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Breast-feeding your baby directly “from the tap” has a lot of benefits: It’s more efficient than pumping, it’s convenient and sterile, and it helps regulate your milk supply.
However, for most moms, direct breast-feeding all the time isn’t practical.
Even if you’re exclusively breast-feeding and able to be with your baby full time, it’s nice to have a few bottles so you don’t have to worry about rushing back to the sitter after a night out.
And if you need to go back to work before your baby is ready to start solid foods, then bottles will probably be an important staple of your baby’s feeding routine.
What are the concerns with bottle-feeding a breast-fed baby?
Most lactation consultants recommend that you wait to offer a bottle to your breast-fed baby till breast-feeding is well-established.
The reason is simple: Even the best-designed bottle doesn’t function exactly the same way that your breast does. The size, shape and feel of a bottle nipple are different from your breasts, and the way the milk flows is different, too.
Because of this, feeding from a bottle before your baby has really gotten the hang of breast-feeding and before your milk supply is well-established can lead to “nipple confusion.”
A baby with nipple confusion will often refuse to eat from the breast, either because they’re frustrated by the slow flow or because they’ve forgotten how to latch properly and isn’t able to get milk effectively.
This can also cause breast-feeding to be painful for mom, since the baby isn’t latching correctly.
What can you do to avoid nipple confusion?
The best way to optimize your chances of meeting your breast-feeding goals is to get breast-feeding well-established before you have to be separate from your baby for longer periods.
If it’s possible for you to be with your baby and feed on demand for the first few weeks, that will help establish both your baby’s latch and your milk supply. It’s also a good idea to wait to introduce bottles until your baby is at least 3 weeks old.
What makes a good bottle for a breast-fed baby? One of the most important factors is the speed of milk flow. Most bottles allow milk to flow out faster than your breast does, and if your baby gets used to the faster flow from the bottle, they may refuse the breast when your let down doesn’t happen immediately.
The second factor is the way the bottle is shaped, because this determines how your baby latches on. For a good latch on your breast, your baby needs to open their mouth wide. The best bottle nipple will also be low and wide, requiring your baby to open their mouth wide and compress the nipple as they suck.
What are the top brands for bottles for breast-fed babies?
This bottle is ideal for breast-fed babies for two reasons. First, it has a slow flow nipple, which means it’s less likely to cause your baby to be frustrated at the breast.
And second, it has a unique two-part nipple that requires your baby to open their mouth wide to latch and also to compress the nipple before they can get milk out. The motion required to get milk out of the First Years Breastflow is very similar to the motion required to breast-feed, so it’s a great bottle to help your baby keep a good latch for breast-feeding.
However, the soft nipples can sometimes collapse, depending on how firm your baby’s latch is.
The Comotomo bottle is shaped to mimic a breast. Its shorter nipple and wide bottle requires baby to use a wide-mouth latch.
This bottle is also designed to feel more like a breast. The silicone nipple is soft enough for baby to pull into their mouth and compress. This bottle is also unique for its dual airflow vents, which are designed to prevent air swallowing and burping as your baby eats.
However, the lids sometimes leak, and these soft nipples sometimes collapse as well.
The Mimijumi bottle is also shaped very similar to a breast, with a lower nipple and wide base that requires an open-mouth latch.
However, the silicone nipple on this bottle is harder than the Comotomo, so it doesn’t compress as well and may not feel as natural to some babies.
The Adri Natural Nurser was one of the first bottles designed to imitate the look of a breast, and its shorter nipple and wide base are closer to the shape of a real breast than most of the bottles in this list. The silicone is very soft, allowing baby to suck and compress with a similar latch to breast-feeding.
However, the air vents of these bottles tend to leak.
Although the shape of the Dr. Brown nipples doesn’t approximate the shape of a breast as well as the others on this list, they do have air vents that allow for a slow flow that’s appropriate for a breast-fed baby. The air vents also prevent air from getting into the nipples, which helps reduce spitting up and gas.
Are there any options other than bottles?
Bottle-feeding isn’t the only option for a breast-feeding mom who can’t be with her baby all day, every day.
Newborns can also be spoon-fed or even cup fed with pumped milk or formula. This is more time-consuming than bottle-feeding, but it avoids any potential for nipple confusion. This is usually only done in the first few days after birth while a baby is learning to latch. It does, however, make it harder for the baby to stop eating when they’re finished, so the caregiver needs to be cautious not to overfeed.
Scheduling flexibility can also be an option for some women, depending on your job. Even young babies can usually go three to four hours between feedings. If you’re able to feed your baby before you go to work, then visit your baby during the lunch break of an eight-hour day, and then feed them again after work, that can be enough for your baby not to need a bottle (although you should have one available).
Some babies will also “reverse cycle” if their mother is away most of the day. A baby who reverse cycles will eat less during the day, refusing a bottle, and then will fill up on calories by breast-feeding more at night, when mother is available.
This can be frustrating for a working mom, since it interferes with sleeping through the night, but it can also be a flexible way to breast-feed while working.