Giving a baby a bottle may seem like a straightforward process. You simply fill the bottle, put it in the baby’s mouth and hold it there until it’s gone. Easy right?
Actually, nature’s design for feeding infants is more beautifully complex than that. A breastfed baby receives his milk slowly and a little at a time. He is fully in control of when he latches and unlatches and he can change his sucking pattern so that he can comfort nurse without receiving any milk.
Because of this slow and controlled eating pattern, the breastfeed baby perfectly masters portion control at a young age. He becomes very familiar with feelings of hunger versus satiation and he has time to recognize when he is full in order to stop the feeding before he eats too much.
On the other hand, when a baby is bottle fed, he has less control over when the nipple is put in his mouth and he cannot control the flow of milk. If he sucks, whether for food or comfort, he will be fed and he may continue to eat past satiation for as long as milk comes out.
This may be part of why a breastfed baby is less likely to be obese in adulthood than a bottle fed baby.
It is also why a baby who is breastfeeding may gulp down a bottle immediately after nursing. This is NOT a sign that the mother has low milk supply but instead a good indicator that baby needs a bit more comfort at the breast. (AND if baby is going through a growth spurt and wanting more milk, the fastest way to boost supply is to continue nursing until baby is satisfied.)
Likewise, the inability to control portion size from a bottle is part of why a breastfed baby may drink much more milk from a bottle than his mother is able to pump for him while she is at work. Unfortunately, if this continues, she may not be able to keep up and will find herself needing to supplement if she wishes to continue working which can further hinder supply.
Therefore, it’s important to try to mimic the breastfeeding process when feeding a breastfed baby a bottle. Not only is this beneficial for the baby because he develops healthy eating habits, it is also vital to the breastfeeding relationship because it protects the mother’s supply and avoids any nipple confusion or preference.
So if you are given the privilege of feeding a breastfed baby a bottle, follow these 7 steps to bottle feeding and you will greatly benefit both the baby and his mama.
Step 1: Choose a bottle with a slow flow nipple.
When breastfeeding, a baby has to work to get the milk to flow. The letdown doesn’t happen immediately and milk doesn’t always flow at the same speed. But in a bottle, the flow is regulated by the hole in the nipple. Therefore, choosing the slowest flow will keep him from gulping down the bottle so quickly that he doesn’t have time to recognize feelings of satiation.
Step 2: Put an appropriate amount of milk in the bottle.
The average baby eats about 25-30 ounces a day and feeds between 8-12 times. That means the average baby eats anywhere from 2-3.75 ounces per feeding. Therefore, this is an appropriate amount of milk to put in a breastfed baby’s bottle. Putting more than that in at one time may lead to overfeeding.
Step 3: Hold the baby upright.
It’s important to hold the baby in an upright position rather than holding him flat on his back. This way, he has more control of how much milk goes into his mouth because he has to work against gravity to get it there.
Step 4: Let the baby draw the nipple into his mouth.
Hold the nipple to the baby’s lips but then let him open his mouth and draw the nipple in. Do not push the nipple into the baby’s mouth uninvited. This gives the baby a say as to whether he is ready for a feed or not.
Step 5: Hold the bottle horizontally.
Much like holding the baby upright, it is also important to hold the bottle horizontally rather than vertically. This slows the flow of milk and gives the baby greater control.
Step 6: Pause the feeding every minute or two.
After baby has taken a couple sucks and swallows, lower the bottle a bit so he can take a break from eating. In doing this, the baby consumes the appropriate amount of milk (2-4 ounces) in the same amount of time that a breastfeeding session typically lasts (10-15 minutes). Once again, this gives the baby a chance to recognize feelings of satiation and stop the feeding before he gets overfull.
Step 7: Let the baby decide when he’s done.
Finally, it’s so important to let the baby be in charge of when to stop eating. If he falls asleep and stops sucking or let’s the nipple fall out of his mouth, let him be finished. While it may be so tempting to encourage him to eat the last ounce in the bottle, remember that he is practicing portion control which will have lifelong benefits for him.
So whether you’re a dad, a grandparent, a family member, a daycare worker, or just someone lucky enough to hang out with a baby, be encouraged that in feeding him this way you are allowing him to eat in a healthy manner that not only benefits him but also protects his breastfeeding relationship with his mother. That is truly something to strive for and celebrate.