Too Late to Transition to Direct Nursing?

Too Late to Transition to Direct Nursing?

In my last post I wrote about a mother I spoke with who had been pumping and bottle-feeding for 3 weeks.  She was convinced that breastfeeding was no longer possible for her and her baby.

Many parents think there’s no turning back once they stop nursing.  But because babies are hardwired to breastfeed, it’s always possible to nurse later.  In Australia, for example, babies cannot be adopted until they are 6 to 12 months old, but even so, many adoptive parents report successfully transitioning their babies to nursing, even after a year or more of bottle-feeding.  This makes sense if you think of nursing as a survival skill nature builds into babies. (Click HERE to read one mother’s story of transitioning her 20-month-old adopted son to nursing when he joined their family.)

I remember one mother I worked with during my 10 years in private practice whose 5-month-old experienced neurological damage during what should have been routine surgery.  This mother was pumping her milk in the months since the surgery and produced ample milk.  She scheduled a home visit with me to help her bring her baby back to direct nursing.  She decided that in addition to the therapy her baby was receiving, he needed the comfort and physical stimulation only nursing could provide.  I pulled out my bag of tricks and—to her joy—before long her baby was fully nursing again.

What tricks did I use?  Latch attempts while he was in light sleep (eyes moving under eyelids) provided the first breakthrough.  When a baby accepts the breast during sleep, this can be repeated at every nap and night feeding to lower resistance to nursing during waking hours.  Whether awake or asleep, lying the baby tummy down on his semi-reclined parent’s chest releases the feeding reflexes that spur babies to nurse. (Click HERE for examples of these positions.)  These simple approaches can work wonders, as long as the parent’s chest remains a happy place and baby does not feel pressured to feed there.

If you’re a parent wondering if it is “too late” for nursing or if you work with new parents in this situation, don’t despair.  No matter how difficult nursing once was and no matter how long it has been since the baby latched and fed, it is almost always possible to make nursing work.  A healthy milk production helps but is not absolutely necessary.  I often remind parents that babies eagerly accept pacifiers (aka dummies), which provide no milk at all.  The parent’s body provides a place to suckle and so much more!

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