10 Tips for Bottle-feeding a Breastfed Baby

All too often I go in to a doctor appointment or partake in a survey related to my child-rearing processes and get asked the question: “Is your baby breast-fed or bottle-fed?”

My response is always the same, “Well, both… he doesn’t get formula if that’s what you’re asking.” Breastfeeding and bottle-feeding are not necessarily two mutually exclusive events.

There are several reasons that you may need to introduce a bottle to your little one.

The reason that most often comes to mind is that your child will be cared for by someone other than you (mama) for a period of more than 2-3 hours.

This might be because you are returning to work and will be enrolling your little one in childcare, you might have obligations that require you to be away for extended periods of time or you may choose to spend a few hours away to keep your sanity.

Whatever your reason, it’s okay!  The important thing is to take the time to talk with your childcare provider (this includes well-meaning fathers, in-laws, licensed providers, etc.) about how to bottle-feed your breastfed baby.

All of the information I share here comes from personal experiences from myself and other mamas. I’m not a lactation consultant and urge you to speak with one about questions you have regarding tips and tricks for making your breastfeeding journey a successful one.

I’m going to order these tips, not necessarily by order of importance, but rather, by frequency in which I encountered these as issues.

This is meant to be used as advice for new parents as well as caregivers.

1. Don’t overfeed a breastfed baby!

  • Breastfed babies should be consuming between 19-30 ounces of breast milk per day. This can be hard to monitor if you are nursing and bottle-feeding, so the general rule of thumb is to have between one and 1.5 ounces of milk available for each hour you are away. KellyMom has a calculator you can use to calculate out how much milk you should leave for your baby. I, personally, brought four 4 oz. bottles to daycare planning to be at work for an 8-hour day (this is 2 oz. per hour, so you can find what works for you).
  • Understand that breast-fed babies do not necessarily need more breast milk based on their weight. One of the coolest things about breast milk is that the composition changes depending on the age and biological needs of your baby. This is a really interesting phenomenon that I never totally understood so I researched it a bit. (Find out more about the changing composition of breast milk in my next article!) What this means for care providers is that breastfed babies won’t need increasing amounts of breast milk as they get older.
  • Recognize the differences between the actions of a breast-fed baby and a formula-fed baby (for example, a breast fed baby may not become lethargic after a feeding or may prefer to take more mini-breaks while feeding).
  • It’s helpful to offer smaller bottles  (3-4 ounces) every few hours rather than one or two big bottles for the day. This way the feedings mimic how often a baby would be nursing throughout a day to help reduce the possibility of a bottle preference.
  • Use slow-flow nipples to best imitate milk flow from the breast and again, to try and reduce a preference for bottles. Breastfed babies are used to putting in the work to get the milk to flow, if we give them quick access to milk with little work involved they will drink more than they need to and usually throw up a good portion of the milk they just chugged!
  • Allow the baby to nurse whenever possible! Lunch breaks, as soon as mama gets off work, etc. to continue to promote the breastfeeding relationship.

2. Feed the baby when he or she is hungry!

  • In our society we are used to keeping things on a specific schedule, which can be wonderful, but in this case feeding on hunger cues rather than a specific schedule will allow a little one to eat when he/she is hungry rather than when the clock says its time to eat.
  • Hunger cues can change as a baby ages but might include things like: squirminess, sucking on his/her hand, rooting, fussing, putting hands up to his/her mouth, etc. Crying is a late hunger cue – try not to let it get to that point.

3. Hold the baby in the proper position!

  • The proper bottle-feeding position should mimic a nursing position in which the baby is held upright facing toward the caregiver. Never feed a baby a bottle flat on his or her back!
  • The bottle should be horizontal to the baby’s mouth; it’s okay if he or she swallows some air, the air will come out through the nose.

4. Encourage mini-breaks!

  • As adults, we generally try to remind ourselves not to eat too quickly. This is a good habit to instill during infancy. Part of the reason a breastfed baby might eat too quickly is again, because they are used to working harder for that milk therefore, taking longer at mealtimes. Encouraging little breaks helps mimic a breastfeeding schedule.
  • Give the infant a chance to take a breather and begin to learn what satiation feels like, otherwise he or she might eat too much and have an upset tummy afterward (we all know how that goes with too much dessert, no?!).

5. Hold and talk to the baby throughout the day, not just at mealtime!

  • Again, as adults we tend to gravitate toward meals as social events – it’s part of the reason obesity is such a problem in first world nations. Let’s try to minimize that habit from the get-go. Make sure the little one isn’t eating just to be held and comforted. And on that note….

6. Don’t use milk as a comforting tool!

  • We should not be eating for comfort (as babies or adults).
  • Make sure to try other comforting techniques first. Walk the baby around the room, talk or read to him or her, check diaper status and determine whether it may be getting close to nap time before reaching for the bottle.

7. Don’t force feed!

  • Okay, even the best parents/caregivers can do this with good intentions, especially if you have been dealing with a fussy baby. Hold the bottle in an upright position near the baby’s mouth and then slowly tip the bottle into his or her mouth when he/she shows signs of readiness (e.g., reaching up or opening his/her mouth).
  • If the baby turns his or her head away from the bottle, try again, if he or she still turns away after a couple of attempts try again in a little while.

 8. Don’t throw milk away unless it’s necessary!

  • Breast milk is good at room temperature for up to four hours!  It will keep well in the refrigerator for a few hours if the baby does not finish all of the milk in one setting.
  • Pay close attention to hunger cues to avoid wasting “liquid gold,” as pumping mamas like to call it.
  • If you are using milk that has been thawed from the freezer and it has reached “liquid status,” it must be used within 24 hours or it needs to be tossed.
  • If you pull out milk to defrost and then realize you don’t need it after all and it is still in “slushy status,” it is okay to be refrozen.

9. Remember – there are specific ways to prepare breast milk for consumption!

  • Heat is not good for breast milk and can destroy some of its most beneficial properties! However, most babies will prefer breast milk warm like their mama’s temperature. The best way to tell if the temperature is right is to squirt a drop onto the inside of your wrist, if you can feel its temperature (hot or cold), its not quite right.
  • It’s best to heat breast milk in a bowl or cup of warm water. Microwaves and stove tops should never be used to heat breast milk!
  • Don’t shake breast milk! Breast milk separates after being stored, the fatty layer remains on top, always swirl milk to mix the layers back together to avoid denaturing the precious molecules that make breast milk so special (don’t worry if you have shaken milk in the past— good parts are still there!).

10. Remember breast milk (or formula) should be the primary source of an infant’s nutrition for the first 12 months!

  • In efforts not to overfeed, (remember tip #1!) many parents or caregivers may want to give their baby water instead of milk or formula– this isn’t necessary and can fill a little one up, creating an inability to receive the nutrition they need from breast milk or formula.
  • Give babies over the age of 6 months water only when learning to use a cup and not more than 2 ounces in a day.
  • If the baby is still sucking at a bottle after the milk is gone, consider trying a pacifier to satisfy that need instead of offering more breast milk or water from a bottle.
  • Don’t give babies juice in a bottle. After 8 months of age, diluted juice (literally a splash in a cup of water) can be given in a cup. Water, of course, is preferable!
  • Never substitute cow’s milk for breast milk or formula for children under the age of 12 months.
  • Remember that, while solid foods are fun and interesting, babies need the fat and calories from breast milk or formula for proper brain development. The first 12 months are crucial for this development!

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