Bottles and Breastfeeding

How Giving Bottles Can Destroy Breastfeeding

Giving bottles can put your breastfeeding on the slippery slope

Giving bottles can put your breastfeeding on the slippery slope. (Photo credit: Dierken/Flickr)

My friends know, for better or worse, that I’m as blunt as a bowling ball. About as subtle too. I’ve tried to think of a way to phrase this article on bottles and breastfeeding tactfully but my mind doesn’t often work that way so I’m just going to hit you with it.

If you are giving your baby any kind of bottle, filled with any kind of liquid, at any time of day or night, you are probably killing your milk supply and will eventually be forced to quit breastfeeding.

Here’s how it can happen: Imagine a mom and dad and their kids are playing outside on a hot summer day. They set up a slip-n-slide in the yard and have a garden hose running to keep it slippery. Mom is sitting by the hose faucet and can see the action way over on the hill but she’s too far away to hear what anyone is saying. Dad has told Mom that it’s her job to regulate the flow of water. They start out with the hose on full.

Things are going fine and the kids look like they’re having fun for a while then Mom notices that Dad just poured a bucket of water on the slide. She thinks, “Huh? That’s weird! Maybe the hose water is getting too cold for the slide.” So Mom turns the flow down a little bit. Things again are fine for a while then she sees Dad with the bucket again. So she turns the faucet down a little more.

This carries on for a while with Dad throwing another bucket on the slide and Mom turning down the hose. Meanwhile, Dad has noticed that not as much water is coming out of the hose. What started as him throwing some extra water on the slide just for fun has started to become a necessity. If he doesn’t throw a bucket on the slide regularly the slide is too dry for the kids to slide. But every time he throws a bucket on, the water coming out of the hose slows down a little more.

Now Dad is throwing on the buckets of water faster and faster to compensate for the hose slowing down. But every bucket makes it slow down even more. Eventually it stops and the only way to keep the kids sliding is to use buckets.

This is how it works with bottles and breastfeeding. Your milk supply is the amount of water coming out of the hose. And each bucket of water is a bottle that’s given to baby. At first each bottle doesn’t seem to matter all that much to milk production, but there will come a time when the milk supply will drop and bottles become necessary, eventually and unavoidably, leading to complete bottle feeding.

Bottles are given for all sorts of reasons – so Dad or Grandma can bond with baby, so Mom can get a full night’s sleep, so baby learns how to take a bottle so he’ll know how for later on in life (for at the sitters or daycare) or because baby seems like he prefers the bottle over breastfeeding. But bonding happens through loving interaction, not bottles. And if Mom goes all night without removing her milk, her milk supply will go down, so if she has to be awake in the night to pump or hand express, why not just breastfeed instead of giving a bottle?

The point is, giving bottles usually destroys milk supply. The only time it’s okay to give a bottle is if you are unavoidably away from baby over a time when he would likely breastfeed. To prevent your supply from crashing, you’ll need to pump at least as much milk as was given – preferably more.

If your baby needs supplementing do not use bottles. Instead, use an SNS system like the ones described in the linked article, which protects your breastfeeding relationship and your milk supply.

If you have been giving bottles for any reason, other than when you are unavoidably away from your baby, stop immediately – there’s no need to ween off of bottles. Increase breastfeeding sessions to replace all bottle feedings and let baby determine the breastfeeding schedule.

Bottles and breastfeeding are often at odds with each other. One usually wins and the other loses. heart-logo

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