The conventional wisdom used to be that baby’s should be exclusively breast fed for a certain amount of time. Some experts said 6 months, and some said 12 months or even longer. However, since not every mother has the ability to exclusively breastfeed, there were always alternate suggestions as well.
Over time, it turns out that there may not be a need for newborns or infants to breastfeed exclusively for any fixed period of time at all.
The main concern of lactation experts when it comes to mixing breast feeding with bottle feeding is what is termed "nipple confusion." Nipple confusion is when the baby gets "confused" with how to feed from both bottle and breast. It turns out, that when breastfeeding properly, this is not much of a concern at all.
Good breastfeeding is dependant upon the infant getting a proper latch. Most hospitals have a lactation consultant that will work with new mothers on obtaining the proper latch. There are numerous techniques and breastfeeding positions, or holds, that can be used by a mother to ensure a proper latch.
What is a a proper breastfeeding latch?
Basically, it is when the baby has the proper hold on the nipple with its mouth. The key thing to a good breast feeding latch is that more than just the tip of the nipple is in the baby’s mouth. If the baby takes just the center part of the nipple that extends out from the mother’s breast, they won’t get a good latch and may release too soon. Additionally, such a latch tends to cause painful breastfeeding and sore nipples.
A good breast feeding latch is when the baby has all of the center nipple AND some of the surrounding breast tissue in their mouth. This is not easy to accomplish at first, and even if the baby gets it right one time, the next time, they may not.
It is thought that introducing a bottle at this stage may make it harder for the baby to learn the proper technique. Considering what is known about baby’s memory (they don’t have very much of one) and the fact that any infant kept in a hospital nursery during feeding time, or any baby that isn’t getting enough hydration or nutrition will end up getting at least a few bottle feedings and then go on to breast feed for months or more without additional difficulty, the conclusion that bottle nipples will interfere with proper breastfeeding might not have much merit.
Once an infant develops a good breastfeeding technique and uses is consistently, it is committed into the only functioning memory a young infant has, muscle memory. Every time a baby is presented with the same approximate situation as before they will use their muscles in approximately the same way. This is how a baby learns to breastfeed.
After the baby and mother have both grown comfortable with breast feeding and can do it pretty much every time, it is now thought that introducing a bottle at this stage is not only not detrimental, but perhaps beneficial.
Our pediatrician (from a very respected practice) recommended at our baby’s one-month checkup that we introduce a once a day bottle feeding. Whether that bottle is full of breast milk or formula is a personal decision for the parents to make.
There are several benefits to introducing a bottle feeding for infants, not the least of which is allowing someone else, like dad, to feed the baby. Timing the bottle feeding right can give Mom several more hours of uninterrupted sleep and lead to a happier, better rested, more healthy mother and baby. Don’t forget that the same rules for baby formula apply.
Check with your pediatrician to see if introducing a bottle feeding is the right move for your infant. Keep in mind that just a few years ago, the advice of doctors and professionals was different, so it is important to get new, up to date advice.
Also, make sure an ask your pediatrician specifically about breast feeding and bottle feeding, especially if it isn’t your first baby. Many doctors, nurses, and other experts will assume that as an "experienced" parent they don’t need to talk to you about such things. For them, they’ve been giving the same advice for a couple of years now, and may not remember that they told you something different when your 3 year old was born.