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Why You Should Not Label Babies "Slow Feeders"

Marcy M. invites me into her home for a lactation consultation.

Her 2-week-old baby, Porter, has regained his birth weight and is healthy. At a recent visit to his pediatrician she asked for advice about feedings that were lasting more than an hour.

Marcy was told that she “had a slow feeder.” Any advice that she might have been given after that went unheard. The first negative label had been applied and now it was stuck in her brain.

I asked many questions and was able to get a picture of Marcy’s dilemma. Now overwhelmed with screen after screen of conflicting Internet research, she felt unsure of herself and was ready to supplement her exclusively breastfed infant with formula to “speed things up.”

First you have to ask yourself... is an hour long feeding a problem? Marcy said “Sometimes yes, sometimes no. The feeding right before I’m ready to go to bed for the night lasts an hour and I love it. During the day? Not so much. Too many things I have to get done.”

As I watch Marcy feed her son I am able to adjust their positioning and alignment and after relatching, Marcy is able to achieve a deeper latch... more breast tissue in his mouth means more milk into Porter. Effective sucking = less time at breast.

After 3-4 minutes he stops, still holding on to her nipple. Marcy jiggles him, strokes him, he semi-dozes.

Now is the time for deep breathing to stimulate more milk to flow. Porter is not a slow feeder or any other kind of negative label. He is happy to have a half full belly if it comes along with Marcy by his side. Remove mom’s warmth, heartbeat, voice and he remembers his ½ full belly. Let’s get more milk into Porter in a timely manner, at this point in Marcy’s day.

Breathing slowly and mindfully will activate the hypothalamus, which is connected to the pituitary gland in the brain. It sends out chemicals that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a milk let-down response in the body.

After 8 deep breaths, with Marcy’s breast swelling against his face as she inhaled and then retreating a bit with each expiration, Porter began sucking but with decreasing rate of swallowing.

Now is the time for breast compression to move more milk to the front of Marcy’s breast and begin to squirt or drip milk into Porter’s mouth. That’ll arouse his interest!

Here’s how to do it:

1) The first step is to hold your breast with one hand with your thumb on one side and four fingers on the other side of your breast, supporting most of the breast should in your hand. Your other arm should pull the baby firmly against you.

2) Next the thumb and the fingers are brought together, firmly compressing the breast. If it hurts, you’re doing it too hard.

3) Once your breast is compressed your baby may start to actively suck and swallow again. The pressure on the breast should be maintained as long as the baby is actively sucking. Gently release your fingers when your baby stops sucking/swallowing and more milk will flow from other areas of the breast, stimulating renewed sucking.

4)  Your baby may stop drinking when the compression is stopped. After around 10 seconds compression may be started again. A different area of the breast should be compressed next to ensure complete emptying of the breast.  

Using deep breathing and a simple breast compression technique, Porter lost his “slow feeder” label as Marcy gained confidence in her ability to adjust and accommodate slower and faster breastfeeding sessions into her everyday life. 

No labeling required.

Paula Zindler
RN IBCLC

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