Please enjoy this post via The Leaky B@@b. Thank you so much for letting me be part of the blog carnival during World Breastfeeding Week!
"My child has Autism. How do I continue to breastfeed him?"
"My baby was born at 28 weeks. How do I even start a breastfeeding relationship?"
"My baby just won't latch how can I breastfeed?"
"I have stopped breastfeeding. Now I want to start again. Isn't my milk all gone?"
These are all questions that I have heard as I work with families with special needs children under three years old. They are also questions I have asked myself. I am a developmental specialist, service coordinator, and special instructor with my state's early intervention program. I am also a mother of seven children. My oldest child has Autism. My fourth child was born at 28 weeks and it was months before she was able to latch on. She also has a seizure disorder. My seventh and youngest child just could not get the hang of nursing and I pumped for three months before I could teach him how to latch and be a pro at breastfeeding now at six months old. My other children breastfeed with all different degrees of "success". All of my experiences with my children bring a depth to the work I do everyday. When parents find out I can share some of the emotions they feel I gain some of their trust. This allows me to provide the best care and services to their children.
Unfortunately, most of the families I work with never even try to breastfeed their special needs babies. A lot of these children have compromised immune systems or suboptimal brain development. Some even have metabolic disorders and nutrient absorption problems. Yet still they never even consider breast milk as the best food for their child.
Other times mothers just choose not to breastfeed or even hold their child to bottle feed. They may have developmental delays without a diagnosois. I am challenged when a child has a goal to hold their own bottle at 6 months. Their family wants them to sit supported in a seat and hold a bottle without any emotional or physical help. In my job I have to respect the family culture of those I am there to help. But I also don't want to support them in causing more hurtles for their child to surmount. I try to gently remind them that feeding time is meant to be a nurturing learning time for their child. I remind them how human babies have been fed in ages past and in other countries. Sometimes this prompts them to consider holding their babies to bottle feed them. Rarely I work with with a family that wants to breastfeed and just needs help to increase their supply. Or sometimes they just need someone to tell them it is OK to nurse their special needs child. I remind them that it is BETTER to breastfeed their special needs child. Nursing at the breast is a great oral motor workout. Children with Down syndrome benefit from this method of feeding way above and beyond just getting fed. This helps with their speech development and oral motor control on a lot of levels. Typical children benefit from breastfeeding but it can be dramatically evident how much it helps children with low muscle tone. I have even seen a dramatic difference in children with Autism that are or have been breastfed. I have more luck in introducing new foods to children that have breastfed. They seem to be more used to changes in taste than children who have only had formula. I attribute that to the varying differences in breastmilk from feeding to feeding and day to day. They did not get the same old taste every feeding so they expect a bit more variety. And as always with a job where one works with children under three years old poopy comes into the conversation. A lot of families I meet notice that their children have a lot of problems with constipation because of low tone, nerve damage, or drug interactions. But, the few that receive some breastmilk have little or no problems with constipation. I have even recommended that families find a source of breastmilk for their child. I refer them to friends and or family members they trust or to milk banks in their area. I get really strange looks when I make that recommendation. It is just not in their mindset to think that way.
I hope that from the dozens of families that I come in contact with throughout the year I am able to help some children achieve access to breastmilk in any way that they can. Even children that can not suckle or even swallow need braestmilk to help reach their full potential. Well, I've got to go. I am off to work with a child learning how to communicate. And you know what? Mom is pregnant. Let's see if I can plant a seed of change!