Even the fiercest advocate of breastfeeding will be inclined to agree that at some point or another, a bottle and teat will have its rightful place in feeding baby. It would be unjustified to demonise milk bottles and frown upon them in favour of exclusive nursing at the breast. After all, mothers do rely on bottles to give their babies water; working mothers may express their breastmilk in advance for the caregiver to feed baby; even nursing mothers themselves occasionally resort to the bottle when their nipples feel too cracked, raw and sore for direct suckling.
There are mothers too, who practise combination feeding, where baby is fed a mixture of breastmilk and formula. And then there are mothers who are trying to wean their baby off the breast altogether and on to the bottle. In these instances, making the transition from breast to bottle so that baby is comfortable with both has its advantages—mainly, convenience and flexibility.
Introducing the bottle Just like breasts, not all bottles are the same! There are many elements to consider when choosing a bottle, such as material, size, shape and design features such as anti-colic. Some infants who suffer from colic or spit-ups may need a bottle that is designed to prevent such problems. For example, some new bottles have different vent systems which prevent baby from ingesting air along with the milk, thus reducing gas and colic. Sometimes, making a simple bottle switch will eliminate the issue, without the need to resort to drastic measures like changing the brand of formula, which is a mistake common among mothers who are weaning their infants.
One vital attachment that cannot be disassociated from the bottle is, of course, the teat, which can make the difference between a fuss-free or extended weaning period. If you’ve been breastfeeding baby all along and are only just introducing a bottle, try using teats that closely resemble the shape of the areola and nipple. Manufacturers refer to these as orthodontic shaped, and they have a distinctive bulbous shape with a wide base that gradually tapers down to the nipple, similar to how your breast fits in your baby’s mouth.
However, there is no harm trying the standard teat, which comes in a bell shape. There are other functional ones as well, like the angled teat, in which the nipple is slanted to tilt into the baby’s mouth; or the vented teat, which feature a small hole in the neck of the nipple to prevent it from collapsing.
Teats can also be made of latex or silicone, and they’re easy to differentiate. Latex, or rubber, is soft, flexible, brownish-beige in colour and opaque. Silicone, on the other hand, is clear and is much firmer than latex, which some babies dislike. To ease the transition between breastfeeding and bottle nursing, start your baby off with a slow-flow. Medium- and fast-flow teats are for older babies who can consume more milk. There is also the option of variable flow teats, marketed as being suitable for babies of all ages as the flow is moderated by the strength of their sucking.
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A winning wean So what other factors contribute to successful weaning off the breast and on to the bottle?
Pay attention to the temperature of the formula/breastmilk
Most babies are content with formula at room temperature or that is slightly warm. You may warm the feed by immersing the bottle in a bowl of hot water, then shake a few drops on your inner wrist to check that it’s just about right. Even if a bottle is marked as microwave-safe, resist doing that to raise the temperature of the formula. In a microwave, the liquid heats unevenly and while the bottle may still be cool enough to touch, the formula inside could have hot spots that could scald your baby’s delicate throat.
You're not losing out on bonding time if you bottle feed!
A misconception is that bottle feeding will reduce the intimate bonding experienced between mother and baby during breastfeeding. Don’t worry, it won’t! In fact, the beauty of baby taking to a bottle is that it gives your significant other—that is, daddy!—or other family members, the precious opportunity to bond with baby as well. Bonding will occur when there is cuddling and close skin-to-skin contact, and there’s nothing better than cradling your baby and gazing into his eyes as he sucks contentedly from the bottle.
Get baby in the right feeding position
Settle down in a comfortable position as you get ready to feed your baby from the bottle. First, keep your baby’s head straight in relation to the rest of his body, as it will be harder for him to swallow if his head or turned to the side or tilted back. What should be tilted however, is the bottle. As you bring the teat to your baby’s mouth, the bottle should be slanted at an angle that flows the milk down to the nipple and the air to rise above the formula, which will help minimise your baby swallowing excess air.
Pay attention to your baby's drinking speed
Monitor your baby’s progress as he sucks from the bottle. The nipple should ideally release one drop of formula per second when the bottle is turned upside down without shaking (any faster and a young infant may choke). However, if you notice your baby’s cheeks caving in and he appears to be sucking forcefully with the bottle hardly draining, then the nipple flow may be too slow. When he is about halfway finished with the contents, take a break to burp baby to release any gas accumulated in his stomach. If you neglect doing this, your baby might be restless due to the discomfort caused by the wind in his tummy; he might even regurgitate a fair amount because of improper digestion. Burping your baby halfway also allows you to switch arms during feeding so that you don’t get cramps.
Don't force baby!
Make bottle feeding an equally pleasant experience for your baby as when he was solely breastfeeding. Even though you can now visually see the amount he is consuming, don’t force him to finish the bottle if he falls asleep towards the end or appears content and satiated. Just like when he was breastfeeding, your baby will know when he’s had enough. Never force by reinserting the teat into your baby’s mouth when he doesn’t want it. Your insistence could result in a stressful bottle-feeding experience that could spill over into subsequent sessions.
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Bottle basics While getting your baby acquainted with drinking from a bottle seems straightforward enough, once you’ve decided to incorporate its use into your baby’s feeding sessions, the sheer number of options available could prove daunting for the uninitiated. Indeed, it is not unusual for mothers to go through several purchases before settling on a particular bottle that baby is most comfortable with.
For starters, you may want to use smaller sized bottles when baby can take in only a small amount at a time. Usually these “beginner” bottles can contain four ounces, or 120ml of fluids. Later you can switch to bigger bottles (typically eight ounces, or 240ml) which you can continue using for the entire duration that baby is being bottle fed.
There are many factors to consider during bottle selection, including:
basic design—standard, wide-necked or angle-shaped
functions, for example, vent/anti-vacuum system to minimise gas, inbuilt temperature sensor
accompanying accessories—some baby bottles are designed to be compatible as the child grows, and can be fitted with later add-ons like handles or sip spouts
easy availability of accompaniments, parts or replacements—such as sealer ring or disc, bottle cover, teats
material (BPA free)
Overall, remember that even when weaned off the breast (gradually or totally), feeding your baby with a bottle can still be a rewarding and shared experience for bonding. When in doubt, don’t keep your concerns “bottled” up too! Approach your paediatrician to discuss more about weaning, continue to keep updated on product news and developments, and chances are, you and baby will enjoy this seamless switch when the time comes.
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