HOW TO SYRINGE-AND-FINGER-FEED A BABY - WHEN BABY CAN'T LATCH OR HAS AN UNDERDEVELOPED SUCK REFLEX

When my little girl was born a few weeks early, she really struggled to latch and nurse from me. Each nursing session was a battle, trying to get her to latch and drink, she just didn't want to suck.

I had to shape the areola and nipple for her in the shape of her mouth, place the breast in her mouth, keep the breast there and then I had to trigger the let-down of milk because she just laid there with the breast in her mouth not sucking. I had to vibrate my finger next to the areola to trigger a let-down every couple of seconds so that the milk can come down, only once the milk flowed into her mouth did she swallow it.

The image above is of my husband syringe feeding our daughter during her first week of life. This will always be a precious photo to me.

At first I though that it was normal, she was probably just lazy. However once we were discharged from hospital and got home, she kept doing the same thing, just lying with the breast in her mouth, not sucking.

As she was not sucking, I never knew when I could stop nursing her because she never gave me an indication of when she was finished, since she was not the one working for the milk. Pretty soon she started losing weight and we were told to wake her every hour and a half for a feed, as her blood sugar was also dropping due to not receiving enough milk.

This is one of the worst feelings you will ever experience as a mother, thinking that your body and breastmilk is not good enough to keep your baby alive and have her flourish. Never did I think that perhaps there was something wrong on her side and the nurses were quick to blame me and my breastmilk. They had me in tears, telling my girl in front of me; "Aww shame, poor baby, your mommy is not looking after you. She doesn't feed you enough."

Only after deciding not to return to the nurses but to rather call the La Leche League Leader in my area to come and help me, where we finally on the right path. The Leader observed our breastfeeding session and was surprised to see that my little one was not sucking. She immediately knew something was wrong and called an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) to come and help us.

After carefully examining my little one, the IBCLC diagnosed her with an underdeveloped suck reflex due to being born early. The muscles under her tongue were not developed enough to allow her to suck on the breast and also to transfer the milk from the front of her mouth to the back on her throat.

To help her develop these muscles and also to feed her, we had to place her on a pillow at a 45 degree incline, facing us. Then insert our pinky finger upside down into her mouth so that the soft pad of our finger was against her upper pallet. Then we had to rub our pinky against her upper pallet, tickling it and triggering her to suck on our finger. Sucking on our finger in this manner was an exercise to help develop her muscles.

To feed her, we had to take a 5 ml syringe filled with breastmilk I had to hand express (as pumping is not suggested before 6 weeks) and insert it next to our finger in the corner of her mouth. Every time she sucked, we would push a little milk. If she stopped sucking, we had to tickle her top pallet again to make her suck. It was important to only push milk while she sucks, to avoid nipple confusion.

We had to do this for 24 hours, thereafter she began to nurse at the breast. Before each syringe feed, I would offer the breast to see if she would take it. Then we would syringe feed her and thereafter offer the breast again.

Since newborns only consume 5 to 7 ml per feed, the amounts of breastmilk we had to feed at each nursing session was also not that much. By day 3 a newborn consumes 22 to 27 ml per feed and by one week they consume 45 to 60 ml.

Once she began nursing as normal, she began picking up weight and by 3 weeks she was back at her birth weight. She kept gaining and she is now well above the average weight for her age.

The image above is of my husband syringe feeding our daughter during her first week of life. This will always be a precious photo to me.