Nurturing your baby with mother’s milk is what nature intended and every day that a mother breastfeeds, she protects both herself and her child. But sometimes, Mom has to go out for a few hours or for an entire work day and cannot take the baby with her. And sometimes, it’s you, the Dad, who is left to nurture baby and provide him/her with the milk that has been expressed or pumped that day or earlier, by the baby’s mother.
Supporting a mother to breastfeed and later to express/pump to be able to continue is a wonderful thing, but did you know that you can also take care of your baby and offer this mother’s milk in a way that is symbiotic or conducive to continued breastfeeding?
Let’s first outline what needs breastfeeding, that is feeding “at the breast”, satisfies:
- Immune Defense/Development
- Need to be held, for physical contact / Need to be loved.
- Need to suckle
So this means that if a mother is not breastfeeding, which satisfies all five needs simultaneously, that these needs will need to be addressed by the Dad or other carer, when the Mother is away. Numbers 1-3 will be satisfied by the use of mother’s milk, but what about 4 & 5?
Loving your baby is a given (right?!) so you have part of number 4 already. What other things can satisfy 4? What about 5?
In addition to carrying your baby and holding them often (even when they are asleep), which helps satisfy #4, the way you feed baby can help!
First, let baby signal that he would like milk, rather than scheduling feeds. You’ve probably seen the signals before, the little mannerisms that he has done right before being picked up to be nursed by his mother : fluttering of the eyelids just before waking, smacking of lips, sucking of hands or fingers, followed by little noises, rooting. A baby will have an easier time now than later (when really hungry/thirsty body tenses, baby cries which makes feeding more difficult).
Mother’s Milk can be offered by cup, syringe, spoon, cup OR bottle. If the baby’s mother is only gone for a short while, then cup, syringe, spoon might work well (and if over 6 months and showing signs of readiness, complementary foods can be added to the diet). If she’s gone for longer or baby is not yet showing signs of readiness for solids, then a bottle is likely more practical.
Ensure you are holding baby snugly, lovingly, before offering milk. Some fathers even like offering skin-to-skin, by unbuttoning a shirt. Unlike with some breastfeeding poses (where baby is lying down on his side) or pictures you’ve seen of babies being bottle-fed, to support continued breastfeeding, hold your baby more upright. This allows baby to control the amount of milk he takes, just like he does whilst at the breast.
Third, for bottle-feeding, hold the bottle vertically, as you would take a drink of water from a bottle, let baby reach and take the full nipple/teat in the mouth himself, then tip the bottle back into the horizontal position. Keep baby upright, bottle horizontal, this way baby is nursing, the milk isn’t being poured. If baby gulps, you can lean bottle and baby forward to give baby time to swallow the extra milk in his mouth. Switch sides occasionally. If your baby is one that often burps after feeds, you can pause, burp baby, then switch sides.
For cup or spoon feeding, watch for his little tongue to protrude over the bottom gums/teeth and then tip the cup/spoon letting baby “lap up” the milk.
Fourth, watch for signs that baby is nearly done (after a few days you’ll be a pro at noticing the signs!). At this time, you can slow the flow of milk by tipping the bottle back and then slowly remove the nipple/teat from the baby’s mouth. Try offering again right away. If baby takes, let him drink a bit more and repeat. You’ll know when baby’s done as he’ll either keep his mouth closed after you remove the teat/nipple (some might even fall asleep as they might breastfeeding). Any leftover mother’s milk can be stored in the fridge until the next feeding (see milk storage guidelines). If baby routinely leaves milk, then you can start with a smaller amount. Using this pattern of slower feeding means baby will be latched and drinking longer, i.e. baby will be suckling more, helping satisfy this need (#5 above). If baby is clearly satiated, but still has a need to suck, hold your baby close and offer your clean pinky finger, a taggie, or in some cases a pacifier (4 & 5).
When using industrial milks: follow the package instructions and WHO guidance for safe preparation of formula. If baby leaves formula behind, dump the leftovers. To reduce waste, make a smaller amount the next time.
For both mother’s milk and industrial milk, if the baby and mother are to be reunited soon, try to satisfy baby’s other needs (4 or 4&5 together) or offer baby just a small amount of milk (or solids if over 6 months), that way both mother and baby are ready for feeds at the same time and can reconnect right away.
Fifth, when mother and baby are reconnecting, find a rhythm that works for your family: cuddle with mother and child, set the table for a meal (and then prepare together with baby in a sling or carrier), take time for yourself (shower, exercise, magazine, stream a funny TV episode to your computer?), prepare bottles and things for the next day, if mother has brought her pump home, help clean the accessories, etc. What’s important is to find a rhythm that works for everyone.
- LLLI: “Bottle-Feeding a Breastfed Baby: Ideas for Day Care & Others
- BestforBabes: “The Babes Guide to Bottlefeeding“
- Kellymom: Bottlefeeding the Breastfed Baby