You’ve got the baby, and you’ve got the bottle – how hard could it be? We’ve grown up in a culture where bottle feeding is the norm, and we’ve all seen it done. But is there a method to the madness when trying to bottle feed your baby? Positioning can make a huge difference to your baby’s comfort, as well as to your own.
Ways to hold your baby
Make sure you’re comfortable first. It’s going to take a little while for your baby to finish the bottle – maybe 20 minutes. So you want to be sure you can relax during that time, too.
Cradle your baby in your arms, but keep him fairly upright. Upright positions can be especially helpful when your baby is gassy or suffers from reflux. With the baby’s head in the crook of your arm and baby’s bottom in your lap, snuggle him against you at a slight angle. You don’t want him sitting fully upright, but can you imagine trying to eat or drink lying flat? His head needs to be well above his stomach for comfort. Be sure to support your baby’s neck well. He may need to tip his head back a bit so that he can swallow easily without choking (visualize yourself trying to swallow with your chin to your chest).
Another option is to hold your baby in your lap facing you. If you’re sitting with your back against something sturdy and your knees bent, you can lay baby along your thighs with his bottom near your belly to give the bottle. This allows you to make eye contact and talk to your baby during the feeding.
Sometimes placing your baby in an infant seat or on a pillow is more comfortable for both baby and caregiver. Be sure baby’s head is elevated and you are watching baby the whole time if you are feeding this way to prevent choking.
Ways to hold the bottle
With most bottle and nipple combinations (including slow flow nipples), if you hold them upside down milk drips out. The faster the milk drips, the more milk your baby will get. But this can be an issue if the flow is overwhelming your baby. In addition, the mechanics of bottle feeding means that each time your baby swallows, his mouth fills up with milk again. He has no option to stop swallowing until the bottle is either empty or until the person feeding it to him allows him to pause. Be sure you are watching your baby closely so you can follow his cues for taking a feeding break.
If you have shaken the bottle to mix the formula and it has lots of air bubbles, try to let the milk settle for a bit before feeding. This will help your baby not take in too much air – which can lead to uncomfortable gassiness.
When feeding, start with the bottle horizontally (parallel to the floor) or slightly tipped. You’ll want to keep the teat filled with milk so baby doesn’t suck in too much air. Tickle your baby’s lips with the teat, and allow him to latch on to the bottle nipple. Be sure you don’t hold the bottle too vertically, though you may need to increase the angle as the feeding progresses. It may take some trial and error to find just the right angle (and thus flow rate) for your baby.
The BlueSmart mia can help with the built in angle alert feature. When a caregiver holds the bottle too vertically, the red milk drop indicator will blink, alerting that the bottle needs to be lowered a bit. If the bottle is kept at that angle for over 3 seconds, the angle suggestion will be displayed in the app's feeding details screen.
Follow baby’s cues
Be sure you are watching for early hunger cues and giving your baby a bottle as soon as you notice that he’s starting to get hungry. If you wait until your baby is crying before feeding him, he may be gassier from swallowing so much air right before the feeding.
If your baby sounds noisy while feeding, he may be getting too much air or the flow may be too fast. Decrease the bottle angle a little to see if it’s a flow issue, or increase the bottle angle so the nipple is fuller if it’s an air issue.
Let your baby tell you when he’s finished, even if the bottle isn’t empty. If he turns his head away, starts to push the bottle out with his tongue or his hands, or begins allowing the milk to come out the corner of his mouth, take a feeding break. You can offer the remaining milk after burping or changing him, but if he’s not interested, don’t force him to finish.
If you’re using a bottle with a breastfed baby
Sometimes bottle feeding is temporary – such as, if you are supplementing briefly for weight gain or milk supply issues, or if you are bottle feeding when you are at work but breastfeeding when together. If this is your situation, you can try to make bottle feeding more like feeding at the breast: let baby suck on empty nipple first few sucks (like he would at the breast before your first letdown), give pauses throughout the feeding, and switch sides partway through the bottle.
Never prop a bottle
Don’t lean the bottle against a pillow or other support and allow your baby to feed himself. Bottle propping can lead to ear infections and tooth decay; but, more importantly, it can lead to choking or aspiration. If your baby falls asleep with a propped bottle, the milk may continue to flow causing your baby to breathe it in rather than swallowing it to the stomach.
Bottle propping also deprives your baby of your touch. Interactions between caregiver and baby are so important during feedings – enjoying these times together during feedings builds a close relationship. Remember that whether you’re feeding from the breast or a bottle, you’re nourishing your baby emotionally as well as nutritionally!