Take 2: When you think you know what to do and are so very wrong.

Now that we have put the SNS away at home, a little earlier than with the first kid, I should get what I learned from my difficult second child down somewhere.
Well I say difficult, but she was difficult only because of my milk supply issues.
She developed very minor jaundice early on. Not enough to worry anyone but enough to get really really sleepy.

By 6+ days old we had to institute a waking and feeding schedule and we had to continue waking her for feeds until well over 2 months of age. Yay baby sleep you might think. Yes, on one hand this was nice because my first did not sleep and instead ate all the time. Sleep also makes it possible to do hard things. Like lots of pumping. But with low supply you do want an eager baby stimulating your supply. So every 3 hours I had to wake her up and then came the 1-2 hour long ordeal of keeping her awake through feeds just in time for the next feed to start. Every 3 hours 24 hours a day. Blargh. Wet cloths, undressing, blowing in her face, and even icepacks on her feet. And because she was so sleepy and not able to get enough from me part of this routine came to involve force-feeding with a bottle. She came to hate the bottle. In fact she hated anything not a breast in her mouth. Maybe having her tongue tie and upper lip tie lasered at 3.5 weeks oversensitized her but she developed into an orally particular baby.

As I knew how to use the supplemental nursing system I was eager to do that rather than bottles, but she became quite particular about the tube in her mouth. The medium tube which had a faster flow was not acceptable and occasioned screaming if it even touched her. The small tube was never fast enough initially (not that she seemed to care…) and often feeds would take over an hour to complete (even into her 4th+ month). Instead of latching her with the tube near her upper lip I started sliding it into the corner of her mouth around 7-8 weeks and that was the only thing that would work. If she detected it she would fight to get it out, preferring plain breast but of course that wasn’t an option. She developed aversions to one breast and for a while even one position because of association with the tube and I had to exclusively use it on the other one.
She made feeding my first look easy. Sure with number one I had low supply and I was learning as I went but after working out the initial technical problems and difficulty it became routine and predictable. Not so this time. Things were always irregular and a struggle if not an outright fight. I was tracking her intake, output and weight gain until nearly 7 months, where I pretty much stopped the tracking with my first by 3-4 months as things were so routine. The part that bothered me most was that she could not be trusted to self regulate with milk. she would stop and if we let her do that she would not gain appropriately so there were minimum intake volumes she had to meet. This often required waking her up and trying to get more milk into her. So it was a chore.

Things that helped with this difficult baby?

  • Primarily putting the tube in the corner of her mouth. Here is a short and not very good video.

She so very much hated the texture of the tube that putting the tube against her upper lip lost us some breastfeeding positions for a while as she came to associate them with tubes in her mouth. The latch wasn’t great but it was hard to fight about drinking and fight about latch. Especially when she preferred to slip down.

  • Using the NG (naso gastric) feeding tube in a bottle. I was at the point where she would not feed in several positions, would not take the Medela SNS tubing the ‘right’ way and would not take a bottle and I thought I would have to finger feed her or start syringing milk into her mouth. Its a very frustrating position when you want and need help but you know that you know more about alternative feeding methods than any professional you might ask for help. I got one of these NG tubes-which by the way is fairly stiff and inflexible- and stuck it in the corner of her mouth…and away she went. It wasn’t bothering her.

So I then learned how to sneak the SNS tubes into the corner of her mouth. The SNS medium tube is far more flexible than the NG tubing but not nearly as thin and flexible as the small SNS tubing (case in point I have been through multiple small tubes as they develop pinholes just from regular use. At least 2 per child. I have not had to replace the medium SNS tubing through 2 children, but then I don’t use it every day either). But I learned to stick both of them in the corner of her mouth. And things worked. Mostly. Sure feeds took 20 minutes for ~60ml supplement on a good day (and 40-60 minutes on a not good feed- keep in mind this is after 10-20 minutes of regular breastfeeding). And the tube would wiggle and it would need a lot of adjusting (this is why I was happy I had the Medela SNS because when liquid is being consumed you can see air bubbles. Not possible with NG tube in a bottle method), but it worked. But maaaan was I glad to put it away.  No excitement that I was finally meeting her needs (+solids), just relief to be done with such a tedious fussy feeding regime. She’s been fine with plain breast. Which was part of the problem, as that is what she preferred and was not an option because of my supply.

Lesson learned. Never think you know what you are doing.

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Why a correct diagnosis is important.

Or how wait and see doesn’t cut it.

For the first 8 months of my first child’s life I thought I had low supply, probably from insufficient glandular tissue. I wanted a definitive diagnosis though and couldn’t find anyone to give me one. Then around 8 months, after we’d transitioned to just solids and breastfeeding and put the SNS away in the closet I noticed something that led me to believe that a posterior tongue tie might be the real problem. I couldn’t get a diagnosis for that either, but the more I read and researched a tongue tie did seem to be present. That discovery filled me with hope. Hope that next time would be different, that there was something I could do to make things better. So I planned my next breastfeeding experience around that. I lined up tongue tie release, made my midwife aware of my history and suspicions and mostly did as I was told- to wait and see because this time things might be different. I was told different child, different mouth shape, maybe no problems this time. I was dubious, and didn’t use as my midwife anyone who refused to take my concerns seriously, but I did get some variation of wait and see from everyone I talked to.

Just to hedge my bets I drank various teas throughout my pregnancy and made all my postpartum meals full of lactogenic ingredients.

And then I had my second baby, not how I planned, in fact things went in a way I hadn’t thought to plan for, but I had her and it was ok. Not great, not bad, but ok. And there was an obvious tongue tie, not a posterior one, and there was some waffling about whether it would cause problems from the hospital lactation consultants, and my midwife went to bat for me and we got it snipped anyhow. It made the latch a bit better and things were going normally. We were proceeding with caution, and I was getting some varying opinions on whether intake was good. Some people said looks good, some people were concerned about swallow frequency. I was a little stressed out, but I was assured that if I hadn’t had any history that no one would be worried. I was cautiously optimistic. Things were already different and better by leaps and bounds in terms of latching and output and weight loss.

After 5 days we went home. My milk came in, though there wasn’t engorgement as such, just a feeling of fullness and heaviness. I wasn’t too worried. After all some women don’t have much engorgement, right? Yes, but. Be concerned when you keep running into signs and symptoms that by themselves don’t mean much but when accumulated paint a more dire picture.

We’d had 8% weight loss by day 6. Well within normal ranges. Considering last time we’d had 11%+ by day 5 and more after that, 8% was fantastic. Output was good, my optimism was increasing. There was still concern about swallow frequency, but things seemed to be going well.

By day 11 only 60g (2oz) had been gained. Normal newborn weight gain should be at least 30g/day. I’d been expressing milk on top of feeding to boost my supply and to give as top ups to combat the cluster feeding. My midwife wanted me to get more than 2 hours sleep per day to help my milk, and also because having a toddler and a newborn isn’t sustainable on 2 hours of sleep out of 24.

The baby was sleeping more and more. We were feeding on demand, but where #1 had screamed and cried and never slept unless held, this one would sleep for 4+ hours, fall asleep at the breast and was generally very lethargic. I was pumping 4-6 times per day on top of feeds, and giving that milk via the SNS. Output was still good.

And day 15 came and the weight was the same as at day 11, 210g below birth weight. And the baby was so lethargic at that point that getting her to take a bottle was over a 1 hour affair of cold cloths, stripping, changes and so on for 60ml consumed.

So now we went into disaster management mode. I was to give 60-100ml via bottle every 3 hours day and night and pump afterward. We practically have to force feed the baby at this point.

It’s been a few days of that and hopefully birth weight will be regained in another day or two and we can revisit other feeding options, or even go back to feeding on demand.

And that’s where we are now. I wish we’d known before that IGT was the issue. I wish I’d been able to get that diagnosis. I could have been using the SNS from around day 10 or before and doing test weights to measure intake rather than disaster management of a lethargic and dehydrated baby.

Now I’ll likely have to contend with nipple confusion, breast refusal and possibly losing any kind of breastfeeding relationship. I might still be able to pull this situation out of the fire, but a diagnosis last time would have made this easier.

 

Oral confusion-how nipple confusion works

Let’s talk about nipple confusion. Wherever anecdotes are valued as useful you’ll find plenty of stories that illustrate either view on nipple confusion. Babies who were given bottles early on and the mothers who had huge struggles getting them back, if ever, to the breast, as well as those who routinely gave their babies bottles and never had any issues at all.  So what’s the deal with nipple confusion? Nipple confusion is a collective name for something that is a combination of factors. Side note: I found this article, which looks like it would be a fantastic resource. Unfortunately, like many of Dr. Neifert’s articles, I can’t get electronic access to it (even at work where I have access to all kinds of journals). I’m sure that would pretty much replace my little post here, but since I can’t read it, I’ll just write this instead.

Teat Confusion:

First off there is teat confusion. How something is sucked. Babies are crafty, tricky little beasts. It’s part of their biological programming to experiment and problem solve in order to figure out how to best get milk out of breasts.  So teat confusion can arise from bottle teats and pacifier teats. Bottle teats as the method of getting fluid out of a bottle teat is different than out of a breast (see Myth 15 and associated citations). With a breast the mouth needs to gape wider and the tongue move to extract the milk via a peristaltic action. So undulation of the tongue.

With a bottle, the mouth does not need to open as wide and the tongue does not need to move out to extract the milk, but instead stops the milk from running down the throat too fast.

With a pacifier the method of suck also can effect musculature changes and the pacifier is inherently a non-nutritive sucking action. So the baby will do it because they enjoy the action of sucking. Something they are also biologically conditioned to like. With pacifiers there is no reward for improved technique (as with breast and in some cases bottle feeding) and the sucking action does not train the tongue appropriately. In addition the baby may associate sucking with no reward and be less enthusiastic about trying their luck with sucking from the breast.  With normal breast feeding let down can take a short while to start, so a baby who is conditioned early to suck an artificial nutritive teat may lose patience with waiting for letdown to produce milk

Flow Preference:

Another factor in nipple confusion is flow preference. Bottles have different flows, slow to fast. Not all slow flows are created equal as well. Probably each bottle/teat type is slightly different. So if a bottle, which has a different sucking method required, produces a faster, more generous flow of milk, or conversely a slower and more manageable flow, then the infant may find that preferable.  There is evidence that bottle fed infants suck less frequently and in different patterns than breast fed infants. Flow from the breast changes over the duration of the feed and a bottle is constant.

Latch:

The main factor in nipple confusion, however, is how good the latch is. The better the latch, the less likely the infant will experience nipple confusion. So babies with tongue ties or other oral abnormalities, or who have mothers with difficult nipples, will exhibit higher rates of nipple confusion signs. In addition to these conditions often producing issues with appropriate latch and milk extraction, often resulting in early bottle use, extracting food from the bottle is often easier for those without a normal range of oral movement.

Time sensitive:

Another factor to consider is that nipple confusion may not be immediate. I found when I needed to start combination feeding that while things were fine at first with supplementing by bottle, starting at 5 days with expressed milk and moving to formula by 2 weeks, by 4-6 weeks we had had some strong instances of breast refusal. This goes back to babies being tricky beasts. They start learning that if they fuss or refuse the breast that they can get some other potentially easier food. The most common ages for breast refusal due to nipple confusion or flow preference are  under 1 week, 2-3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 4-5 months. These coincide fairly consistently with growth spurts.

This is why it is recommended to not introduce bottles or artificial soothers before 4-6 weeks. By that age it’s assumed that the infant will have figured out milk extraction from the breast and will be less inclined to prefer the bottle over the breast. In addition, the mother’s milk supply will have begun to stabilize and a missed feed here or there under normal circumstances will not unduly affect supply. This guideline obviously errs well on the side of caution.

Prevention:

When you need or want to supplement with breast milk or formula and you want to minimize nipple confusion there are a few ways you can do this

  • The bottle latch: You’ll need a wide base bottle that encourages a wide opening of the mouth. Choose the slowest flow teat you can find to start with. Here is a  guide on choosing a teat. Purely by chance we used the Avent newborn flow. We used these until 12 months of age.
  • Finger, syringe, cup, and spoon feeding. Of these finger feeding may be the least pain in the ass. I’ve done both syringe and cup, as well as suck training with my finger and finger was by far the easiest. I’d imagine spoon feeding is similar to cup feeding in mechanism. This article sums up alternative feeding methods well. It says that cup is often not worth the hassle unless repeated supplementation is required more than 3 times. You can also use an at breast supplementer taped to your finger.
  • At breast supplementation: If you have a latching baby under 6 weeks this is the way to go. After 6 weeks if you have not yet experienced any latching issues or breast refusal you can try bottles. If you have been using bottles up until now and your child is not  yet at that grabby phase you can give this a go. Some babies are ok with it, some hate it. It’s just something to try.