Introducing Bottles and Pacifiers to a Breastfed Baby


By: Anne Smith

Many babies switch forth effortlessly between breast and bottle from day one. Others become "nipple confused" if artificial nipples are introduced during the early days of nursing.

When a baby drinks from a bottle, the milk gushes out (you'll notice that the milk drips out if you hold a bottle upside down). In order to keep from choking, he lifts his tongue uses it to block the flow of milk. He purses his lips around the hard rubber nipple, and he doesn't have to use his jaws at all. There is a constant flow of milk that he doesn't have to work for, unlike during breastfeeding, where the milk ‘lets down' initially, then slows to a trickle, and the process repeats as the baby sucks harder and longer. This occurs several times during a feeding, and is one of the reasons breastfed babies are less likely to become obese than bottle-fed babies: they regulate their own intake by how long and vigorously they suck. Bottle-fed infants will often finish a bottle not because they are hungry, but because they love to suck, and the milk flows so easily.

The risk of nipple confusion , whether by introducing a bottle or pacifier, is greatest during the early days of nursing. The longer you wait to introduce artificial nipples, the less risk there is of confusing your baby. Breastfeeding is a learned behavior, in most cases, although there are some babies who seem to be born knowing exactly what to do. Although sucking is a newborn reflex, the mechanics of effective latching on aren't. It usually takes a couple of weeks, and sometimes longer, for mothers and babies to get really good at nursing. By that time, any problems you had in the beginning, such as engorgement or nipple soreness, should be pretty much resolved, and your baby's pattern of weight gain should be established.

If nursing is going along smoothly, there should be no reason to use artificial nipples in the first few weeks of breastfeeding. Nursing frequently and using the breast as a pacifier are what builds a good milk supply and helps you and your baby develop a special closeness during the period immediately after your baby's birth. Use the fact that you are exclusively nursing during the first few weeks to get more rest. Let friends and family wait on you, do your laundry, cook for you, etc. You have a perfect excuse. Yes, if you gave the baby bottles, someone else could take over a feeding while you slept, but missing that feeding during the early weeks while you are establishing your supply for your baby who is growing so quickly during that time may decrease your milk production. Once your supply is well established, skipping occasional feedings won't be a big deal.

Use of pacifier in the early weeks can also cause problems. If you want your baby to take a pacifier, I would introduce it by the time he is one month old, but preferably not during the first two weeks of nursing. Some babies refuse to ever take a pacifier. Some become addicted to them and are still carrying them to Kindergarten. I think that the babies who become attached to pacifiers would have become thumb-suckers or blanket holders if they didn't attach to a pacifier. Some babies just seem to need security objects, and there isn't a lot you can do about that. Just because you offer a pacifier to your baby, that doesn't mean he will develop a bad habit. I have offered pacifiers to all six of my babies, all took them occasionally, and none of them became attached to them. I did have several children who sucked their thumbs for what seemed like forever, but that's another article.

So, I have broken the cardinal rule of lactation counseling by saying that I don't think pacifiers are all bad. This is because I have survived raising six children, and I know that you do whatever works and helps you keep your sanity. This may or may not include bottles, pacifiers, and formula.

There are however, some valid concerns about the use (and abuse) of pacifiers. Aside from the risk of nipple confusion, pacifier use is correlated with early weaning for a variety of reasons. Because newborns love to suck on anything put in their mouth, whether it is a finger or an artificial nipple, they may use the pacifier as a substitute for feedings, especially if they are small, ill, jaundiced, or just have a very laid back temperament. There is a spot in the back of a baby's mouth where the hard palate meets the soft palate. When anything touches it, an automatic sucking reflex is triggered. That's why babies will suck automatically when a finger or a rubber nipple is put in their mouth. The soft, mushy human nipple must be drawn back in the baby's mouth until it hits that spot, so use of an artificial nipple may make him somewhat lazy when it comes to nursing.

Back to bottles now: We've talked about the possibility of nipple confusion, and the advantages of waiting until your baby is a few weeks old before introducing bottles. But what if he needs to be supplemented during the early nursing period? This doesn't happen often, but it occurs often enough that you should be open to the possibility. Some mothers are so afraid of the dreaded ‘nipple confusion' that they refuse to give bottles, even though that might be the most efficient way to get milk into their baby. By the same token, some mothers feel that if they give formula supplements, they might as well give up and not nurse at all. If you baby needs to be supplemented, look at it as a means to an end. Helping your baby gain weight rapidly, while working on increasing your milk supply and continuing to offer the breast, most often results in a baby who nurses stronger and more vigorously at the breast until there is no need for supplements.

If your newborn baby (less than two weeks old) needs to be supplemented, due to medical reasons such as jaundice, low weight gain, or severe nipple soreness, you should try to avoid artificial nipples if at all possible. There are many other options for feeding newborns, including cup feeding, tube feeding, spoon feeding, dropper feeding, or syringe feeding. If long term supplementation is necessary, Medela makes several products which may be helpful- the SNS, the SoftCup Feeder, or the Hazelbaker Finger Feeder. See "Medela Products" for description and prices. I recommend the Hazelbaker Finger Feeder, as I have used it extensively and it is simple as well as effective. When cup, spoon, dropper, or syringe feeding, make sure the baby is awake and alert, hold him in an upright position and gently pour or squirt in a few drops of milk. He will get the hang of it quickly, and set his own feeding rhythm. Use a towel or cloth diaper to protect his and your clothing – these feeding methods tend to be messy at first.

The most important thing is to get milk into your baby so he will grow and become stronger so he will be able to nurse more effectively. Remember that some babies never become nipple confused, and if this does occur, there are techniques you can use to get him back on the breast. Using a bottle to feed your baby is not the ‘kiss of death' for breastfeeding, and the most important thing is to lower your stress level and put weight on your baby as quickly as possible. When you are happily nursing six months or two years down the road, it won't matter one bit that your baby had some bottles in the beginning.

Let's assume that breastfeeding has gone along just beautifully for you and your baby. He is two weeks old, has regained his birth weight, and your nipple soreness and engorgement are things of the past. You now have a decision to make. If you plan to stay at home with your baby and take him with you wherever you go, and are comfortable nursing him in public places, you may not care if he ever takes a bottle. In that case, you may not decide to introduce bottles at all. I tend to think that it is better to introduce him to bottles at some point, just in case you have to be separated at some time, or you become too ill temporarily to nurse, or you just want to have an occasional break or night out with your partner.

Your situation is completely different if you know that you will have to return to work or school. In that case, you need to introduce bottles no later than one month, and earlier if you are returning to work at six weeks or sooner.

If you know that you want to have the option of giving your baby bottles, this is what I recommend:

NOTE: The text of this article was reduced for this publication. For more information on this topic, click here.

Anne Smith is an IBCLC – International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and La Leche Leader since 1978. More importantly, she is a mother to 6 breast fed kids with twenty plus years experience of counseling nursing mothers. Her site, www.BreastfeedingBasics.com , provides expert advice and solutions to breast-feeding problems and gives basic information on how to breast feed. Anne also features her recommended breast feeding products and breast pumps.

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