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Bottles & Bonding with a Breastfed Baby

Bottles & Bonding with a Breastfed Baby

It’s a natural worry. If a baby is being breastfed how does anyone else get a look in? And isn’t giving a bottle an easy way to give weary new mamas a break at the same time? My quick answers are:

  1. In lots of ways, and
  2. No, not really

The thing is, breastfeeding is the ONLY thing that a Dad, partner, grandparent, aunt or anybody else can’t do. BUT. They can do everything else and in the wise words of a fellow IBCLC, “a father is the first person to teach his baby that love doesn’t have to come with food”.

But what about giving mummy a break? Forgive me for throwing a spanner in to the mix but here’s the thing – it’s just not quite as straightforward as it sounds.

Demand = supply

Whilst a new mother’s body is figuring out how much milk it needs to produce for her baby (or babies) in the early weeks and months, it relies pretty much entirely on the baby suckling frequently and effectively to “put in the orders”, so that it knows how much and when, to make more milk in the future. If these orders are put on hold, then her body will think that it needn’t bother producing as much as it once thought and slowly her supply will drop. Expressing does of course produce some stimulation, but unless she has a hospital-grade electric pump (which most people don’t) then it rarely does the job well of helping build and sustain your milk supply, particularly in the first few months.

Lactating women also naturally produce higher levels of the hormone prolactin (the milk producer) in the evening, during the early months, hence those ‘witching hours’ of cluster feeds. It’s therefore a key component in building a longer lasting milk supply for the future, to allow the baby to feed directly from the breast, if possible, as and when they are asking for it. It may feel like there’s ‘nothing there’ but try to trust in the process – a healthy baby knows what they are doing!

Expressing can be a pain.

Expressing is an amazing and literally life-changing tool for some mothers and babies. However, it is sometimes just plain annoying and once you consider all the extra time spent expressing and sterilising bottles & equipment, it’s a little ironic that mum’s are often doing it to try and get a break!

If it aint broke, don’t try to fix it!

If you are exclusively breastfeeding, consider holding off (or never bothering with) introducing any formula supplements. Any breastfeeding, whether it’s for a few days or a few years, is absolutely worth its weight for both the mother and baby. However, the longer a mother breastfeeds for (especially exclusively) then the greater and longer lasting are the plentiful benefits.

One common reason for introducing formula is to try and get a bit more sleep. Sometimes it works but often it makes no difference. Uurgh. Just as some breastfed babies wake frequently and others sleep for long periods! What is true though is that formula milk is heavier going on their immature digestive systems and given that there’s rafts of solid evidence giving the thumbs up to exclusive breastfeeding, it’s worth considering other strategies for managing rest and making night feeds easier first.

Sucking from a teat is a whole different ball game

Whilst a baby is learning to breastfeed and is establishing their mama’s milk supply (which can take at least 4-6 weeks), it is a good plan to try and avoid, where possible, giving them anything else to suck on, such as bottle-teats and dummies. The process of sucking from a silicone or latex teat and the speed at which the milk flows from it, is totally different to when they are at the breast and it can sometimes change how a baby responds to breastfeeding and unwittingly introduce some avoidable feeding issues!

Ok, I know I may be sounding a little negative but the key to my work, is that I want to enable you to make your own INFORMED decisions, by sharing with you the most reliable knowledge we have.

So, with that bit of background…. in what other ways can Dads and others bond with the baby and help out at the same time?

  • Give the baby a bath: or even better, get in the bath with them! This is a wonderful opportunity to help a baby relax and have lots of skin and eye contact.
  • Settling the baby after a feed: cuddles, shushing, rocking, patting or even a bit of salsa (whatever floats your boat) can very much be in somebody else’s domain, as and when mama is having time out. 
  • Skin-to-skin…. this isn’t just the preserve of mothers. There are many benefits for both the baby and their Dad in stripping off down to the baby’s nappy and having Dad take his shirt off. Wrap a dressing gown or blanket safely over the top and soak up the love. One word of caution though – never fall asleep whilst a baby is on a carer’s chest, especially on a sofa or armchair. This can be extremely dangerous if the baby moves and gets their airways blocked.
  • Changing nappies and dressing… this isn’t only a necessary task but also an optimal chance to interact with a baby. Singing, stroking, tickling, whispering, smiling, eye contact, funny faces……all these little gestures are the building blocks of not only a positive relationship with them but will also help their little brains develop and learn to understand communication, love and empathy.
  • Take the baby for a walk….. but only in agreement with their mother if you want to avoid some serious hormonal stress! For extra bonding time and super-cute-Daddy brownie points, try out a soft baby carrier like the Ergo Baby or Baby k’tan.
  • Give the baby a massage…. the benefits of massaging babies are bountiful and too many to detail here. Look into finding a baby massage course near you or if you don’t have any going on, consider booking an online consultation and we can go through it all together.
  • Sing songs and read… babies are incredibly sensory beings and they love hearing familiar voices. It doesn’t matter if you think you sound hideous or are reading total gibberish. It will be heaven for the baby and every-time they hear the sound of your voice it will draw them closer to you.

So, as with EVERYTHING in parenting, we all have our own way and what’s right for one isn’t necessarily right for another. Inform yourselves and ultimately follow your heart and listen to your own mind. That’s it really.

Vanessa Christie (MSc, MN, IBCLC, RHV, RNC, CIMI) is one of the UK’s leading Lactation Consultants and Early Parenting Experts. She is a speaker for The Baby Show and regularly writes for parenting magazines and blogs. To book an online consultation with Vanessa please visit her website

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