baby bottle

Can I bottle feed at night?

How often have you been told; “Just give your breastfed baby a bottle of formula at bedtime to make him sleep?”

Although this advice is almost some kind of folklore among the believers, some health professionals may even advise you to do this with a newborn. Some will tell you that giving a bottle is a great way for fathers to “get involved”.

But does this work? And what could be the trade-offs?

But there are benefits from helping breastfed babies accept the bottle too. Just imagine to pump, call the babysitter, and go out for dinner with your spouse. Or to pump and let dad handle one of the night feedings.

But how can you then get a refusing baby to accept bottle feeding? And how is it possible to bottle feed a baby at night without becoming so wide awake from all measuring, mixing, and heating that it is impossible to go back to sleep?

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Your Milk Supply

Your breasts work on the basis of supply and demand. This means that whatever milk you remove from your breasts, they will be signalled to make more milk – so if you start offering bottles of formula at any stage of breastfeeding, your breasts won’t receive the signal to make milk.

Research by Dr Peter Hartman, from the University of Western Australia, affirms that an ’empty’ breast (and no, your breast is never actually empty) makes milk quicker than a fuller breast. So by offering a bottle of formula, unless you also express at this time, you could be compromising your milk supply.

Tiny Tummies

Your newborn’s tummy is only the size of his tiny fist, so it’s normal for your baby to need frequent feeds in the early weeks. This is a time when your milk supply is being established, and in these early times, you’ll be developing more prolactin (the milk-making hormone) receptors in your breasts. So if you feed less because your baby is zonked out on formula, your body will not only get the message to make less milk, but you could be inhibiting breast development and influencing your ongoing milk supply.  

On the other hand, if you feed according to your baby’s cues in these early weeks, you’ll encourage more breast development and set your milk production at a higher point. This will mean that as your baby’s tiny tummy grows and he can manage a bigger volume of milk, you’ll be producing a good amount, so he’ll naturally start spacing out feeds and sleeping longer.

baby bottle

Nipple Confusion

There’s a very different tongue, jaw and sucking action required to drink from either a breast or a bottle. When your baby latches onto the breast, he needs to open his mouth wide, flange his lips and draw the nipple deeply into his mouth, while his tongue has to ‘milk’ the breast with rhythmic movements. When bottle-feeding, a baby doesn’t have to open his mouth so wide or flange his lips to form a seal, nor does he have to work to get the milk out – he can latch onto the tip of the teat. If the bottle milk flows too quickly, the baby may thrust his tongue upwards to stop the flow.

This means that if you offer unnecessary bottles to your baby in the first 4 to 6 weeks, your baby may become confused by the different sucking actions. As a result, he may breastfeed less effectively, or he may prefer the faster flow of the bottle and refuse the breast.

If you do need to supplement in the early days, ask if you can try a small cup or a syringe. If you ever need to supplement and you use a bottle, finish a feed at the breast, after the bottle, so your baby associates a full tummy with breastfeeding. This can help avoid your baby preferring the bottle and refusing the breast altogether.

Exposure To Potential Allergies

Your baby is protected from potential allergens through your breast milk. He’s also protected against viruses and bugs through the immune factors in your milk, so by introducing formula to try and get more sleep, the trade-off could be an unwell baby who is more wakeful if he becomes constipated or has an allergic response to the foreign proteins in formula.  

‘Dream’ Feed

Some parents find it helpful to offer a ‘dream feed’ – an extra feed just before they go to bed, no matter what time their baby last fed, so their baby’s longer sleep may coincide with their own. But there are no guarantees that this will help all babies sleep longer – some babies will happily gulp an extra feed but seem to think, “Bonus! And I’ll still wake up in a couple of hours for more!”, while others will refuse to drink at all. 

If you do want to try this as a way of getting more sleep, it’s best to make this feed either a breastfeed top-up or a bottle of expressed breast milk so you’ll be maintaining your milk supply.

Night Milk And Brain Development

Remember this: your day and night milk have different components. Evening breast milk is rich in tryptophan, a sleep-inducing amino acid that’s a precursor to serotonin. In turn, serotonin is a vital hormone for brain function and development that makes the brain work better, keeps one in a good mood and helps with sleep cycles.

We now know that ingestion of tryptophan in infancy leads to more serotonin development, creating the potential for life-long well-being. Nighttime breast milk also has amino acids that promote serotonin synthesis, so evening and night time could be more important to your baby’s development than simply promoting sound sleep.

Will formula help?

If you’re sleep-deprived and wondering if a bottle of formula will get you more sleep, the answer is probably no. A 2015 study of babies aged 6 to 12 months, published in the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, found that night wakings or night feeds didn’t differ between mothers who breastfed or formula-fed. Another study showed that infants who were breastfed in the evening and/or at night slept an average of 40-45 minutes more than parents of infants given formula.  

The researchers added that parents who supplement their infant feeding with formula in the hopes they will get more sleep should be encouraged to continue breastfeeding, because sleep loss of more than 30 minutes each night can begin to affect daytime functioning, particularly in parents who return to work.

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Ten Top Bottle Feeding Tips

Wait With The Bottle

How to make baby accept the bottle wait with introducing the bottle may seem like a weird first bottle feeding tip!

But if you plan to breastfeed your baby at all, it is a good idea to wait until the breastfeeding works well before you introduce the bottle. The reason is that suckling a real nipple and a bottle nipple are two different techniques.

The baby has to work more to breastfeed. And smart as he/she already is, your little one might start to reject the breast quite rapidly if you offer the bottle too soon. So start in week three at the earliest.

And if you can postpone the bottle a bit longer, then wait until your baby is eight weeks old. For some strange reason, babies tend to reject the bottle during the second month of their life. Introducing the bottle during week 4 to 7 can be a hassle. So week three or week 8. Or later of course…

Let Someone Else Bottle-Feed Your Baby

A baby that is used to being breastfed by mom might think that it’s very strange and all wrong to get a bottle instead suddenly. When teaching your baby to take the bottle, let someone else start.

Go for a walk and let dad have a moment with his baby. (But stay nearby if it doesn’t work at all)

If you don’t plan to breastfeed at all, this tip is of course not as relevant.

Create A Familiar Situation

Warm up the bottle nipple to body temperature. If it’s not you that will bottle-feed your baby, give the person something that smells mom (or dad) to keep close to the baby. And feed the baby breast milk in the bottle the first few times if that’s what he’s used to.

If feeding your baby formula, serve it slightly warmed up, to about body temperature. And if your baby is about to be fed by a new person for the first time, something that smells, mom or dad will make it easier for your baby!

Switch Arms

When breastfeeding a baby, you must switch sides between feedings, or even during one feeding. Do the same when bottle feeding your baby. This is good both for your own back and for the baby’s neck and vision.

Burp Halfway

It is my experience that babies can swallow quite a lot of air when drinking from a bottle. Until you know that your baby doesn’t, make it a habit to burp your baby halfway through the feeding, to avoid stomach pain. Also, try burping him/her if he starts fussing.

Also, to minimize air swallowing, tilt the bottle, allowing the milk to fill the nipple and the air to rise to the bottom of the bottle.

Make It A Cozy Moment – Sometimes

I hear everywhere that you are supposed to make the bottle feeding a peaceful and quiet time. You should also have skin contact with your baby to mimic breastfeeding.

That’s great, and sometimes it is wonderful to go away someplace with your baby and sit together. The bonding is enormous!

But unless this is your first baby and you plan to stay at home alone around the clock for a year or so, this setting won’t work every time.

Life has to function, and babies don’t die from eating in a noisy environment sometimes. My poor youngest baby had to breastfeed a lot while I was running around chasing my 18 months older girl. Not a very cozy situation. But it worked because it had to. And he’s a very happy and outgoing kid!

Convenient Night Feedings

If you feed your baby formula at night, the heating of water, measuring of powder, and mixing it all up can surely make both you and your baby (and the rest of the house) wide awake before the baby gets to eat.

To make the night feeding as easy as possible, prepare boiled water with the right temperature in a thermos that is ONLY used for the baby’s water. Then keep the water, the number of bottles you need, and premeasured, powdered formula in the bedroom. This way you can fix the formula real fast when the baby wakes up.

Another option is to use ready-made formula. If you keep it in room-temperature, all you have to do is to open the container, pour in into the bottle, and feed your baby! Super simple!

And if your bedroom is too cold, you can either keep the formula container in your bed (yes, really!) or use a practical bottle warmer to heat it just a little bit.

Let Dad In

If you don’t breastfeed, there is absolutely no reason why mom should be the only one handling the feeding. Especially not at night – a great benefit of bottle feeding!

Give dad an opportunity to bond with his child and give yourself some sleep!

Don’t Focus On How Much

When breastfeeding, you have no idea exactly how much your baby eats. When bottle-feeding, it is very easy to start focusing way too much on the amount that the baby eats. Don’t! Let your baby decide. If he or she gains weight as expected, everything is fine.

Use The Right Nipple Hole

One night I (by mistake) took the water nipple with a very tiny hole to feed my baby. She sucked and sucked and finally gave up and went back to sleep. Poor girl!

Watch for signs that the nipple hole is too big or too small. If baby almost chokes during a feeding, milk flow may be too fast. Turn the full bottle upside down without shaking. If milk is flowing rather than dripping quickly, the nipple hole is too large.

If the baby seems to be working hard, gets tired easily during sucking, or gets frustrated, the nipple hole may be too small.

How to Pump

Learn the guidelines to help provide the right amount of breast milk for your baby and keep your supply strong. Your child’s needs change as they grow.

How Many Times a Day to Pump

How often to pump depends on your child’s age. A newborn will take a bottle of breast milk approximately every two to three hours around the clock. So during your baby’s first few weeks, you should try your best to pump at least every two to three hours (about eight to twelve times a day) to stimulate your body to produce a healthy milk supply.

As your baby grows, they will take more at each feeding, but go longer between feedings. As long as your milk supply is plentiful, you may be able to go longer between pumping sessions, as well.

How Long to Pump at Each Session

At each session, you should pump for at least 15 minutes on each side. It can take a few minutes for your milk to begin to let down, so give yourself enough time. You also want to try to empty your breasts fully. Emptying the breasts is an important part of stimulating the production of more breast milk.

After you drain your breasts and no more milk is flowing out into the collection container, continue to pump for one to five minutes longer. Since breast milk is made based on supply and demand, the extra stimulation will tell your body to make more.

You don’t have to go longer than 20 minutes, though. Pumping for 15 to 20 minutes more frequently throughout the day will generally produce more breast milk than pumping less often for more extended periods of time.

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How Much Breast Milk to Pump for Your Baby

Pump as much as you can at each pumping session. Then, put the breast milk into bottles or storage containers in the amount that your child takes at each feeding. Newborns drink less breast milk than older children at each feeding, but they eat more often. Based on your baby’s age, here is how much they will need.

The first week: Colostrum, the first breast milk, is concentrated and very nutritious, so a tiny amount is all your baby needs. During the first few days after the birth of your baby, you will only be able to pump and collect a small amount of colostrum.

On the very first day, in fact, so little will be expressed that it can get stuck in the tubing of the breast pump, which is why hand expressing colostrum is the preferred method during that time. After you have hand-expressed a few spoonfuls’ worths, pumping for a short while is a good way to stimulate milk supply until your milk fully comes in.

After the first week, you should be able to pump two to three ounces every two to three hours, two or about 24 ounces in a 24-hour period. You would need to double this amount if you have twins, triple it for triplets, etc.

After about one month, you will need approximately three to four ounces every three to four hours, or about 24 to 32 ounces a day.

By the time your baby is six months old, they will need about six to eight ounces every four to six hours, so approximately 36 to 48 ounces a day.

It’s easier to overfeed your baby when you’re bottle-feeding in place of breastfeeding. So be sure you’re giving your child what they need every day and in each bottle. There’s a simple formula you can use to calculate how much breast milk to put in a bottle: The child’s weight in ounces, divided by 6, divided by the number of feedings per day.

Being on the night shift as a nursing mom can get rough, but the most important thing to remember is that we won’t be on duty forever. Kids eventually sleep through the night. We eventually wean our littles from breastfeeding, and the nights that babies need to be fed every two or three hours are limited to the first couple of months.

Since those months can feel like eons when we are first feeling the crushing exhaustion and don’t have the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel of experience to hope for, a little careful planning and self-pampering during those times can go a long way.

Consider waiting until your baby is at least one month old before bottle-feeding instead of breastfeeding at night. Bottles are easier to drink from than a human nipple, and if your baby gets used to feeding this way, she may not want the breast as much. When you do offer a bottle, try to give it at the same time each day so that your body doesn’t think you’re trying to wean your baby completely. 

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