What is Finger Feeding? And can it help you feed your newborn?

How it all began…

I was not ready to have a baby when my water broke 36 weeks and 3 days into my first pregnancy!  After having a pretty uneventful pregnancy, I had pretty much assumed that I would at least get close to 40 weeks.  Many of my friends who recently had babies had gone past that!  But when your water breaks…you have your baby within 24 hours, so there I was.

I mean, we had the nursery set up with a crib and changing station.  We had a pack ‘n play to use next to our bed in the beginning, so we were ready enough. I had just planned to be so much more ready, like actually have a hospital bag packed and have some freezer meals ready to go, but my baby had other plans!

Now technically 36 weeks and 3 days makes my baby a preemie (by just 4 days).  Thankfully she was born a normal, healthy baby with just a little bit of jaundice.  The biggest challenge we ran into due to her coming early was breastfeeding.

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My breastfeeding battles begin…

I was already very nervous about breastfeeding and had tried to do tons of research to prepare myself.   Ultimately I was not prepared for a baby that just could not latch and suck well enough to get the milk.  So we had to supplement with formula very early on. I was initially disappointed since I really did want to give my best effort to breastfeed my baby.  But we were eventually very successful, so just because you do supplement does not mean that breastfeeding is over!

I would also just like to add that I fully support any mom who does not breastfeed for any reason at all.  It is hard, it hurts, sometimes it is not possible and sometimes it just does not work out.  As long as your baby is fed and happy you are an amazing mom!

Finger feeding…

What was interesting to me was how they had us feed her the formula.  It was nothing that I had read on the internet about in all my searching.  They called it either syringe feeding or finger feeding.  Basically you have the baby suck on one of your fingers and then squeeze a small syringe in the corner of their mouth to slowly give them the formula as they are sucking. Tip: you can ask at your pharmacy for a syringe and they will give them to you!  We just asked where we could find them and they handed us a few of them for free!

This method is supposed to help them maintain and build a strong suck while you can control a slow flow of formula or milk as opposed to going right to a bottle. This was supposed to give us a better chance to continue to breastfeed down the line.  After my milk came in and I was able to pump enough we were able to fully switch back to breast milk by about a week, but we were still using the finger feeding method because she still struggled with latching.  It was recommended that we wait until about 4 weeks to introduce a bottle.

We basically had an assembly line set up when it came to feeding. I would attempt to breastfeed for 10-15 min, then pass her off to hubby to finger feed her milk, then I would pump as much as I could and store the milk and clean the pump…exhausting!  And it felt like every time we were done we would have less than an hour before we needed to feed her again.

Then, probably by the second week, when I was pumping a good amount so I could have some extra milk each time I pumped we came up with a better system.  We divided the night time into shifts.  My husband would take care of everything from 9pm to 2am while I went to bed a slept. Then I took over until the morning. This was amazing since we were each able to get a chunk of at least 4-5 hours of sleep! And we could not have done it if my husband wasn’t able to finger feed her, since we were still working on breastfeeding and it was getting better!

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My breastfeeding battles continue…

Then she finally seemed to get the hang of breastfeeding and I was so excited!  This would be much easier than all the attempting and pumping and cleaning…and then I got a thrush infection…ouch. I mean breastfeeding hurts and I figured I just needed to suck it up and get through it so I just kept going for a few days but would literally cry from the pain every time I fed her.  I would even cry at the thought of having to feed her, it hurt so bad!

Again we used finger feeding so I could actually take a full break from breastfeeding for two whole days and heal. We both took turns finger feeding her and I kept pumping, which still hurt but not nearly as bad as breastfeeding. Also I was lathering on that Dr. Newman’s All Purpose Nipple Cream that everyone talks about.  Seriously, this is the only stuff that works! I would recommend that anyone get this before you even have your baby so you can have it on hand immediately. It does need to be compounded at a pharmacy so can be a pain to get last minute.  And after two days I was able to pick back up with breastfeeding easily enough with much less pain, it felt like a miracle.  Check out my other post here for some additional tips for decreasing pain while breastfeeding!

It all works out in the end…

Honestly, breastfeeding pretty much always hurt to some degree for the first few weeks and another way I was able to cope was with these nipple protectors.  They basically just hold all clothing away from your nipple so they can breathe and heal and not get chafed by anything.  I used them a lot when applying the cream so it wouldn’t just get rubbed off into a nursing pad or bra, lifesaver!  A lot of my pain most likely came from her having so much trouble with latching and we were also seeing a lactation consultant which was fantastic and I would recommend to any breastfeeding mom with pain. She helped us out so much.

This is just our story of how the finger feeding method helped us to feed our baby, stay sane, get some sleep, and heal, all while continuing with breastfeeding our struggling preemie.  It was a great option that worked well for us and I know many other moms and dads out there may have other things that helped them with their journey. I just hope that maybe this will help some parent out there. Even if it is just to get on a sleep schedule and share the feeding or take a break while in pain. I have to say that with our next baby due in May 2018 it is comforting for me to know that we have an option to give me some breaks if I need it.

Here are just a couple products that I could not have lived without while breastfeeding and pumping!

Hands free Pumping Bra
Lansinoh Breastmilk Storage Bags
Boppy Nursing Pillow

Medela Soft Shells for Sore Nipples





Let me know if you have ever used finger feeding or any other methods that helped you feed your baby in the early weeks!

struggling with breastfeeding, how finger feeding can help

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