Breastfeeding your baby with special needs
Breastfeeding is a serious burden for the baby. This process involves 40 muscles in the lips, tongue, jaw and cheeks, as well as six cranial nerves1 to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing.
If the baby has congenital disorders or diseases that affect the functioning of these muscles or nerves, he may not be physically fit for breastfeeding or may not receive enough milk during feeding. But this does not mean that your baby should be deprived of extremely healthy breast milk. Moreover, the protective properties of milk and the beneficial substances in its composition are even more necessary for children with special needs.
“Breast milk contains a lot of living cells and growth factors that help strengthen immunity and prevent the development of inflammation,” explains Dr. Katsumi Mitsuno, professor of internal medicine in pediatrics, an employee at Koto Toyosu Hospital at Show University, “It is important for babies with special needs to be given breast milk to prevent infectious diseases and ensure optimal nutrition. ”
“Children with congenital and neurological pathologies are more susceptible to respiratory and ear infections and diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, and are also more likely to need surgery. Breast milk protects the baby’s body against infections and helps to restore it, 6 ”adds Dr. Mitsuno.
Reasons your baby may have difficulty breastfeeding
Cleft lip and (or) palate
If your baby has a split lip, she will most likely not be able to grip her breasts while breastfeeding, but a breastfeeding consultant or supervisor can show you some useful tricks. Newborns with cleft palate are often unable to suckle with sufficient force.
If the baby was born prematurely, it may be too weak and may not have sufficient coordination for effective breastfeeding. Read more about this in the article on feeding premature babies with breast milk.
Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities
In infants with Down syndrome, as a rule, there are problems with muscle tone and coordination of the mouth and tongue, which interferes with effective breast sucking. Other chromosomal abnormalities, such as Edwards Syndrome or Patau Syndrome, also make breastfeeding difficult.
Neurological disorders (diseases of the brain, spine or nerves) often cause hypotension – this is what is called low muscle tone in medicine. Cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, birth asphyxia, spina bifida, cerebral hemorrhage during childbirth, brain malformations and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy can cause difficulties in breastfeeding.
Pierre Robin Syndrome
With Pierre Robin’s syndrome, the baby’s lower jaw is significantly less than normal. Often this is combined with cleavage of the palate and retraction of the tongue, which makes breastfeeding almost impossible.
If the baby has undergone surgery in the oral cavity, on the tongue or jaw, for some time it may be painful or uncomfortable for him to suck his chest.
Expressing milk for children with special needs
Regardless of whether the baby can suckle, the first thing to do is to start the production of milk in order to get it in sufficient quantity. If the baby cannot eat directly from the breast, it is important to ensure frequent pumping to collect as much milk as possible. It is necessary to start and stimulate the production of milk as early as possible, so that the baby will have enough now and in the future.
Double pumping is recommended approximately eight times a day, as this is the best way to stimulate stable milk production. Contact your supervisor or a breastfeeding consultant for help.
“In the first few months, my life revolved around pumping. I set an alarm clock and woke up every night at three o’clock to express milk, ”recalls Katherine, mother of two children from New Zealand.“ Michael had a cleft palate, so he couldn’t suck, and we had to use a special compressible bottle. When he ate, I did not take his eyes off him – as soon as I turned away, he could choke, or I did not notice how milk began to flow from his nose, which he really did not like.
It helped me a lot to participate in online groups to support mothers who feed their children only with expressed milk. I was able to express milk for my son for seven whole months – it was a real work in the name of love! ”
Methods of feeding a baby with breast milk
In some cases, the baby needs to be fed in a special way before he can suckle or eat from the bottle. For example, a feeding tube may be used to feed milk directly into the baby’s stomach. The doctor installs the tube — usually through the nose or mouth.