Breastfeeding special needs babies

There are a number of conditions that may affect your baby's ability to feed naturally. If your baby is not able to breastfeed, special devices are available to help your baby drink breast milk.
Special Needs Feeder

Special Needs Feeder

Medela’s Special Needs Feeder is designed for babies with feeding problems. The special teat has a slit valve that allows the milk flow to be controlled so that the baby is not overwhelmed with milk and is able to receive the right amount.

Cleft lip/palate

Feeding babies with cleft lip and/or palate

Cleft lip and/or palate, where the oral cavity is incompletely fused, is a congenital malformation. Cleft defects occur in around 1 in every 600 live births.

Babies with Pierre Robin syndrome have a small lower jaw and a tongue that tends to ball up at the back of the mouth and fall back towards the throat, and they have breathing problems. They may also have a horseshoe-shaped cleft palate. The incidence of Pierre Robin syndrome is very low – about 1 in 10,000.

Depending on the severity of their condition, babies may need to undergo plastic surgery or even multiple surgical procedures.

The Special Needs Feeder is designed to help babies with cleft lip and/or palate and other physiological challenges to drink expressed breast milk. Following your baby’s surgery, breastfeeding may feel uncomfortable for a while. If it does, you may continue to use the Special Needs Feeder, but also offer the breast regularly. Your baby may derive comfort from having your nipple in their mouth and will learn to breastfeed with enthusiasm when they realise they can now do it independently.

Neurological problems

Feeding babies with neurological problems

Babies with neurological problems, such as trisomy disorders, usually have low muscle tone. Breastfeeding requires the muscles in the baby's face to work quite hard. This means that it is often not possible to breastfeed at all, or your baby can only breastfeed to a certain extent and they are not able to get all the milk they need from your breast.

In this case, help your baby by offering them breast milk in a Special Needs Feeder. The amount given should be the difference between the amount of milk drunk at the breast and the amount they actually need. Squeeze the soft silicone sucking part of the Special Needs Feeder to help your baby get more milk. Using the Special Needs Feeder can also support your baby so that they no longer require nasogastric tubing. Most babies can be discharged from hospital as soon as they are able to feed the amount of milk they need to grow properly.

Maintaining your milk supply

When exclusive breastfeeding is not possible – or when breastfeeding is not possible at all.

Since some babies are not able to breastfeed successfully, it is important to express your breast milk. Use a 2-Phase pump to help initiate and maintain your milk supply. Pumping regularly – every three to four hours initially – will help you build up a good supply.

In order to optimise your milk supply you may use a breast pump once a day with double pumping for 15 to 20 minutes. The expressed milk can then be fed to your baby the following night.

You need as much support as possible. Ask family members or friends to help out with household chores. In some countries, health insurance companies cover the costs of a professional home help.


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