The baby who wouldn’t nurse

I recently had a client whose 3 month old baby started to refuse her breastmilk.

Most people understand, now a days, that “breast is best” and this mother was no exception.  She wanted to breastfeed, but after every feed her baby was so anxious, upset, and restless that she didn’t know what to do.  She tried going off dairy for a while, but that didn’t help.

Like most mothers in this situation, she was advised to switch to formula.

The formula helped a bit, but she was uneasy with this solution.  So she came to me.

Now step back from this for just a minute.  Breastmilk has developed over thousands of years to be the absolute perfect food for a new child.  It has the perfect nutrient make-up and is easy for an undeveloped digestive system to absorb;  it changes in composition throughout a feed, from season to seasons, and over the months to meet the changing needs of your particular baby;  it protects the newborn from viruses and bacteria, while helping her create her own immune system.

Breastmilk is an ultimate example of the inexplicable connection between mother and baby. Nobody can convince me there isn’t a certain element of magic to the stuff.

Children refuse food that doesn’t make them feel good.  So a child refusing this perfect food made just for them…. wow.

After taking a careful history, it became clear that this little boy was reacting to something the mother was eating. Now, consider the implications of this.  When a child (or anybody) reacts to food, it indicates that all is not well with the digestive system.

The digestive tract, which starts at the nose and mouth and ends at the anus, is a gateway to the body.  Almost all bacteria and viruses enter the body at some point along the digestive system.  80% of the immune system resides in the digestive tract.  The digestive tract is responsible for creating nutrients, breaking down food into nutrients, and regulating the absorption of those nutrients.   Without nutrients our cells can not function.

Having good digestive function is paramount to good health.

So to see a 3 month old child with a compromised digestive system is absolutely concerning.  Simply switching to formula is not a holistic solution.  It is a temporary fix to get nutrients into the little body, but it does not address the child’s state of health nor does it consider the long term implications of the situation.

I helped this mother change her diet, we switched formulas and we added some digestive support supplements to each feed.  2 weeks later she sent me a picture of herself happily nursing her little boy in the sunshine.  Once he could tolerate it, we added a bit of breastmilk to each feed (which is, itself, a perfect digestive repair supplement), and 4 weeks later she had completely weened him back onto the breast and he was off formula completely.

This is NOT, however, the end of the story.  The baby was reacting to something the mother was eating.  Simply removing the food from the mother’s diet is also a band-aid fix.  The baby’s digestion needed attention and repair.  We kept the child on the supplements and I helped the mom introduce solid foods in a very particular way that supports digestion.

Hopefully the dedication of this mom, in the early sleep-deprived stressful months of motherhood, helped avoid a host of medical problems that stem from digestive disturbance.  Time will tell, but evidence is on our side.

There are certain times when formula is absolutely necessary.  I do not in any way shape or form want parents who need to use formula to feel guilty about doing so.  For my first child I needed to use formula (but that’s a story for another time).  My point here is that when a child refuses the milk of his mother, this is a warning sign that needs to be taken seriously.  And my second point is that there are steps you can take… there IS something you can do about it and it is well worth the time and effort.

1 Comment

  • Sara Gardner

    Reply Reply November 26, 2012

    Am important element to the story, which isn’t mentioned in the post, is the importance that proper support and real education plays in finding a solution for your baby. We were able to work through our son’s eating issues because Jess explained to us the challenges he was facing and was always available to offer advice and support along the way. After a disheartening consultation with our pediatrician, it was exciting to learn that we had other options. I also know that my partners support was paramount to our success. Now the question is how to get him back on the bottle so we can get a night out?!

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