Bottle-feeding Tips- A Bottle-feeding Overview for The Breastfeeding Family

by Amy Peterson

This post made possible by the support of EvenFlo Feeding

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Moms who breastfeed often feel afraid, or even sadness, at the thought of introducing a bottle. The truth is bottles are a tool, a useful tool, and they don’t need to be scary, even if you need to use a bottle in the early days because breastfeeding isn’t going well. If you think your baby is lazy, you need someone to evaluate what’s going on because it’s not laziness, it’s something we’re not recognizing. It is a sign of something else. In the meantime, pump your milk and feed your baby. The bottle can be a tool you use to protect your breastfeeding journey, not to end breastfeeding.   

It can feel overwhelming when it comes to picking a bottle for your breastfed baby. Many bottles claim to be “more like mom,” but that is a marketing gimmick. Babies are unique, and a bottle that works for one baby may not work for another, siblings included. Below are some tips that may help parents looking for a bottle for their breastfed baby.

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Think of how a baby latches on the breast. There are many ways to evaluate if breastfeeding is going well. As it relates to picking a bottle, we specifically observe the baby’s mouth. It should open widely, resting the lips on the areola. The lips will roll out (flange) and be visible, with the corners of the lips sealing against the breast. Your nipple will reach far into your baby’s mouth. This is what you want to mimic with a bottle latch.

There are three predominant nipple shapes: narrow, gradually sloped wide, and classic wide.  Any shape is okay so long as your baby has a similar latch on the bottle nipple as on the breast. The right nipple for your baby should a) reach deeply into your baby’s mouth, b) allow the lips to open and rest on a portion of the base, and c) allow the lips to form a complete seal.  On a narrow nipple, let your baby latch and then wiggle it in deeper into your baby’s mouth so the lips are almost “kissing” the collar. On a gradually sloped wide, again, wiggle the nipple in deeper, then observe to see if your baby’s mouth remains opened widely rather than slipping to the tip.  On a classic wide, make sure your baby’s lips can rest on a portion of the base and form a complete seal rather than sucking on the nipple length like a straw.  

You will probably want to buy two or three nipples to try. Rather than reading packaging claims, look at the nipple. Ask yourself, “Will this nipple reach deeply in my baby’s mouth so the lips can rest on the base? (yes) Will this nipple shape help hold my baby’s lips open? (yes) Does it look like my baby will suck on this like a straw? (no)” Try different shapes until you find the shape that allows for a good latch for your baby.          

Start with a slow flow nipple. However, it is important to note that there is no industry standard for “slow,” and flow rates vary greatly between brands. It is also important to note that dripping is different than flow. Bottles that are advertised as “no drip” may flow very fast compared with other bottles that do drip.  With any bottle, you can control dripping by letting your baby latch on to the bottle before tipping it up so milk fills the nipple. You can’t control flow, but you can try different brands to see how your baby responds, and you can tip the bottle down and let your baby rest if he looks overwhelmed when swallowing Balancing Breast and Bottle lists bottle brands from slowest to fastest flow.  

The million dollar question—which bottle nipple is best for my breastfed baby—has no absolute answer. It all comes down to how your baby latches and swallows with a specific nipple.

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Amy Peterson is a mom of 4, IBCLC, Early Intervention coordinator, and retired LLL Leader. She works alongside a speech-language pathologist, and together they co-authored Balancing Breast and Bottle: Reaching Your Breastfeeding Goals. They have also written a series of tear-of sheets available through Noodle Soup: Introducing a bottle to your full-term breastfed baby, Pumping for your breastfed baby, Pacifiers and the breastfed baby, and Bottle pacing for the young breastfed baby. Amy’s passion is helping others find fulfillment and confidence in parenting, regardless of feeding method. Visit Amy’s website at breastandbottlefeeding.com.
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