by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC
A lactation aid is a device that allows a breastfeeding mother to supplement her baby with expressed breastmilk, formula, glucose water with added colostrum or plain glucose water without using without using a bottle. The early use of artificial nipples may result in the baby becoming "bottle spoiled" or "nipple confused" especially when the mother's breastfeeding is not yet well established or flow from the breast is slow because of milk supply issues. In fact, the baby is not confused. The baby knows exactly what the score is. If he goes to the breast and gets little milk or the flow is slow and then gets a bottle with rapid or steady flow, especially in the first few days, most can figure that one out fairly quickly. Bonding is very important, but hunger comes first.
The better a baby latches on, the easier it is for him to get milk, particularly if the mother's supply is low. In the first few days, it may seem as though the mother may not have much milk; however, the mother does have the appropriate amount of milk that baby requires (see the video clip 2 day old baby at the website nbci.ca and watch this baby drink great guns -- compare to the other video clips that show older babies drinking).
Yes, the milk is there even if someone has "proved" to you with the big pump that there isn't any. How much does or does not come out in the pump proves nothing -- pumps don't work that well either when the milk is there in the small, but normal, quantities of the first days, as nature intended, incidentally.
Also note, no one who squeezes a mother's breast can tell whether there is enough milk in there or not. And a good latch is important to help the baby get that milk that is available. If the baby does not latch on well, the mother may get sore nipples, and if the baby does not get milk well, the baby will want to be on the breast for long periods of time, worsening the soreness. What we have here is a perfect "vicious circle," which can be avoided, actually.
Though artificial nipples do not always cause problems, their use when things are already going badly will rarely make things better and usually make things worse. And "newer bottle nipples" are no better than the old ones; that's just good marketing. The lactation aid is by far the best way to supplement, if the supplement is truly necessary. (However, proper latching on of the baby usually allows the baby to get more milk, and thus it is often possible to avoid the supplement).
The lactation aid is better than using a syringe, cup feeding, finger feeding or any other method, since the baby is on the breast and breastfeeding. Babies, like adults, learn by doing. Furthermore, the baby supplemented while latched on to the breast is also getting breastmilk from the breast. And there is much more to breastfeeding than breastmilk.
A lactation aid consists of a container for the supplement -- usually a feeding bottle with an enlarged nipple hole -- and a long, thin tube leading from this container. Manufactured lactation aids are available and are easier to use in some situations, but not necessarily.