"Hold your baby's hand instead of a bottle"

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Breast Guest Story: "The Finger Feeding Father"

When I started breastfeeding my first son, a friend in NC told me that if I developed really sore / damaged nipples I should look into "finger feeding." When I asked her what this was, she told me it's a lactation aid that's used when breastfeeding isn't working and that she and her husband had to use it with their first son. I remember being very scared when she first described it. She explained that a tube is placed along the parent's finger which is placed deep inside the baby's mouth and whenever the baby sucks properly you allow milk to flow from the tube connected to a bottle with a syringe like top. My eyes probably gave away my horror at the idea of sticking fingers and tubes into a newborn's mouth, but she said it wasn't as bad as it sounds and to keep it in mind in case it becomes necessary. Luckily, I didn't have to finger feed either of my children and the term quickly faded from my memory - until I came across it in the "Bobbie Bible." Years later, when I started this blog, I contacted her and am beyond thrilled to share her story with you - or should I say her husband's finger feeding story:

     "When I was pregnant I hadn't given much thought to how I was going to feed the baby once he was here. Towards the end of the pregnancy my husband began to express his views on the subject. His mother breastfed him (and his 3 brothers and 2 sisters) and as the eldest sibling he remembers not only his mother but his aunts and other relatives breastfeeding. In fact, he says in his family, there was always one nursing mom at every family function. Breastfeeding was the norm in family. I wasn't exactly opposed to the idea, but I can recall feeling that initial pressure to perform and I didn't like it.

     Baby Andrew (Andy) arrived after a long labor and I was very exhausted. I hadn't done much research on breastfeeding (I read up on all the benefits) but assumed the "doing it part" it would come naturally. It didn't hurt much at first, but the pain quickly began to increase. We left the hospital with the number to a lactation consultant and already had an appointment set up. I was embarrassed and frustrated to need the help, even though my husband didn't seem the least bit upset by my breastfeeding problems. He's always been the calm one, good in emergency situations. I was the first one to freak out so I always thought we complimented each other well.

     The lactation consultant informed us that the baby had developed a poor latch and had caused severe nipple damage. Our son needed to re-learn how to suck properly. She told us that finger feeding was the best way to retrain him. I lost focus when I asked how long we were suppose to do this "re-training" and she said anywhere from a few days to a couple months. I honestly can't remember much of her demonstration and instructions on using the lactation aid, because I was pumped with so many emotions I couldn't think, hear or see straight. I think we had to use some sugar water mixed with pumped colostrum at first because my milk hadn't come in yet. Everything about the situation was unnatural to me and I very much wanted to simply give my baby a bottle and be done with it. I would try and finger feed my baby and then switch him to my breast, only to give up and let my husband finish feeding him. Naturally, he was very involved, and quickly took over the entire finger feeding process (after one feeding where I began to cry and told him this wasn't working for me) and I very much began to resent the obvious bonding time he was having with our baby while I was attached to a pump in the other room. At one point I mocked him, with the bottle of my milk in his shirt pocket while he fed our son through a tube, saying, "It's too bad you don't have breasts and can't do it all on your own!" After he finished finger feeding he placed our sleeping baby in my arms and wrapped his arms around the both of us. He hugged me for a while and told me he was so proud of me. The words were a shock to me. I realized I had built up this unworthy resentment towards him based on a false notion that he viewed me as a failure. All my anger dissipated instantly as he continued to encourage me. "Evie, I know you can do this and I know how much you are going to love breastfeeding our baby, that is why I am doing this." I thought about what he said and it was true. Our son wasn't going to suck on his finger for the rest of his life. 

     About a week later we were finally able to discontinue the use of the lactation aid altogether. We had a little family celebration. That night I asked my husband if he was sad he couldn't finger feed anymore and he said he viewed it as a special time but knew all along that the goal was for our son to breastfeed. I loved breastfeeding my son, just like he knew I would and felt so proud to be the nursing mom at family events.

     Three years later we were blessed with a baby girl (Victoria) and she was so sleepy she wouldn't wake up to breastfeed. Old fears began to rise, but my husband worked with me to get her to latch on correctly from the start and to keep her awake so she could nurse. Two years later we were blessed with another baby boy (Zachary) and he entered the world hungry and nursed right away. I didn't need my husband's assistance this time. I remember admiring my son sucking at my breast and looked up to see my husband admiring me feeding him. "Thank you" I told him. "For what?" he asked. "For everything." I answered. I am forever grateful for his constant patience and encouragement."

- The Finger Feeding Father

Thank you so much for sharing your story and for being a "breast friend" to our readers. I am so encouraged by this story and hope it will serve as an example of the importance of support, persistence, and encouragement to all new mothers and fathers, especially those that face breastfeeding complications.

I was curious to see what the lactation aid looked like and when I did a Google search for "finger feeding" I was amazed to see that the first 5 or 6 pictures of a baby being finger fed, were pictures of fathers finger feeding!*

In my book "So That's What They're For!" aka "The Boobie Bible" the author provides a story where the father, too, is involved in this process. I am so impressed by these dads! I can relate to my friend's attitude toward her husband while he was helping out with the finger feeding. My first born was extremely colicky and he'd scream most of the day while my husband was at work and I was all alone - which can make you go nutty after a while. When my husband walked through the door I'd gladly hand over our little screeching terradactyl and within seconds Ben would stop crying. My husband would say things like "Don't let him cry all day" as he left for work in the mornings. If I couldn't get Ben to stop crying fast enough in the night Nick would come racing into the room like "SuperDad to the rescue" as I put it and it made me feel like I was failing as a mother. I always thought Ben had a closer bond with his father than with me because Nick was the first one to hold him after he was born. Another "breast friend" of mine told me that her first born was the same way, and her husband rigged their vacuum cleaner to a remote so that when their baby started to cry in the night all he had to do was click a button and click it again after a few minutes when their son fell back to sleep. Even though a lot of the pressure to feed, take care of and raise the children falls on us women, I think it's important to step back and give a little credit to the dads that are trying to be involved and help in the ways they can. It's so easy to criticize them for not helping, but it seems like it's just as easy to be critical when they are helping! 

For more information on finger feeding, check out these helpful links which are also listed under the "helpful links" section on the blog:

The New Parents Guide to Finger Feeding
Finger Feeding Premature Babies
About.com Pediatrics on Finger Feeding
Using a Lactation Aid
Why a Lactation Aid is BY FAR the best supplement if a supplement is needed

If you think a Lactation Aid might help you with your breastfeeding needs, check with your pediatrician, lactation consultant, or local hospital which should provide you with the tools you need. You can also check out Lact-aid.

*I do not own the photos in this post. No copyright violations intended.

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