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Introducing bottle feeds to your breastfed baby

Why do experts discourage bottle feeding breastfed babies?

Introducing bottle feeds using a teat requires baby to suck very differently than how he does at the breast. The breastfeeding baby’s tongue massages the breast tissue and the nipple which fill baby’s mouth, working in union with the natural suck-swallow-breath rhythm that nature has designed to allow safe, comfortable feeding, and also to enhance the development of the baby’s mouth and facial anatomy as he grows.

When baby is fed by a teat the milk pours straight into the throat, and baby responds by swallowing the milk. The flow of milk dictates baby’s suck-swallow-breath action, and often forces baby to feed faster and take greater volumes than is comfortable for baby. The tongue is shaped to conform to the teat working in a piston-like action, using the tongue muscles differently to when baby is breastfeeding. This can quickly confound baby’s natural and instinctive tongue action at the breast, and “derail” the baby from breastfeeding. Consequently it is not advisable to introduce a bottle and teat for feeds until baby is well established with breastfeeding – after about 6 weeks of age.

Some parents may need to give bottle feeds

It is a fact of our modern lives that most babies will be fed by a bottle and teat at some time. There are many reasons why breastfeeding mothers may decide to give some breast milk by bottle once their supply is well established. They may be planning a night away from baby, or returning to work and needing to be able to leave the baby in someone else’s care.

It can be difficult to get a fully breastfed baby to accept a bottle and teat if it is not introduced by 3 or 4 months of age, so offering baby an occasional bottle feed after about 6 weeks of age can help baby adapt to this alternative feeding method more easily.

Which bottle and teat is best for a breastfed baby?

There are many bottles and teats which claim to provide a delivery system which is like breastfeeding. Unfortunately most do not even come close. To maintain breastfeeding it is very important for babies to be offered teats which allow the same wide gape as a well latched breastfeeding baby. There are only two products which I believe meet this criteria – they are the Medela Calma teat, and the Pigeon Peristaltic Plus Wide-Neck Bottle and Crosscut “Y” teat.

For parents wanting to introduce occasional bottle feeds to a breastfed baby, I suggest you buy one small Pigeon Peristaltic Plus Wide-Neck Bottle which comes with a standard teat which you will not use. Also buy a 2-pack of Pigeon Peristaltic Plus Wide-Neck Crosscut “Y” teats. These teats are labelled for babies over 3 months old, but I have found them to be fine for well babies who have a normal ability to suck. The wide-neck option allows baby to comfortably maintain flanged lips while feeding. The Pigeon crosscut teat only allows milk to flow when the baby uses his jaw in a similar way to when he breastfeeds.

The shape of the Medela Calma teat also enables this appropriate gape and jaw activity, and is especially designed for feeding breastmilk. In my opinion all of the other wide-based bottles and teats are too wide and baby’s mouth tends to slip back to the tip of the teat causing pursed lips and minimal jaw activity.

The best way to give bottle feeds

It is important how a baby is held during bottle feeding. Breast fed babies spend lots of time in close contact with their mothers allowing time for them to gaze at one another, enhancing bonding. Bottle fed babies can miss out on this physical and eye contact time, particularly as a bottle feed is usually completed in a shorter time than a full breast feed. Holding a bottle fed baby in a similar position as for breastfeeding allows baby to relax and enjoy physical communication during feeds.

Stroke the baby’s lips with the teat to coax her to open her mouth. Put the teat into baby’s mouth resting gently on her tongue, allowing her to close and flange her lips around the wider part of the teat. Tilt the bottle just enough for milk to fill the teat, moving the teat gently in her mouth to stimulate her to suck. Watch baby’s response to the milk going into her throat and how comfortably she swallows. The flow should be steady but not fast, allowing baby to suck, swallow and breathe without struggling with any part of the process.

Removing the teat from baby’s mouth every few minutes will enable baby to “pace the feed” rather than guzzling the whole quantity of milk quickly and feeling uncomfortably full. Giving about a third of the bottle contents and then pausing to allow baby to rest and burp is usually helpful to baby’s food tolerance and digestion. Resuming the bottle feed but allowing baby to determine how much more she wants will reduce the likelihood of baby being overfull, and vomiting after the feed. Bottles should never be propped for a baby of any age to drink unattended.


Source: Lois Wattis – Newbaby101

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