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Bottle feeding your baby seems simple right? You just put milk in a bottle, warm it up a little, and then put the bottle in baby's mouth and they drink. Right?
Well..... not exactly. This is typically how most people bottle feed a baby, however, there are some risks involved to just sticking bottle in baby's mouth and not giving feeding any more thought. (Wait, what?)
It seems ridiculous, right? What risk could there possibly be in feeding a baby a bottle? Now, I am not talking about risks that are immediately life threatening, but these risks are still highly concerning and should grab your attention! (But don't get too worried! I am going to give you the tools you need to avoid these risks while bottle feeding your baby!)
What are these risks?
#1- "Flow Preference"
Flow preference occurs when a breastfed baby gets used to the ease of bottle feeding and then rejects nursing at the breast. Babies are smart, and they are fast learners. It does not take them long to figure out how easy it is to drink from a bottle compared to having to work harder for the milk at the breast. Very often, once very happily breastfed babies, will become irritated, flustered, and unhappy at the breast after having a bottle. A lot of people accuse nipple confusion (which I believe NOT to be a real thing- a baby will suckle on anything), rather it is a preference for the fast flow of the bottle. Before mom even realizes what's really going on, baby has weaned from the breast, and it's heartbreaking every time.
Reflux is also incredibly common among bottle fed babies. Drinking from a bottle is so easy (and fast!) it can be too much for their tiny bellies to handle. When baby drinks too quickly, and has too much in their belly, that milk needs somewhere to go and it will come right back up! Overtime, this can become a real issue. Not just milk comes up in that spit up, but some stomach acid too which can be painful for their tiny esophagus. It feels like heartburn, and makes them fussy and uncomfortable.
Which leads me to risk #3- Overfeeding! This is by far the most substantial, and long term risk. Fun fact: It takes about 15 minutes for your stomach to give your brain the signal that it is full. This is true for infants, and adults. As I mentioned above, bottle feeding is easy, and fast- too fast! This means that your baby is going to eat way too quickly, and also drink too much!
Have you ever been hungry, eaten too fast, then gone back for seconds and then felt too full? Well, the same thing happens to your baby too. When she is fed too quickly she will still think she's hungry even though she really has had enough milk. So, she'll continue to "act hungry" and she'll likely get more milk. Then she is overfull, and has the "Thanksgiving effect", meaning her body will now shut down (which seems like sleeping) to focus it's energy on digesting this over-intake of milk. This also unfortunately leads to her belly stretching to accommodate this much milk, and after drinking too much repeatedly, the stretching will become permanent.
Unfortunately, one of the risks of overfeeding your baby is a lifelong risk of obesity, and health issues that are related to being overweight. When babies drink bottles too quickly, they are literally being trained and conditioned to over eat, and will likely struggle with over eating throughout the rest of their lives.
OK....... So, what do you do?????
Thankfully there is an easy answer: Paced Bottle Feeding!!! And I don't just mean giving baby occasional burp breaks, or using a slow flow nipple. Though both of those are great (especially the slow flow nipple) there is more to it than that. REAL Paced Bottle feeding should take at least 15 minutes to allow your baby's stomach to tell their brain it's full. You should always, ALWAYS, follow baby's lead and look for signs of satiety, and give your baby a lot of breaks. The video below fully explains true paced bottle feeding, why it is important, and exactly how to do it!
Pro tip: A trick adults use when dieting is chewing on gum after eating. You know you have eaten plenty, but your brain disagrees, so you use the gum trick until you have chewed long enough and feel full. In the baby’s case, the pacifier is the gum. The longer a baby is allowed to suckle, the more “full” they will feel. It is wise to offer a pacifier for a baby to suckle on after they have been given a bottle if they are still behaving hungry. Usually after a few minutes the baby is content.
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Kelly Maher, CLC, CLE