Top Ten Tips for bottle-feeding parents{0}

I recently ran a workshop for my daughter’s day care about good bottle-feeding practice.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much the carers knew, and how supportive they were of both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. The one thing that struck me though was that in the few cases where bad practice was happening, it was coming from the home.  So, the 12 month old who always lies on his back in a crib with a bottle to help him go to sleep.  Or, the 15 month old who walks around with a bottle in his mouth for much of the day and screams if it’s taken away.  The carers said they knew this wasn’t how it was supposed to be, but that’s what the parents had instructed them to do.

This reinforce why it’s really important for good bottle practice to start at home, and why we need much better education from health professionals about safe and loving bottle-feeding (but that’s another post!).

To that end, co-author of Guilt-Free Bottle-FeedingDr Sasha Howard, has put together these top tips for bottle-feeding parents. (there are a lot more in the book too)

1.  Get informed. There is good information out there on bottle-feeding, but it can be hard to come by. See the following tips for useful resources.

2. Choose a formula that’s right for your baby. Cow’s milk, goat’s milk or soya? Thickened, partially hydrolysed? Lactose-free? Organic or non-organic? Added long-chain polyunsatuarated fatty acids? All of the different options can be a little overwhelming to say the least. The First Steps Nutrition Trust www.firststepsnutrition.org is a British-based charity providing thorough, regularly updated, independent information on formulas, whilst maintaining a strong pro-breastfeeding stance. A must visit for anyone wishing to cut through formula company marketing when choosing a formula.

3. Watch your baby for cues they are full. There is more of a risk with bottle-feeding that you can overfeed, and rapid weight gain in early infancy can be associated with later obesity. Feed your baby when they are hungry and only give your baby the amount of feed they desire, rather than trying to get them to ‘finish the bottle’ (an easy tendency when bottle-feeding). In this way they can self-regulate feeds in the same way a breastfed baby would do (where you don’t know exactly how much they’ve had but rely on the baby to stop when they are sated).

4. Practice good hygiene. The only really robust scientific evidence for the benefits of breast over bottle-feeding is that breastfed babies get fewer gastro-intestinal infections (tummy bugs) in the first year of life. With good sterilization techniques (current UK advice is to sterilise all feeding equipment until 6 months), hand washing and toilet hygiene (!) the risk of these occurring in bottle-fed babies can be reduced. Good NHS guidelines can be found at http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/making-up-infant-formula.aspx.

5. Replace your bottles regularly. We shouldn’t really be using plastic bottles for more than a year, as even if they are BPA-free (which all modern plastic bottle should be) they can become scratched and thus more likely to harbour infection. We should not reuse them for younger siblings or pass them on to other families.

6. Try to feed your baby in a ‘tuned-in’ way. One of the lovely things about bottle-feeding an infant is the eye contact you get with your little one. This is really special time and it’s a shame if we waste too much of it checking our smart phones. Hold them close, talk to your baby, feed skin-to-skin if you want to – all these things help to be a sensitive and present parent when you bottle-feed (applies to dads as well, of course).

7. There are many paths up the mountain. Some babies will be exclusively breastfeed, and some will only have formula. But there are lots of mix-and-match ways in between. Some babies need a little bit of formula in the first few days to avoid dehydration (or parental desperation) in the first few days of life before breast milk comes in. That doesn’t mean they can’t be exclusively breastfed from then on. Some women with insufficient milk supply will need to top up with formula. Many babies will be bottle-fed during the day whilst their mums are a work and breastfed morning and at nighttime. Do what works for you.

8. It is your decision, and you don’t have to justify yourself. You may have to explain to health care professionals that you are giving your baby formula if you do so from day 1, but after that you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. They have no right to judge you (unfortunately some still might). There are mums who have had surgery for breast cancer and can’t breastfeed. There are mums who couldn’t carry a pregnancy for medical reasons and so don’t produce breast milk. There are babies who can’t breastfeed for a multitude of reasons. There are women who are traumatized by previous sexual abuse for whom breastfeeding may be unbearable. The list goes on and on. Whatever your reason, whatever your choice, it’s your business and no one else’s.

9. Get some support (if you need it). There are some wonderful support groups for bottle-feeding families. http://www.bottlebabies.org is a great source of information and practical help.  www.fearlessformulafeeder.com provides advocacy for bottle-feeding families, support and intelligent comments on feeding issues. There are an increasing number of localized bottle-feeding support groups on social media. And if you are mix feeding, or bottle-feeding as an interim measure but would like to successfully breastfeed, there are fantastic sources of help including www.breastfeedingnetwork.org, www.abm.me.uk, www.lcgb.org to name but a few.

10. You don’t need to feel guilty. Whether you opted to formula feed from day one, mixed-feed, feed expressed breast milk via bottle, wanted to breastfeed but weren’t able, wanted to but your baby wasn’t able to, didn’t want to breastfeed. As we explain at length in Guilt-Free Bottle-Feedingwhatever your decision, if you feed your baby in a loving, interested, sensitive manner then that is top-class parenting.

Tweet Sasha @DrSashaHoward

 

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