Breastfeeding a baby with a heart condition

Breastfeeding a baby with a heart condition - Transcript

If your baby has been born with a congenital heart defect you may be wondering whether it’s possible to breastfeed. The good news is that it certainly is, and your baby will benefit from this. There are so many reasons why breastfeeding is a fantastic option. Not only will it provide a real closeness between you and your baby, but it’s also an excellent nutrition. Babies are far more cardiovascularly stable when they’re feeding at the breast.

We know that for all babies breast milk is the perfect food for a human baby. It provides a really good source of nutrition and it’s also packed full of immunoglobulins which are antibodies that help to fight off infection. I’m aware that in the past when we didn’t have a lot of breastfeeding knowledge, it was considered easier for babies to feed from a bottle if they had a heart defect.

We actually know now that babies coordinate sucking and swallowing and breathing much more easily when breastfeeding. Studies also show that baby’s heart rate and breathing are more stable when they’re breastfeeding, and they tend to utilise oxygen better as well.

So if your baby has been diagnosed with a heart defect, either while you’re pregnant right now, or just after the birth, you will need to pump your milk because your baby won’t be able to feed straightaway. A hospital grade pump will help your body to start making that milk that your baby needs. The sooner you are able to pump your milk the better. So gain all the help you can from people around you, the midwives, Lactation Consultants, who can help you to establish your milk supply.

Pumping every two to three hours is ideal if you can. This is maybe a 10 to 15 minute pumping session. You shouldn’t have to pump more than 15 minutes, but it may be that you can pump 10 minutes every two to three hours and once at night as well. This will tell your body to start making that milk. Please don’t be discouraged with the first milk that you get which is very low volume, colostrum milk. This is packed full of antibodies – which is like an immunisation for your baby. So let me encourage you to look at the videos relating to pumping your milk, so that you get as much information as you need.

It might be that your baby has been diagnosed with a heart defect when he’s older, and he may not have had surgery yet. Of course when he has surgery you will need to pump your milk even if you’ve already established breastfeeding right now. It will be really important to keep up your supply with the double pumping while your baby is undergoing surgery.

Please bear in mind that it could be several days to several weeks before you may be able to feed at the breast, after your baby’s surgery.

So what about best positioning for a baby with a heart defect? I would encourage you to look at laid back biological positions where your baby is slightly more upright – head higher than the rest of his body, and well positioned on your body (where your body acts a mattress.) Your baby’s head will be able to tilt back that little bit more, and this makes it easier for him to swallow and to breathe better. You can imagine that in these positions your body acts as a real support for your baby, so that it’s less tiring for him.

I would encourage also short frequent feeds, and if you feel that your baby is starting to get very tired – sometimes you may see lips going a little bit blue and he may look quite pale. So if you see this happening it’s a good idea to stop that feed at that time and then bring your baby to the breast again for another short feed, but keep observing him all the way through.

If you do feel that your baby is feeding inefficiently, then expressing after a feed will help to generate more milk, and that milk can be given to your baby as well. I would also strongly encourage you to learn the technique of breast compression because that is a technique that will help to push more milk out to your baby if he is feeding inefficiently.

If you do have to express milk because your baby is feeding inefficiently, this milk can be given by an alternative feeding method – but it may be that your baby is feeding absolutely fine at the breast and there is no need for those extra supplements.

If you find that your baby isn’t feeding efficiently and you don’t really want to be offering bottles or other alternative means, then you may want to consider using an at-breast supplementer. This simply means that your baby will be able to do all the suckling at the breast, and there will be no other alternative method. Your baby will then be able to get your milk, but also a supplement as well.

So please be encouraged that every drop of breast milk is good for your baby and whether you are pumping your milk or feeding at the breast, this is excellent.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

V1 published June 2017. Next review date: April 2020

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