How many baby bottles do I need if I'm breastfeeding? - Evidence Based Babies
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How many baby bottles do I need if I'm breastfeeding?

How many baby bottles do I need if I’m breastfeeding?

When you’re pregnant, you will come to a point where you will start buying things for your baby, and of course, starting a registry for your baby shower. There are so many different baby products on the market, with one of the most popular products marketed to new parents being baby bottles. This is such an exciting time, but it’s very important to make informed choices that won’t affect your breastfeeding journey in a negative way.

Does a breastfed baby need a bottle?

Breastfed babies don’t really need bottles. Especially not if you’re not planning on being separated from your baby for longer periods on a frequent basis such as going back to work.

When it’s possible to only breastfeed directly at the breast, do so. There’s no need to feed your baby bottles of milk if there’s not an actual reason for it.

A common myth is that fathers have to give the baby bottles to be able to bond with the baby. This is not true at all, not only does it take the baby away from where they’re meant to be, which is at the breast, but it’s just not true. There are so many other, and better ways for a father to bond with their baby, such as skin-to-skin care which holds many health benefits for both the father and the baby.

If you’re going to be separated from your baby for longer periods of time on a regular basis, such as going back to work, your baby will need to have expressed breastmilk. There may also be other reasons for needing to feed your baby expressed breastmilk such as NICU stays, medical conditions in the baby or needing to supplement your baby with additional milk.

When necessary, these feedings can be done by means of spoon, syringe, open cup, sippy cup, water bottle or bottle feeding. It doesn’t have to be by bottle. This is true for both newborn babies and older babies.

Alternatives to bottles

If your baby will be separated from you for longer periods of time, they will need some expressed milk while you’re gone. This can be by bottle, but it doesn’t have to be. We all know breastfed babies tend to dislike and refuse bottles, and who can blame them? There are other ways your baby can be fed expressed breastmilk while separated from you.

Spoon feeding

You can use a spoon, preferably a plastic spoon to feed your baby. This is especially a great method if your baby is receiving colostrum or if you have a very sleepy baby in the first few days.

Support your baby in a semi-upright sitting position on your lap. Make sure you support their neck and upper back with one hand. Bring the spoon to your baby’s mouth, tipping it so that the milk touches the baby’s lips. The milk should not be poured into your baby’s mouth. Your baby’s tongue will move forward and lap up or sip the supplement.

Syringe or medicine dropper

A syringe or a medicine dropper is also a great alternative. Especially in the first few days.

Support your baby in a semi-upright sitting position on your lap. Be sure to support your baby’s head and upper back with one hand. Bring the syringe or eyedropper to your baby’s mouth and gently drip the milk slowly into your baby’s mouth. Give your baby enough time to swallow before offering more milk. This will allow your baby to control the pace of the feeding and help to prevent overfeeding.

Open cup

Feeding by open cup is another excellent alternative feeding option and it’s the preferred method of oral supplementation. It works great for all stages of a child’s life. Small plastic feeding cups will work just fine.

Fill a cup about half full of milk. Support your baby in a semi-upright sitting position on the lap. Make sure you support your baby’s neck and upper back with one hand. Bring the cup to your baby’s mouth, slightly tipping it so that the light just touches their lips. The milk should never be poured into your baby’s mouth.

Your baby’s tongue will move forward and sip up the milk. Keep the cup tipped throughout the entire feeding so that the milk is always touching your baby’s lips. This will allow your baby to control the pace of the feeding and help to prevent overfeeding.

Sippy cups

If your child is 4-6 months or older, an age-appropriate sippy cup can also be used to give them expressed milk if it’s really necessary.

Water bottles

For an older baby, a normal water bottle with a spout may also be a good option for them to have expressed milk. Always be sure that the feedings are paced, and the baby is being supervised at all times. Water bottles will have a much faster flow rate and is best to use for older babies and children, rather than younger babies.

How many baby bottles do I need if I’m breastfeeding?

If you’re going to have to be separated from your baby, and you choose bottle feeding as the preferred method of feeding, you’re obviously going to need some baby bottles.

The exact number of bottles that you’ll need will greatly depend on your specific situation. How long will you be separated for? Will the person looking after them be able to wash the bottles between feedings?

Usually, it’s a good idea to start with at least 3 small bottles, which should be more than enough to start with. You can always add more if it’s really necessary.

You only need smaller bottles, which are usually 120ml bottles. Breastfed babies don’t drink that much milk at each feeding. They rather have less milk, more frequently. So, there’s no need for larger bottles.

Bottle feeding done correctly

If you choose to have your baby bottle feed when you’re separated from them, it’s extremely important that it’s done correctly to avoid any issues such as shallow latching at the breast, nipple confusion or flow preference at the bottle.

It’s best to use a type of bottle and nipple that is recommended for breastfed babies. Nipples that gradually change in shape from narrow at the tip to wider at the base is best and will encourage a wide latch. Bottles with such teats include bottles such as Pigeon, Dr Browns, Evenflo, Lansinoh, Medala etc. With Pigeon being a very successful bottle brand for breastfed babies.

It’s also very important to always use the smallest bottle nipple sizes, also known as slow flow nipple or teats, the slowest one available. Removing milk from the breast is not continuous flow like at the bottle, so it’s important to ensure the flow of the bottle mimics the flow of milk at the breast as much as possible to avoid any feeding complications.

The most important thing to bottle feeding a baby is to pace the feed to avoid overfeeding your baby.

Mimic breastfeeding by practicing paced bottle feeding. Keep the bottle in a horizontal position, only allowing the milk to flow only when the baby actively sucks, pauses, and swallows. This promotes a rhythm similar to breastfeeding, which reduces the risk of flow preference. Give frequent breaks and change sides during the feed, just like when a baby may feed from both breasts during a breastfeed.

How much milk does a breastfed baby need when taking the bottle

Babies don’t take the same amount of milk at the breast every time, so they shouldn’t be expected to always do so with a bottle. It’s important to note that a baby can be overfed by a bottle, so using the right types of bottles and teats, slow-flow nipples, pacing the feed and offering smaller amounts of milk, more frequently would be the best choice to avoid overfeeding with a bottle.

The general rule or recommendation is that a breastfed baby will not really take more than 30-40ml of breastmilk for each hour they’re separated from their mothers. But this can vary depending on each individual baby and each individual feeding.

Once babies start eating more solid foods as they get older, well after 6 months of age, they may need even less milk while separated from you. It’s best to feed responsively, based on your baby’s signs of hunger. Meeting your baby’s needs will help create healthy eating habits. Remember that breastmilk is the main source of nutrition for the first year of your baby’s life.

Important notes on bottle feeding a breastfed baby

If you won’t be separated from your baby, you don’t need bottles. Many breastfed babies never drink a bottle at all, they only breastfeed.

Fathers don’t need to feed their babies bottles to be able to bond with them, they can bond in many different ways, with babywearing and skin to skin care being the most beneficial for both the baby and the father by far.

Be sure to replace the bottle and sippy cup teats and/or straws often, as micro tears can and do happen and the risk of the teat breaking and your baby choking increases with time and damage to the teats. The silicone/plastic doesn’t last long and should be replaced every 2-3 months, sooner if there’s any signs of tears on the teat.

The plastic bottles themselves should also be replaced regularly. It’s recommended to replace the bottles every 4-6 months. Glass bottles on the other hand can last indefinitely.

Botes are not the only feeding method. Some babies will continue to refuse bottles no matter what you do. In cases like these it’s best to try an alternative feeding method. Some babies may refuse all alternative methods and decide to reverse cycle, making up when they are reunited with you again. When this does happen, it’s very important to monitor your baby for any signs if dehydration, and to offer breastmilk with alternative methods if needed.

If you ever need information or support regarding anything breastfeeding related, be sure to contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). La Leche League support groups and support from a La Leche League Leader is also very helpful during the breastfeeding journey. 

Additional information and resources:

Pigeon baby bottle information

The benefits of skin-to-skin care

Cup feeding for infants/neonates (SQUH)

Paced bottle feeding for the breastfed baby

Infant formula and responsive bottle feeding

Alternative feeding methods for the breastfed baby

Effects of Father-Neonate Skin-to-Skin Contact on Attachment: A Randomized Controlled Trial


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