Finger-Feeding a Preemie: Follow-up Letter
by Linda Killion Healow, RN
© 1995 Midwifery Today, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[Editor's note: This letter appeared in Midwifery Today Issue 33, Spring 1995.]
In regards to the article entitled " Finger feeding a preemie " (Issue
No. 29), in which Jude Kurokawa, CNM shared her experience in assisting her premature
grandson to breastfeed through the use of finger-feeding: I would like to clarify
a few important points when working with infants, and especially premature babies,
that are having difficulty breastfeeding.
First and foremost, one must feed the baby. Breastfeeding is
a learned skill for both mother and infant. Some mothers are under the
false impression that if a newborn gets hungry enough, he will simply
latch on to the breast and nurse effectively. If a newborn hasn't had
the opportunity to imprint effective suckling, this is not the case. An
infant unable to latch on to the breast and suckle effectively can become
increasingly weak, dehydrate and genteelly starve. Mothers and those working
with mothers who breastfeed need to know how to tell if a baby is receiving
enough breast milk and where to go for help. Local La Leche League Leaders
and/or lactation consultants can be valuable resources in these situations.
More and more mothers are receiving information on the advantages of breastfeeding.
As these women choose to breastfeed, the greater task of educating our
culture about breastfeeding management remains.
Finger-feeding can serve as a transitional feeding method when helping
a baby to overcome nipple preference and breastfeed. Finger-feeding by
using a 5 French feeding tube, a periodontal syringe, or the Supplemental
Nutrition System available for Medela, Inc. can facilitate an infant's
transition to the breast. In Jude's instance, she was in a remote community
and she chose the method she had on hand.
As Jude mentioned in her account, numerous unsuccessful attempts to
breastfeed had been made while her grandson was hospitalized. The infant
seemed to have a "breast aversion"-having been repeatedly brought
to the breast and then been unable to receive gratification. In some cases
infants can associate the breast with hunger, frustration and unsuccessful
feeding attempts. To allow the infant time to equate spending time at
the breast as something stress-free and pleasant, I suggested that the
mother hold the infant and offer contact with the breast without asking
him to breastfeed. Meanwhile the baby received nourishment by an alternative
method that wouldn't re-enforce nipple confusion. Cup feeding and finger-feeding
were tried, finger-feeding was preferred.
Once the baby began showing more interest in the breast, the breast
was offered while Jude, a knowledgeable health care provider, closely
monitored the infant's hydration and stooling. After a few patient tries
the baby was able to latch on to the breast and breastfeed. The baby's
progress continued to be closely monitored.
For readers contemplating finger-feeding infants, I strongly recommend
they work closely with a health care provider and if further breastfeeding
expertise is needed, those knowledgeable in breastfeeding and finger-feeding
such as La Leche League Leaders and/or lactation consultants.
Linda Killion Healow, RN
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