenges and Solutions
The biggest challenge for mothers of special needs infants is to provide a constant supply of breast milk. With a suckling infant, a mother's supply is automatically regulated, but it’s very different when you're challenged to breastfeed your little one.
Expressing (pumping) is the best way to make sure your little one has enough milk for every feed. You may have to express up to 8 times a day or once every 3 hours to begin with. This will stimulate your milk production along with the skin-to-skin time spent with your infant.
Another challenge is diet. What you eat will flavor your breast milk and eating a variety of foods exposes your baby to a range of flavors that will help with the transition to solids. Eat healthily and wash your fruits and vegetables to get rid of any pesticide residue, too. Drink a lot of fluids while breastfeeding or expressing so you stay hydrated. Try and avoid caffeinated drinks as they will interfere with your baby’s sleep pattern. Your pediatrician will discuss your diet with you and how best to keep your milk production at a level that compliments your baby’s needs.
Initially, special needs babies will probably be fed through a tube, and later, a combination of breastfeeding and a cup to supplement the feed. Everything around these early feeding techniques is designed to transition to full breastfeeding. Doctors don’t recommend the use of artificial teats or bottles if normal breastfeeding hasn’t been established yet. Their primary concern is to get your infant to a point where they can safely breastfeed on their own. Your baby’s ability to synchronize sucking, breathing and swallowing will be monitored closely with full feed breastfeeding as the objective. In the meantime, you need to express and bond with your little one.
Once your baby is strong enough for you to encourage breastfeeding, there are a number of feeding positions and techniques you can use to further assist the process. We covered these in a separate post, but here's what they are:
- Laid-back or reclining position
- Cradle hold
- Cross-cradle hold
- Rugby ball hold
- Side-lying position
- Koala hold or upright position
- Dangle feeding
- Dancer hand position
The dancer hand position or technique offers your baby the necessary support that promotes natural breastfeeding. It may be the best position for special needs babies. This is a great feeding technique as it supports your infant's head and positions your breast for easy feeding. Follow these easy steps:
- Hold your baby close to your breast so that his or her head, neck, and spine are aligned. This ensures that your little one is in a naturally comfortable position.
- Cup your breast with your free hand under your breast with your fingers on the one side and your thumb on the other.
- Move your hand slightly forward so your thumb and index finger create a U shape in front of your breast while the other fingers hold your breast in place.
- Rest your baby’s chin in the U shape so the edge of your palm supports your baby chin while your thumb and index finger rest against your baby’s cheeks.
- From this position, you will be able to see how your baby latches and feeds.
Using a cup to supplement your baby’s feed can be a long process. Between the limited breastfeeding, and a cup of breastmilk, your little one will get enough food, but you have to monitor the amount your baby drinks so you can keep track of their progress.
Feeding with an open cup can be difficult as you don’t pour the milk into your baby’s mouth. Instead have the rim of the cup rest on your baby bottom lip and then tilt the cup so the milk stops at the rim. Your baby will use their top lip to suck at the milk and will drink very little at a time. This all helps to develop muscle tone that will lead to normal breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding your special needs baby is the best thing you as a mother can do for your little one. Listen to your doctor and make every effort to ensure you are able to provide enough breast milk for your baby. Spend every possible moment bonding with your baby. Even if breastfeeding is not possible, skin-to-skin time remains vitally important to your little one’s overall development.
You will have to learn to express breast milk for your little one. By doing this you will be giving your baby the best possible nutrition to promote healthy growth. There is an art to feeding an infant breast milk from a cup. Although it is time-consuming, it is worth every second of the time spent as it speeds up their ability to breastfeed normally.
Helping your baby get through their early feeding needs to finally breastfeeding normally shouldn’t be measured by age or weight, but rather by the maturity of ability. However much it takes to provide your baby with breastmilk, you should consider the task as a life-promoting exercise.
How Can KeaBabies Help?
We cannot stress enough that breast milk and breastfeeding is for all who can do it. We support your breastfeeding decision by creating intentional products for the journey, special needs or not. Our organic, award winning baby essentials will assist any momma and baby. Consider burp cloths and silicone or cloth bibs for your baby, and nursing pads for mom on this challenging and rewarding experience.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Nadia Rumbolt
Nadia Rumbolt is a mom of many trades, including creative writing, blogging, van life, minimalism, veganism, the beach, nature, and the occult.