Bronwen says, 'you need to do what works for you, your baby and your family'

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BRONWEN CRAIG.

 A VERY SPECIAL SPEECHY.

MAKER.

BAKER.

FEEDING ANGEL.

Bronwen is a Speech Pathologist who specialises in feeding for newborns in intensive and special care. 

SUPER BUSY BRONWEN TOOK SOME TIME OUT TO TALK TO US ABOUT HER WORK FEEDING BABIES IN ICU, TONGUE-TIE, HER PERSONAL DIFFICULTIES BREASTFEEDING AND HOW 'EVERYTHING IS A PHASE'.

Tell us a bit about your day job.

I'm involved in assessing and treating babies with feeding difficulties on the breast or bottle. The aim is to make feeding safe and pleasurable for the baby and parents in what is a very emotional and stressful time. We do this by using different feeding equipment or techniques, positioning, special "exercise" programs and promoting lots of skin to skin contact between baby and mum.

The main group of babies I see are those who have been born prematurely. Our nursery is the largest in NSW and we have babies who have been born from about 24 weeks onwards. Prematurity in itself is often reason enough to have feeding difficulties but often these babies also have breathing or cardiac problems that can exacerbate any feeding issues.

I also see babies that have cleft lip and palate, genetic conditions, neurological deficits caused by oxygen deprivation or bleeds to the brain, as well as babies who are withdrawing from maternal use of prescription or non-prescription drugs. More common conditions like gestational diabetes, jaundice or gastro-oesophageal reflux can also contribute to feeding difficulties. I also spend some time in a specialised clinic for tongue-tie. 

What is tongue-tie?

A tongue tie refers to the frenulum or bit of tissue under the tongue (connecting the tongue to the floor of the mouth) being too short and tight or joining too close to the front of the mouth.

This can restrict the movement of the tongue making it difficult to perform tasks where the tongue is used...for example; feeding, talking, licking ice creams or kissing.

What do you do in the tongue-tie clinic?

We work with Paediatric Dentists to assess babies and children who are experiencing functional difficulties due to their tongue tie, and determine whether they would benefit from surgery to release the tongue tie.

There is a lot of good evidence for frenotomy (or snipping) of tongue ties to assist with breast feeding difficulties in infants. This procedure is generally performed in the first few weeks to months of life without anaesthetic (or with a little numbing gel) and the baby usually feeds straight afterwards. 

What was your personal experience with breastfeeding like?

I've had two completely different experiences! 

Miss A who is now 4 year old had significant food allergies when she was a baby and toddler, although it took us a while to work that out. She refused to breastfeed from about 9 weeks old...cue manic screaming when she was put anywhere near my breast from her and many tears from me.

It was heart wrenching and none of my professional training could help me.

I ended up expressing for her until she was about 14mths old and limiting my diet more and more severely the more allergies we found. Not a situation that I'd like to experience again...it definitely impacted on my mental health.

Miss E on the other hand...cannot get enough! We had all the usual initial problems of cracked and sore nipples but after that she hasn't stopped. At almost 18 months now I'm sure she'd still feed 6 times a day if it was offered and still wakes at least once a night for a feed. 

After my first experience though I'm not ready to wean her just yet.

Why do you love what you do?

I love that I get to make a difference in the lives of little babies and to their families. Nothing about having a baby in the nursery is normal and it's never what new parents are expecting. Trying to make feeding as normal and successful as possible can give them a small window into that normal experience.

If you could give one piece of wisdom to women struggling with breastfeeding, what would it be?

It's probably a bit more than one, but...

You need to do what works for you, your baby and your family. And try not to beat yourself up about your choice.

That might be to continue breastfeeding or to switch to bottle feeding (either with expressed breast milk or formula).

It's very rare for a mum and baby to "get it right" first time even though that's what all the movies promote. The vast majority of mums struggle for one reason or another and getting help from the right people in those initial weeks can be crucial.

Tell us about the 'making and baking' side of your life.

I've always been a passionate cook and originally wanted to be a chef when I left school, although mum "encouraged" me to get a degree first. Cooking and especially baking is therapeutic for me...my ultimate stress reliever. 

I also enjoy creating and dreaming up craft projects, it seemed natural to start doing a little of this on the side. Although I've had to scale back somewhat now with two littles to chase after and my professional life.

What does the future hold for you?

I'd love to get into a bit of styling...interiors or food. Not sure where I'll find the time though...so my IG account is my outlet for now.

What was the best piece of advice your mum ever gave you?

"Everything is a phase"

It's generally true...although some phases seem to last for longer than others!


FOLLOW BRONWEN

ON INSTAGRAM @SUGARLOVEPAPIER
READ MORE ABOUT SPEECH PATHOLOGY AT SPEECHPATHOLOGYAUSTRALIA.ORG.AU