“Finger feeding” helps amazing mum mimic breastfeeding during cancer treatment

Bridget Burke-Purdy

When Canadian mum Bridget Burke-Purdy was told her cancer treatment would make breastfeeding her baby impossible, the determined mum turned to an amazing alternative that closely mimics the experience: finger feeding.

Finger-fed approach

The Supply Line Breast Feeding Awareness Project shared Bridget’s story on their Facebook page and it’s raising awareness of this little-known, skin-to-skin breastfeeding alternative. 

Finger feeding involves holding or taping a very fine feeding tube – which is attached to a container of breast milk or formula – to a caregiver’s finger. The finger is then placed inside the baby’s mouth and when the baby sucks on the finger and tube correctly, they draw milk up and are successfully fed.

Finger feeding can be used as a skin-to-skin breastfeeding alternative under a whole variety of different circumstances. For instance: when a baby is having trouble latching on to the breast, when breastfeeding is not medically recommended due to maternal health concerns or when a baby is away from its mother (to name just a few!)

Mums, dads and carers are all perfect finger feeding candidates, and the snuggled-up, finger-and-tube combination can create an experience similar to the cuddled-up with nipple, milk let-down scenario.

I feel blessed to be able to present this most precious and unique nursing story. Please take the time to read all the…

Posted by Supply Line Breast Feeding Awareness Project on Saturday, 19 December 2015

Health concerns

Bridget turned to finger feeding with her third baby, Rowan, while in the midst of treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

“When Rowan was born I was undergoing cancer treatments. I knew I could only nurse him for his first few days of life before my next round of chemo started post-delivery. Not being allowed to breastfeed was devastating,” Bridget said.

They began the logistical ballet of preparing to breastfeed Rowan.

“We implemented a strenuous routine of donor milk, wet nurses, and bottle feeding. All with the hope that I could nurse him again once chemo was over 3 months later,” Bridget remembers.

Best laid plans

It was a case of best laid plans. Their little boy had other ideas, arriving ahead of schedule, intermittently rejecting the bottle and eventually refusing the wet nurses his parents had so painstakingly organised.

“He never nursed well. He was born a month early due to doctor’s demands, and was too sleepy to nurse. He didn’t seem to ever take to a bottle well either, not to mention that with two previous children that I nursed into their toddler years, his dad and I didn’t take to the bottle well either,” Bridget recalls.

Posted by Supply Line Breast Feeding Awareness Project on Saturday, 19 December 2015

Game changer

Things quickly went from bad to worse, but it steered the family toward a feeding option they’d never considered.

“As time wore on he started refusing his wet nurses. It broke all our hearts; we had many dedicated women who tried so hard,” Bridget said.

“In a last ditch effort of desperation we tried finger feeding.”

It was a game-changing decision that would benefit everyone. Rowan took to finger feeds like a duck to water!

Family affair

Bridget said soon Rowan would only be fingerfed by her or her husband, and that a feeding method she thought would be temporary became the successful default.

Bridget explained that if she closed her eyes, finger feeding mimicked the feeling she got when she had breastfed her other children, and that the experience of holding her baby as he suckled released the same feel good bonding hormones that breastfeeding did, too.

Her husband shared her enthusiasm, and was able to share in the experience of feeding in a uniquely intimate way.

Unique approach

Bridget finger fed Rowan for two and a half years, switching to her own expressed breastmilk once doctors said it was safe and her cancer treatment was completed.

Once fully recovered, Bridget went on to have baby number four. She tandem fed in a super-special way – breastfeeding baby Everly while she finger fed toddler Rowan.

Bridget – also an experienced nursing mum – confirmed that finger feeding provides a very close second to breastfeeding.

“I can tell you without a shred of doubt – that this is almost exactly like breastfeeding in terms of emotional bonding and biological normalcy. I want the world to know that this method, while unconventional, is valid. I nurse my son. He is nursed,” Bridget said.

How amazing. A huge thank you to Bridget for sharing her story and alerting other mums to this feeding technique.

For those of you who have been around this page from early on, you'll remember Bridget and her story well. Bridget was…

Posted by Supply Line Breast Feeding Awareness Project on Wednesday, 22 March 2017

 

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