All health care professionals preach that breastfeeding is best for babies. There are exceptions to this rule but it depends highly upon both the mother and baby’s situation. Of course, we also understand that this isn’t always a realistic decision. After all, between the inevitable breastfeeding problems and going back to your day job, as well as the fact that you’re just not available 24/7.
One middle ground between the numerous benefits of breastmilk and the practicality of bottle feeding is to combine the two. Many mothers arrange for bottle feeding during the day and breastfeeding at night, when mom is home from work.
Like many other motherhood decisions, combination feeding is a noble cause. However, many new mothers can still get a bit overwhelmed and confused by all the information available online on combination feeding. To distill that information into one bite-sized article, here are 15 ways you can combine breast and bottle feeding with minimal hassle.
15 Wait a Few Weeks
It’s probably not best to begin bottle feeding right after birth. You will have much less problems with switching back and forth between feedings if you’ve already had an established milk supply. For most mothers, this usually occurs at about five or six weeks, although some mothers can manage it at three.
This allows your body to produce a steady pace of milk production that is minimally affected by the possibly erratic feeding patterns of combination feeding.
14 Establish a Good Latch
Another thing that’s best accomplished before you begin bottle feeding is to establish a good latch. For new mothers, it may take a few weeks to achieve a good, non-painful latch. This is because if your baby hasn’t established it by the time you bottle feed, he may develop nipple confusion. That is, he will be unable to distinguish between the two and will not have learned how best to suck.
This can be quite painful for the mother. Sucking on a rubber nipple, after all, is different from that on a breast. An infant who sucks on your breast the same way he sucks on a bottle nipple is likely to cause you plenty of pain. If your baby has established a good latch beforehand, however, he will find it easier to adjust between the two.
13 Go BPA-Free
Some plastic bottles are made with bisphenol A, called BPA for short. In plastic materials that are heated and reused often, like baby bottles, the BPA can seep into the fluid, contaminating it. BPA exposure is linked with a variety of health conditions, including brain and hormonal damage, obesity and immune disorders. This is naturally the last thing you want for your baby. Therefore, you should choose bottles – as well as other feeding materials – that are BPA-free. Fortunately, more and more manufacturers are choosing to make BPA-free versions of their baby products. Some parents even opt for glass bottles which, while there is no risk of glass getting harmful chemicals into your baby’s meal, also have disadvantages, including the fact that they are breakable and heavy.
12 The Right Nipple
To minimize the risk of nipple confusion, choose a bottle nipple that mimics the shape, feel and milk delivery of your own breast. This makes it easier for your baby to transition between the two. It also minimizes the chances that you will have a painful feeding once he’s used to bottle feeding.
The most effective nipples have a wide base that allows for your baby to latch onto the bottle the same way he latches onto your breast. While it’s entirely possible for you to train your baby to distinguish between the two and adjust his feeding style accordingly, the similarities will make it far easier to do so.
11 Pump Regularly
To ensure that you have a continuous supply of breastmilk, let milk out while you’re working. The less you let your milk out, the less you will produce over time and you might eventually run out. And even in the short run, failing to pump can cause your breasts to become painfully engorged.
Make sure your pump regularly and often even when you’re away from home. A 15-minute pumping session every two to three hours should do. Not only will this maintain your milk supply and relieve engorgement, it will also ensure that you have a steady supply of breastmilk to give to your baby through the bottle when you’re away.
10 Freezing Milk
Even when you’re not around your baby will still need to eat. Fortunately, there are ways of giving your baby all the benefits of breastmilk, with the convenience of bottle feeding. This is, of course, giving your baby breastmilk through the bottle. Now, milk does spoil quite easily. You can, however, delay the process by putting the milk at the back of the freezer. (The front part of the freezer will be more often exposed to heat and therefore will be hotter than the back.) You can store the milk in glass bottles that are sterilized after each use or you can purchase a number of plastic packets that are specially made for breastmilk. Store the milk in single-feeding portions so that you don’t waste a lot of milk.
9 Put on Labels
It’s important to know when, exactly, you pumped out a certain batch of breastmilk. This is because you want to be sure you’re not giving your baby milk that’s spoiled. As a general rule, you should give your baby the milk that is furthest away from the pump date so that you don’t get milk that sits and spoils in your freezer.
The best thing you can do is to label each bottle or packet of breastmilk with the pump date. Ideally, you should be able to use the milk within three to five days from pumping. If you’ve got a powerhouse of a freezer, however, breastmilk has been known to last for as long as 12 months in the proper conditions.
8 Warming the Milk
Naturally, you don’t want to feed your baby milk that’s ice-cold. Before use, you can thaw the frozen milk in the refrigerator over the course of a day. Make sure, however, that you use the milk within a day after it has fully thawed. You can then place the bottle in a small bowl of warm water so that the milk gets nice and warm before the feeding. If you forgot to take out a packet in advance, however, you can simply run warm water over the bottle until everything has melted. Make sure, however, that you don’t leave the warmed milk out for too long as this may promote the growth of bacteria. Once you’ve thawed milk out, never refreeze it.
7 Using Formula
As much as we advocate using breastmilk even for bottle feedings, however, this isn’t always possible. Even if we do try to encourage all mothers to breastfeed, we do recognize that there is no shame in formula feeding. After all, individual situations may vary and not all of these are conducive to breastfeeding.
There are a number of formulas on the market that you can check out based on your baby’s needs. There are formulas for babies who are sensitive to lactose, or those who have certain allergic conditions. If your baby is underweight, your doctor may prescribe a formula that’s denser in nutrients. Other formulas are specially designed as supplements to breastfeeding, particularly when the breastfed baby has additional nutritional needs that cannot be catered by breastfeeding alone.
6 Mixing the Two
If you’re not producing an adequate amount of breastmilk, it’s perfectly fine to mix both the kinds of milk in the same bottle. Some doctors, however, don’t recommend this as this could mean a waste of breastmilk if your baby doesn’t finish the entire bottle. But this strategy can be particularly useful if your baby prefers breastmilk and you slowly want to acclimate him to formula. This is also handy if your baby has developed a preference for formula and you want to get him back into breastfeeding.
5 Bottle First
If you’re combining the two strategies in one feeding, usually when you’re not producing enough milk, some experts recommend offering the bottle before the breast. This will allow your baby to associate the feeling of fullness with the breast. This way, he’s less likely to refuse the breast when it is available.
4 Never Leave the Bottle In
As with babies that exclusively bottle feed, it’s never a good idea to leave the bottle in your baby’s mouth while he’s asleep. This is because the sugars in the milk could stay stagnant in your baby’s mouth if he’s not sucking. These sugars are great food for bacteria that produce acid by-products that can decay your baby’s fragile teeth. This results in a condition commonly known as baby bottle tooth, which can be very painful for your baby.
3 Feed on Demand
Whether you’re there to breastfeed or someone’s bottle feeding your baby, the best rule of thumb is to feed on your baby’s demand. Usually, your baby will demonstrate his hunger by sucking things or crying. You will notice that at the beginning, feedings will be quite frequent but will decrease slowly as he gets older. You may also want to offer milk in between feedings, just to check if he wants any. If he refuses, don’t force him.
2 Hugs, Hugs, Hugs
For babies, feeding is associated with a close bonding time with mom. After all, it requires such intimate contact between mother and child. However, bottle feeding can be unideal for this sort of contact. To remedy this, make sure that you or your partner give your baby hugs and comfort during all feedings. Skin-to-skin contact is the best way to connect with your baby. Providing contact is a great way for your partner to bond with your child, especially since he may feel a bit left out from breastfeeding.
1 Do What Works
Finally, don’t pressure yourself to be a perfect mom. Don’t feel bad if exclusive breastfeeding doesn’t work for you. Don’t feel bad, either, if you have to formula feed entirely. Remember, your situation is different from everyone else’s.
The best feeding routine, after all, is one that you can follow on a daily basis. In fact, there may be variations here and there as you will have to adjust occasionally to the demands of everyday life. As long as your baby is getting adequate nutrition, evidenced by a healthy amount of diapers and weight gain, you’re probably doing great.