When it comes to using a bottle to supplement a breastfed baby, many mothers worry about how this may affect breastfeeding.
Their concern is certainly not unfounded.
Some mother and baby pairs combine use of a bottle and breastfeeding with little if any obvious effect.
Whereas for other mother and baby pairs, even the occasional bottle appears to negatively impact breastfeeding, leading to problems such as breast refusal or sore nipples. It can even lead to unintended weaning.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell for which babies use of a bottle (and to what extent) may impact breastfeeding.
Many breastfeeding experts suggest avoiding bottle use during the first 6 weeks after birth, until breastfeeding is well established, to help reduce the risk of nipple confusion.
But, what if, for example, you’ve been advised to use a bottle to supplement your breastfed baby? What teat should you use?
Choosing A Teat For Your Baby
Here are 4 facts about bottles and teats that may surprise you.
#1: There Are Various Methods Of Supplement Delivery
When providing a breastfed baby with supplemental milk (e.g. a mother’s own expressed breastmilk, donor milk or formula), a bottle is often the first (and only) method of supplement delivery thought of.
However, there are various other forms of supplement delivery that could be considered, such as a cup, spoon, finger, syringe or breastfeeding supplementer.
The potential impact on your baby’s ability to breastfeed is important to consider when a method of supplement delivery is chosen. This is because the goal for any alternative feeding method is for restoration of full, direct breastfeeding whenever possible and desired by you, the mother.
All methods appear to have risks and benefits, so careful individual assessment provides the best hope for selecting the most suitable method. When selecting an alternative feeding method, it’s important to consider:
- Cost and availability
- Ease of use and cleaning
- Stress to your baby
- Whether use is anticipated for a short or long term
- Your preference
- The method’s potential impact on breastfeeding
When alternative feeding methods are used, encouraging as much closeness to your bare breast as possible is important. This helps your baby to associate your breast with feeding and increases skin-to-skin contact.
Working closely with a lactation consultant can help you maintain your confidence in your breastfeeding ability while supplementing your baby. This can reduce the risk of you feeling like you need to continue supplementing after the need is over, whenever possible and desired.
#2: There Is No One Teat That Suits All Breastfed Or Bottle-Fed Babies
All babies are individuals with their own individual preferences.
Just like there’s no one size fits all approach to most things in life, there is no one teat that suits all babies. Some babies:
- Accept/drink well from any type of bottle
- Accept/drink well from only one type of bottle or teat
- Won’t accept/drink well from any type of bottle or teat
Sometimes a range of bottles and teats may need to be tried before the ‘right’ one for your baby is found.
#3: How The Bottle Is Used Is More Important Than The Type Of Bottle
It may come as a surprise, but how a bottle is used is actually more important than the type of bottle or teat used.
No matter the teat, the following tips can help reduce the risk of bottle feeding interfering with breastfeeding:
- Feeding your baby according to your baby’s individual needs
- Using a paced bottle feeding method
- Having as much skin-to-skin contact as possible between you and your baby
For more information, read our articles Bottle Nursing – 6 Steps To Better Bottle Feeding and How Often Should I Feed My Baby Formula – 3 Things You Should Know.
If supplementation is being used, should it be given before or after a breastfeed?
If before, it could mean your baby associates becoming satisfied by the breastfeed rather than the bottle feed. On the other hand, you may worry giving the supplement before may mean your baby has less of an appetite for the breast. Perhaps if a small amount of supplement is being used, it wouldn’t reduce your baby’s appetite much.
If quite a lot of supplementation is being used, should small amounts be given after every/many breastfeeds?
This way of supplementing can be soul destroying for many mothers – as your baby guzzles milk easily from a bottle, this can make you feel inadequate, over and over again.
Alternatively, should one or two breastfeeds per day be replaced with a measured amount of supplementation and breastfeeding occurs as if your baby is fully breastfed for the rest of the 24 hours? Minimising the frequency of bottle use may help reduce its potential impact on breastfeeding, as well as reducing the amount of work involved with cleaning and preparing bottles. However, if a mother has a significant low milk supply, then fully breastfeeding for long periods may be stressful as she may be dealing with an unsettled hungry baby for much of the day.
Seeing a lactation consultant can help you work out what may be best given your individual circumstances.
For tips about how to wean off supplementation read here.
#4: The More Claims A Bottle Manufacturer Makes The More Expensive The Bottle Generally Is
It may also come as a surprise too that the more claims a bottle manufacturer makes about their bottle(s), the more expensive they are likely to be. Have you seen the following claims about bottles?
“Closest to nature”
Some bottle manufacturers fund their own research into their bottles which they use to back up their claims. Even quality research about teats needs to be questioned when the research is funded by the company that makes the teats and when the outcomes aren’t that impressive anyway.
When it comes to choosing a teat for your breastfed baby, you can be reassured you are not doing your baby a disfavour by choosing one particular teat over another. How you use the bottle is more important than what type is used.