There are various reasons why a mother may feed her baby expressed breastmilk (EBM).
For example, her newborn may not be latching on, she may be taking a break from direct breastfeeding to help heal sore and damaged nipples, she may be topping her baby up as her baby may not be feeding optimally from the breast yet, or she may be going out without her baby.
When it comes to feeding your baby (who predominantly feeds directly from the breast) in any other way, often the first, and sometimes only, method that comes to mind is a bottle.
However, there are various methods to do this. Particularly when breastfeeding is important to you, the potential impact a particular method can have on your baby’s ability to breastfeed needs to be considered.
All methods appear to have risks and benefits. Speaking about your individual situation with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor can help you select the most suitable method for you and your baby.
Ways to feed your baby with expressed breastmilk
Here are 6 ways to feed your baby expressed breastmilk (or formula).
#1: Bottle feeding
A bottle is probably the most common alternative feeding method. In many ways, bottle feeding is seen as convenient and socially acceptable. A bottle may be a method of choice if other alternative methods have been unsuccessful or if large volumes are needed.
However, there are some drawbacks associated with the use of the bottle such as:
- Overfeeding. This is likely one reason why formula feeding increases the risk of obesity
- Differences in a baby’s tongue and jaw movements when bottle feeding, compared to breastfeeding. This may be a reason why formula feeding increases the risk of malocclusions
- Differences in flow. When a baby drinks from a bottle she can bring on the flow immediately and get a more consistent faster flow than when feeding at the breast. This may increase the risk of a baby developing a preference for bottle-feeding
- Lack of skin-to-skin contact with the baby. Skin-to-skin contact is important as it helps boost oxytocin (the ‘feel good’ hormone) levels and helps to regulate a baby’s heart rate, temperature, and blood sugar levels
- Undermining a mother’s confidence in breastfeeding. Particularly if a mother uses a bottle to frequently top up her baby, she may see her baby guzzle more than she needs from the bottle time and time again. The message this can send to the mother is that she is inadequate, or that she isn’t producing enough milk for her baby.
When feeding a baby from a bottle, it’s important to ensure the feed is paced to assist in the regulation of her intake and suck, swallow, and breathing. This can also help to reduce the risk of problems such as breast refusal.
When bottle feeding your baby:
- Have her sit upright and gradually lower her back as milk is removed from the bottle.
- Hold her in close to your body
- Alternate from which arm she is held at each feed. This helps ensure her alternate visual fields are used which may assist with her brain and eye development
- Break the suction every so often and move it to the side of her mouth before resuming the feed
- Follow her cues. She may not want to finish all the milk in the bottle.
#2: Spoon feeding
Spoon feeding can be a great way to deliver small amounts of milk (e.g. colostrum) to babies who are not latching or feeding properly.
For example, some babies may be particularly sleepy due to drugs used during the birthing process or jaundice. Small amounts of milk delivered by spoon may help rouse some babies, who aren’t latching, to latch on and feed.
A particularly beneficial aspect of spoon feeding is that it allows the baby to determine her own feeding pace.
#3: Cup feeding
Particularly when cleanliness is suboptimal, cup-feeding can be a viable, safe alternative method to provide expressed breastmilk or formula to babies.
Cup feeding encourages a baby’s tongue to move down and forward, similar to tongue movement during breastfeeding. Cup feeding with a correct and safe technique allows a baby to control her intake and pause when necessary to reorganize her breathing.
Cup feeding can expose the preterm infant to the smell and taste of human milk, and provide a positive oral feeding experience for the baby without disrupting the breastfeeding process.
Research has demonstrated that cup feeding (as compared to bottle feeding) increases the likelihood that preterm babies will be fully breastfed at discharge home.
Particularly when small to moderate volumes of milk are being delivered to young babies in the short term, cup feeding (e.g. from a medicine cup) can be a great option. For older babies, cup feeding (e.g. from a sippy cup, no-spill cup, cup with a straw) can also be a great alternative feeding method.
Here is a video about cup-feeding a baby.
#4: Finger feeding
Like with cup feeding, finger feeding assists in keeping a baby’s tongue down and forward.
If done properly, finger feeding puts the baby in control of her intake too.
It can be used to help rouse a sleepy newborn, who isn’t latching, to latch on and breastfeed.
#5: Syringe feeding
While syringe feeding may be used to rouse a baby if only a few drops are used, there are some drawbacks associated with its use such as it:
- May increase risk of aspiration
- May result in pursed lip configuration
- Does not facilitate breastfeeding
- Does not allow a baby to control how much she gets.
#6: Breastfeeding supplementer
A breastfeeding supplementer allows direct breastfeeding to continue while simultaneously stimulating the breast to produce more milk. It provides a reward to the baby for feeding at the breast and removes the need for use of other supplemental feeding methods such as a bottle.
For some mothers, however, a breastfeeding supplementer can be tricky to get the hang of using and can be difficult to clean. For a breastfeeding supplementer to work, the baby must be willing to breastfeed and the mother needs a keen, positive attitude as using one involves a considerable commitment by the mother.
A breastfeeding supplementer is likely the best method choice if supplementation is likely to be required on a longer term basis such as to induce lactation (e.g. for an adopted baby), to relactate, or for mothers with ongoing low supply issues.
In summary, when selecting an alternative feeding method, it’s important to consider:
- Its cost and availability
- How easy it is to use and clean
- If it causes any stress to your baby
- How long it’s anticipated to be used
- Your preference
- Its potential impact on breastfeeding.
Remaining confident in your ability to breastfeed is important so that you don’t feel like you have to continue with the alternative feeding method once the need is over.