Thomas Learns to Breast Feed
This is a picture of
Thomas getting fed by me, his father. We'd show one of him
getting fed by his mother . . . but that belongs on a different
sort of Web page.
Around the gestational age of 34 weeks (6 weeks prior to due
date), babies are capable of the "suck-swallow-and
breath" pattern enabling them to take feeds more normally.
The goal at this point is to get them use to the bottle and get
them off of tube feedings. It was around this age and shortly
after Natalie had returned to work that she gave him his first
bottle. He went from being exclusively tube fed, to receiving
milk through the bottle every so many feedings.
After having mastered bottle feeding, it eventually became
time for Thomas to move on to other things. Please welcome
Thomas' mother's description of that experience:
delivery, the possibility of breast feeding was discussed. Although
Thomas would be unable to feed directly from the breast at
first, the milk could be expressed and frozen for use as
necessary. It was strongly encouraged for mothers to provide
breast milk to the premature babies. This being the case and
knowing I couldn't do much else for Thomas, I decided to give
it a try.
After being attached to a mechanical breast pump for 2-1/2
months, I looked forward to the day when I could feed Thomas
Before Thomas and I made our first attempt at breast
feeding, we experimented with a little 'skin to skin'
contact. Thomas' father and I had read about the concept of
'kangaroo care', which is the practice of the mother kangaroo
holding her baby (called a joey) next to her bare
chest in her pouch. Kangaroo care has been found to help
nurture premature babies through the NICU experience. It was
our experimentation with skin to skin kangaroo care that led
up to our first try at breast feeding.
The first time Thomas latched on to my breast was by
accident during a skin to skin experience. Thomas latched on
and ended up with a mouthful of milk he didn't expect and
wasn't prepared for! Although we had a lot of ground to
cover, it was wonderful to finally be approaching this
The first time I actually tried to feed Thomas, it was
quite a struggle. He wanted the instant gratification of the
bottle and didn't have the patience to wait for me to let
down. That time, and many a time thereafter, I left the NICU
feeling disappointed, that he didn't want me and that I
wasn't a good mother.
These trials and tribulations frustrated both of us. He
had mastered the bottle and was apparently confused and
frustrated when we asked him to try something different.
Fortunately, the NICU nurses were fantastic with their
persistence and coaching efforts and helped us to be
successful much of the time. Once I resigned myself to the
fact that it would get better when I fed Thomas all the time,
I felt I wasn't failing him in some way.
It was a time of learning for both of us."
--Natalie M. King
Most mothers and babies don't have to learn breast feeding
behind a screen in a busy NICU. Natalie deserves credit for her
persistence which continued even when Thomas refused the breast
in favor of the bottle. Eventually, he overcame his "nipple
confusion" and became an effective breast feeder. However,
that didn't and couldn't happen until he was released from the
Next: The Waiting Game