Bottle nursing is term coined in Attachment Parenting circles, but the principles can be used by all parents and caregivers.
Feeding your baby with a bottle – expressed breastmilk, donor milk or formula – is an opportunity to connect and bond with your baby, just as it is when breastfeeding.
While bizarre products turn up every now and then that are designed to make bottle feeding hands-free, most parents continue to see feeding time as a bonding opportunity, not a multitasking opportunity.
Here are 6 steps to help you enjoy more bonding and connection with your baby as you bottle feed or bottle nurse:
#1: Hold Your Baby Close
When a baby is fed at the breast, his whole body is in close contact with his mother’s chest and his face, arms and hands are in skin-to-skin contact.
When you bottle feed, snuggle your baby with his head resting against your bare arm (when practical), holding the bottle close to your chest. When you can, give your baby the full skin-to-skin experience, especially in those early days after birth.
Propping a baby to bottle feed is dangerous. Always hold your baby when feeding.
#2: Make Feeding Time Special
Offer eye contact when feeding and talk gently to your baby, giving him your full attention.
Switch sides during feeds, just as a baby does at the breast.
Minimize background distractions like the TV, mobile devices, or conversation when you can.
#3: Make Feeding Time About Mama As Much As Possible
Some parents choose to have their baby associate feeding with being held by his mother (or other primary caregiver), just as he would if breastfed.
He will see, smell, and feel her during feeds and this will strengthen that special bond.
It also gives his mother a chance to sit and rest regularly during the day.
#4: Consider Using A Dummy/Pacifier For Comfort Sucking
Breastfed babies seek the breast for comfort as much as hunger or thirst.
Your bottle-fed baby may seek comfort sucking and a dummy or pacifier can help.
You might choose to mostly offer this while holding and comforting your baby in your arms.
Controlled dummy use is less likely to lead to issues.
If excessive dummy use is a problem, see BellyBelly’s article Ditching The Dummy (Pacifier) – Tips And Ideas For Stopping.
#5: Follow Your Baby’s Feeding Cues
All babies benefit by feeding when they are hungry, rather than following a tight schedule.
Recognizing your baby’s early hunger cues also means he will be less distressed while you prepare his feed.
Crying is a late hunger cue, best avoided.
Common infant hunger cues include:
- Early – licking lips; opening and closing mouth; sucking on hands, fingers or clothing
- Active – Rooting around on your chest; trying to get in the usual feeding position by leaning back; squirming around, swatting you on the arm or chest repeatedly
- Late – Moving head frantically from side to side; crying
Also look for signals your baby has had enough, rather than encouraging him to empty the bottle.
He may start to turn away from you or the bottle, become agitated or refuse to continue sucking.
Just as babies at the breast take varying amounts through the day, your baby may sometimes take a smaller feed. By respecting his feedback, you will avoid over-feeding.
#6: Pace Your Bottle Feeds
Your baby needs your help to control the flow of milk from the bottle, so he has time to pause and rest throughout the feed.
If the flow of milk into his mouth is constant, he must keep swallowing.
What can appear to be fast, enthusiastic feeding might actually be your baby trying to cope with an overwhelming experience.
How to pace a bottle feed:
- Position your baby so that he is on a slight angle, with his head higher than his tummy. Avoid having his head tilted back or his chin tucked down.
- Hold the bottle so it is horizontal, not tipped down. Only tilt it as much as you need to keep milk in the teat. Use the slowest flow teat your baby will accept.
- Let the baby decide when to begin by holding the teat against his lips, letting him “root” for it, rather than pushing it into his mouth.
- After he takes a few sucks, gently draw the teat back to rest on his lip, letting him pause. He will indicate when he is ready to take it back. Continue this until he shows signs of needing to burp or take a longer rest. Switch sides and repeat.
- A breastfeed can take around 15-20 minutes – sometimes more, sometimes less – so this is a useful guide on how long a feed might take.
- Watch the baby for signs of finishing. Avoid trying to tempt him to finish the bottle – let his natural appetite control lead the way.
Occasional, regular, or exclusive bottle-feeding can be a special experience for baby and caregiver. Regardless of why or what is in the bottle, every mother is doing the very best for her baby.