Health Matters: New Procedure Helps Newborns Swallow Milk

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - UAMS now offers a diagnostic procedure for newborns who have trouble swallowing.

The hospital has joined several others across the nation to make it available.

Thanks to the new technology, one local mother was able to bring her baby boy home soon after he was born.

After four weeks in the hospital, Stephanie Whittamore was ready to bring baby Brixen home.

Shortly after his birth, the little one had issues with swallowing milk.

"His heart rate would drop and his oxygen would drop," his mom explains.

A procedure commonly used on adults is now helping neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) babies like Brixen. It's called "Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing," or "FEES."

"They've got to stick the scope down his nose and you can see him swallowing and breathing," Whittamore continues.

Speech language pathologists use a smaller fiberoptic scope with a camera and light attached to the end to see what's causing the baby to aspirate and not take milk.

"We're able to play the video in real time and show the families essentially how they're able to feed safely," says Jackie Davis, Speech Language Pathologist.

UAMS became the first hospital in Arkansas to perform this procedure on newborns.

After the video revealed Brixen had trouble swallowing properly and keeping the thinner milk out of his airways, they thickened his formula.

The procedure is done at the bedside. Before, babies would have to go to a radiology facility and swallow barium products visible under x-ray.

"Mom's can breast feed and do this procedure just in their natural environment," Davis adds.

"I didn't want to take him by ambulance anywhere else. So when they figured that out I was like 'oh thank God we can keep him here. They can fix it and get him home," says Whittamore.

It was a speedy recovery for her son, who had his whole family waiting for him to come home.

Speech pathologists at UAMS have performed several of the procedures since late June.

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