One of the first concerns with babies with clefts is feeding. In the hospital, they STRONGLY encouraged me to try nursing. It was super frustrating, but I do think it was important to hold him to me those first few days and let him try. We were both getting a different kind of nourishment. In the end, the only milk he could get was the mike I would squeeze into his mouth myself. A bit graphic, but a fact nonetheless.
At this point I had wrapped my mind around not being able to nurse, and I was okay with it. I still got choked up the first time he tried unsuccessfully, but I had accepted it and was ready for plan B. I was planning on pumping for a while, because then, at lease I could give him that.
I wish I could tell you exactly how it will be if you are joining me on this crazy ride, but I can’t. I can only tell you what worked for us. And when I say “worked,” keep in mind that as I write this Ryker is 8 months old, and wearing 12-18 month clothing. Clearly feeding is NOT an issue for us!;) It just was a matter of finding what worked. For Ryker, it was the Pigeon Nipple.
Oh Pigeon nipple makers, how I want to kiss you! You should have your own holiday, truly. Again, go ahead and Google it, I’ll wait.
Check out this video...
The key way the Pigeon nipple works is by simply adding a one-way valve (about the size of a dime) inside the base of the nipple. Once milk is in that nipple chamber, any amount of pressure forces the milk out the nipple tip hole, and in the baby’s mouth, instead of back into the bottle. Genius!
The Pigeon nipple also aids with cleft palates by having one side of the nipple made out of a sturdier material, and the other side made more pliable. The sturdy side is placed against the palate, or void where it holds its shape instead of collapsing. The softer side rests on the tongue and has the feel of a standard nipple. Get it? Told you, pure genius!
This is what worked for us. We still use them. But I do have a few tips.
First, right away Ryker started getting this canker-looking sore on the side of his palate where his cleft started. (the roof of his mouth). The doc said that it was from constant pressure from the nipple rubbing, and the fact that he had to work so hard to eat. (check for this on your little tyke). He told me there was nothing to do until the surgery where he would get his prosthetic palate. I didn’t like that answer. Ryker would cry every time he ate because it hurt so much. And sometimes he just wouldn’t eat. This KILLED me. And I REFUSED to let it continue. My solution was simple. I would make it easier to eat. How, you might ask?
Let me tell you!
On the Pigeon nipple, like many others, there is a “Y” slit. This is where the milk comes out. I got a super sharp knife and slit the existing “Y” to create a slightly larger “Y.” This made milk come out faster and easier. I did this trick, and within a week Rykers sore was gone! He could eat at a much more realistic speed, without so much friction on the top of his mouth. Worked for us!
Another tip is, that for the first few weeks and months after Ryker was born, it seemed easier to just squeeze milk into his mouth until he got the hang of eating. The best bottle for this is the football shaped one made by Mead Johnson. (see below) I would pair this bottle with the Pigeon nipple and we had magic!
Last one. Don’t buy your Pigeon nipples and bottles online. RIP OFF! Children’s hospitals have them in the pharmacy for WAY cheaper. And I strongly recommend getting as many as you possibly can the first few days after you have your baby, while your still in the hospital. They will give you a few free, but just keep asking for more, from everybody you see. And then hide those puppies and ask for more! Save yourself some cash. Trust me, you’ll need it. Utah peeps, Check out PCH! They have Pigeon nipples for under $5! Score!
Overall, feeding was so stinking frustrating. I hate to say it, but it was. I would be crying as much as Ryker was. Really. And just when we thought we got a grasp on things. Something would change. But we did find our niche. And we got through it, and now I have a boy that's to big for his britches....literally, he's a TANK! So I hope these tips help, and good luck!