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How to create a special bond when bottle feeding your baby

27 Nov, 2023

With all the research and information surrounding the benefits of breastfeeding, mothers who are bottle feeding their baby can feel a little left out. And for those who would have preferred to breastfeed but for whatever reason weren’t able to, being constantly reminded of the “superior” aspects of breastfeeding can be difficult to cope with.

Let’s start by saying at the outset that whichever way a baby feeds does not dictate the intensity or quality of the relationship they have with their mother. Feeding is one of the many cares which mothers provide and it should never eclipse all the other, immensely valuable aspects of nurturing which they do each day. Having said that though, feeding is still a very important part of a young baby’s life and it can and does take a large amount of time and energy. What is really important is that babies are fed nutritionally appropriate milk in the right amounts and frequency. If, for whatever reason breastfeeding is not possible, then a specific infant formula should be given until the age of 12 months.

Lots of parents are keen to know if one formula is better than another. And if you listen to the claims of individual manufactures they are at pains to convince consumers that their product is superior. But the honest truth is this; if an infant formula is commercially available in Australia and it can be bought from a supermarket or pharmacy shelf, then it is suitable to feed to an infant. It contains all the vitamins, minerals and nutritional elements needed for growth and energy requirements, as long as it is suitable for the infant’s age.

The marketing and advertising of formulas within Australia is governed by what is known as The MAIF Agreement – The Marketing of Infant Formulas in Australia, which sets the guidelines and specific criteria which manufacturers need to adhere to. This is one of the reasons why claims making reference to a formula “matching” breast milk or being nutritionally equivalent cannot be made.

But I really wanted to breastfeed!

For mothers who would have preferred to breastfeed, the need to change over to formula feeding can take some getting used to. When stopping breastfeeding earlier than they may have chosen to, many mothers go through a type of grieving process. This is due to having to let go of their ideals and hopes to breastfeed their baby.

How long this emotional transition takes is highly individual and really depends on the specific circumstances. But it is true to say that time, talking and reflection do help build a bridge when it comes to the psychological aspects of stopping breastfeeding. When it is clear that the baby is thriving and seems perfectly fine about bottle feeding, then this certainly helps as well. The support of other mothers and family members who bottle fed can also be immensely useful. So don’t feel you need to deal with your disappointment all by yourself; there are always other mothers around who have felt a similar way and had similar experiences.

But my baby won’t love me the same way if I’m bottle feeding!

After breastfeeding has stopped, many mothers worry that the close emotional bond they shared with their baby will end as well. They also wonder how they can recreate those special moments and physical closeness which are an intrinsic part of breastfeeding. As is the case with many other concerns and worries, the very fact that they are thought about in the first place is an indication that all will be fine. Investing the energy into building and sustaining a good relationship with your baby is based on more than the way they are feeding and what they are feeding on.

Try not to set your standards for mothering so high that they can’t be met. We all want to be wonderful mothers and have ideals which we badly want to achieve. But life sometimes gets in the way and for all sorts of reasons, we need to adapt and change. Going through the processes involved in these transitions helps to build our resilience and coping abilities and in turn, we become less likely to experience depression and other mental health related issues. The ability to adapt, accept, refocus and be content with our situations as well as doing what we have to do, are positive qualities. In turn, parents then role model these attributes to their children.

What can I do to help build emotional closeness with my bottle fed baby?

  • Make sure you hold your baby for each and every feed. Don’t “prop” feed your baby but instead, hold them in your arms
  • If your baby is initially fussing with the bottle and turning towards you as if to breastfeed, then hold them as if you are putting them to your breast. Direct the bottle teat to their mouth and as they start sucking, reposition them so they are facing upwards
  • Skin to skin contact can be done when bottle feeding in the same way as when breastfeeding. If this is important to you to maintain, then don’t feel you need to stop
  • Look at your baby’s face when they are feeding; establish and maintain eye contact and be sensitive to their cues if they want to look away
  • Talk gently to your baby when they are feeding. Pick up on your baby’s pleasure when they are feeding and feel good about this yourself
  • Be “in the moment” when you are feeding your baby. Turn away from your phone, computer and the television and just focus 100% on their feeding
  • Make their bottles with love and care. Read the manufacturer’s instructions and follow them carefully
  • Share your baby’s feeding with your partner. Babies benefit from the different care provided by each of their parents
  • Alternate the arms in which you hold your baby. If you are right handed you will automatically hold your baby in your left arm and hold the bottle with your right hand. But make a mental note of alternating this process with every couple of feeds. Breastfed babies’ lie in alternate arms each feed time and there are thought to be visual and brain benefits to babies who do this
  • Be sensitive to your baby’s cues or signals that they need a pause or break from feeding. Burping and having a small rest are all normal parts of feeding. Overriding their signals and expecting them to suck continuously can lead to uncomfortable feeding times
  • Make sure you are sitting comfortably and have your own needs met. If you are hungry, stressed or feeling guilty about bottle feeding then your baby is likely to pick up on your emotions
  • If your baby is used to breastfeeding they may need to adjust to the changes required in sucking from a bottle. Give them time and plenty of practice to do this. For babies who are used to frequent small breastfeeds, it can take a few days to a week for them to accept larger volumes of formula from a bottle
  • Make sure that you feed your baby from bottles and teats which are suitable for their age and size. A rapid flowing teat can create problems with wind, and feeding times which are too fast and rushed. Similarly, a teat which is too slow can create frustration and lack of interest for a baby. Remember, packaging guides are not prescriptive and only offer a guide. Follow your baby’s cues when it comes to the suitability of the teats you are using
  • Make sure you aren’t spending all your time feeding your baby, thinking about feeding your baby or getting ready to feed your baby. Make time each day just to enjoy and play with your little one. Bathing, massages, going for walks and having floor time are all equally as important in helping your baby grow. Although milk will help them to gain weight, your love and emotional connection with them will help them to grow in an psychological and social sense. Feeding their soul is just as important as feeding their body

Important information about emotional connection

Sometimes mothers have problems building an emotional attachment to their baby. Depression and anxiety can interrupt this process so that instead of mothers feeling they are enjoying the experience of motherhood, it becomes a burden and a series of tasks to be endured each day.

If you feel sad, depressed, anxious or worried remember, that you are not alone. But it is important to speak with a healthcare professional about your feelings. Start with your GP or Early Childhood Nurse and check beyondblue for more information.

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