Does your baby lose milk from the corners of her mouth? What about her latch, could the nipple slide right out of her mouth? Does extra milk pool in his cheeks and leak out later? Is feeding a struggle? Does he fall asleep during the feed or immediately after? Your kiddo may have a weak suck.
A weak suck can be caused by many things; prematurity, low oral tone, illness…
But don’t worry, we can improve it!
- Try a slow flow nipple. This makes baby suck harder, which will strengthen the oral muscles. It also keeps the child from letting milk flow into their mouth without having to work for it. I see this a lot; a family will say their son with Down Syndrome and a cleft palate can use a level 3 nipple! Wow! What it really means is the kiddo isn’t having to do any work because the milk is flowing right in.
- Stimulate the oral muscles! Therapists call this oral stim and all it means is you vigorously rub the cheeks, lips, chin and jawline before he begins eating. There are plenty of set protocols involving tapping, rubbing and vibration, but for here and now, just know those muscles need to be ‘woken up’ prior to eating. Think of it as a warm up before the big game.
- Pacifier Pulls! Let the baby suck on the paci and when they have a good rhythm going, gently try to pull it out of their mouth. This should cause them to tighten their lips around the pacifier, thus strengthening the latch. I wouldn’t recommend doing it a ton as it will annoy the baby but it’s a great way to measure progress.
- Oat/Rice cereal: this is the same theory as the slow flow nipple. Adding rice cereal to a bottle causes them to have to pull harder to get the milk out. An added benefit is it will also help them sleep longer at night because their tummies are full. Each kid has their own preferences, I usually recommend oat cereal because it has more fiber than the rice. Be aware, adding cereals can cause constipation.
- Holding the cheeks during feeding is exactly what it sounds like, hold the bottle as best you can with your index finger and use your thumb and middle finger to support the baby’s cheeks. You need good pressure to do this as it should exaggerate the lip pursing.
- Taping. Not tapping. Taping. Ask your therapist to show you how to tape around the mouth and to the jawline and cheekbones for greater muscle support during feeding.