In 1980 our youngest daughter, Emily, was born with Stickler's Syndrome. I had breastfed our previous children (twins, Nadia and Ben) successfully for 7 months. Passionate about breastfeeding, I was distraught when Emily couldn't breast or even bottle-feed. We tried everything but nothing worked and she ended up being fed through a nasogastric tube. That experience was truly awful and it changed the direction of our lives.
In order to get Emily out of hospital, I had to improvise a way to feed her by mouth. In effect, I became an inventor. A few years of development work later and the Haberman Feeder was ready. It worked really well for babies with feeding difficulties. Setting up a cottage industry from my kitchen table in 1987, I supplied the Haberman Feeder by mail-order to parents and hospitals. Thirty five years later, it is still helping babies all over the world, often providing an alternative to nasogastric tubes.
But a funny thing happened a few years ago. The Baby Whisperer identified the Haberman Feeder as "an essential tool for breastfeeding mothers" and mums with healthy babies started to use it. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised because, in developing a feeder from scratch, I had based my product on breastfeeding, rather than bottle-feeding. The fact that mums were going to great effort to source it from hospital suppliers, made me realise that their needs were not being fully met by the bottles that were commercially available. So, I started to investigate.
Watching babies bottle-feeding from vented, ‘antic-colic’ bottles, I noticed that they seemed to be guzzling, often with milk running down their chins. Instead of actively suckling, they seemed to just be swallowing to keep up with the flow. I became increasingly concerned about the ease and speed of feeding from these products and their long-term effect on health and development. We are told to eat slowly to avoid over eating, yet babies are given bottles that make them guzzle from day one. It couldn't be good for them! In fact, published research has proven that how a baby feeds in the first few months of life sets the pattern for life(1). I was right to be worried because, in the UK, only one per cent of babies are breastfed exclusively beyond six months.(2)
Many breastfeeding mums want to give expressed milk by bottle but often their babies refuse to accept a bottle, even for expressed breast-milk. This is because feeding from a conventional bottle is so completely different to breastfeeding, where the baby controls the flow and can relax and breathe between suckles. Those babies who do get used to the ease and speed of bottle-feeding often get lazy and then give up on the breast. In practice, combination feeding can be very difficult to sustain long-term.
For those who are not exclusively breast-fed, I felt it was important to resolve the problems associated with bottle-feeding. The original Haberman was good but expensive and not suitable for general use. I therefore developed an much improved version, the Haberman Suckle Feeder, to fully support and compliment breastfeeding.
A few weeks ago, I sent samples of the Suckle Feeder to a group of lactation consultants who run a busy, London-based drop-in centre and I asked them to evaluate it with their breastfeeding-mums. The lactation consultants, like all medical professionals, had also been concerned about babies guzzling and over-feeding from bottles. They promote 'paced feeding' as a way of slowing them down. In effect, the Suckle Feeder is a 'paced-feeder' and has all the benefits that they were looking for*. I was really nervous. What would they think about 'my baby'?
When their response came, I was so happy - I cried!
The Haberman Suckle Feeder "is a superior tool that allows babies who must receive a bottle to feed in a relaxed paced manner as they do when they are breastfeeding. It helps make the baby comfortable transitioning from breast to bottle (and vice versa) when need be. Paced feeding is the most desirable bottle-feeding method and Haberman’s design is superior as air is completely eliminated from the teat. Paced feeding prevents a baby from guzzling and is helpful in the effort to reduce childhood obesity. Mothers returning to work need a bottle that will make a baby more likely to continue breastfeeding when mother is not working... Haberman Suckle Feeder is a great solution.” (Lactation consultant)
The word is spreading and reviews from mums have been great. It makes me so happy when I read that the Suckle Feeder is really making a difference. I'm sending my first samples to lactation consultants in America this week, for evaluation. I hope that they like it too!
*The teat stays fully filled throughout the feed, so the baby can sit upright to feed without ingesting air; The baby must work actively, using peristaltic action, to withdraw milk and the nipple seals between suckle cycles, so the baby can naturally pause and relax during the feed. It also has a variable flow, down to a stop position, that the mother can control whilst the baby is latched on.
(1) Nutrition in the First 1000 Days: The Origin of Childhood Obesity Chiara Mameli, Sara Mazzantini and Gian Vincenzo Zuccotti
(2) 2010 Infant Feeding Survey UNICEF