I was the picture of preparation. I had attended the breastfeeding class at my local hospital, stocked my cupboards with breast pads and lanolin, and met with the on-staff lactation specialist within hours of delivery. Breastfeeding was the obvious way to go—all the books and online parenting groups said so—and I was determined to do it right. But my breastfeeding reality was painful in more ways than one.
I know they say that nursing shouldn’t hurt. (There may be some “discomfort” at first, but pain? Never.) So maybe I was doing it wrong, but yikes! It hurt to get dressed, to shower, and definitely to latch my baby’s mouth on for feeding. I never really experienced the engorgement so many nursing parents encounter, but the raw nipple pain was excruciating in the beginning. There was blood, and there were tears. However, the pain eventually faded once I made it past the first couple of weeks.
Making the Decision to Bottle Feed
I spent each day in seclusion feeding my daughter on-demand, around the clock, but she still wasn’t growing fast enough. At our early wellness checkups, the doctor was concerned because, after several weeks, my daughter still wasn’t back up to her birth weight. This was truly disheartening news, having spent what felt like all my day and night, nursing. I tried pumping and found that I could only come up with a few ounces at a time—at most. The problem was clear: I simply didn’t produce enough milk. My baby was underfed and ravenous.
While I could have experimented with herbs and supplements or strapped to a heavy-duty pump several times a day to increase my supply, my solution at the time was to supplement with formula. This decision wasn’t easy to come by. After being told “breast is best” throughout my pregnancy, I felt guilty as if turning to formula would jeopardize my daughter’s health.
The first time I introduced a baby bottle, my daughter gulped it down. No nipple confusion. No objection to the taste of baby formula compared to breast milk. I continued to breastfeed but supplemented with a bottle of formula once a day, then twice a day, as she demanded more (and probably, as my breast milk supply was further diminished). I saw such a change in her personality when she was well-fed. Her life had been composed of constant feedings or crying to be fed. Now, with a full tummy, she became a content, congenial, smiley baby—and I began to enjoy motherhood.
While I continued breastfeeding at least once a day until she was about 9 months old, the bottle was my best friend and partner in feeding. I felt like I got my life back when I wasn’t constantly hiding out in my bedroom nursing her. Not to mention, it was a pretty fun bonus to see the happiness on great-grandma’s face when she got a turn to feed my little one!
What is The Best Way to Bottle Feed a Newborn?
There are many reasons why bottle-feeding your newborn may be the right choice for your family. Maybe your baby physically cannot breastfeed, or you’re not physically or anatomically equipped to produce breast milk. Maybe you encountered insurmountable difficulties while trying to breastfeed. Perhaps a demanding career or an office that isn’t breastfeeding-friendly makes pumping difficult. Or, maybe opting to bottle feed is better for your mental health. Whatever the case, here are some basic guidelines to help you get started:
- Try a couple of different kinds of bottles to discover which baby prefers. You’ll find many varieties of nipple shapes on the shelves, and some bottles work better than others at preventing leakage and keeping your baby from swallowing too much air. For a newborn, start with slow-flow nipples and smaller bottle sizes. Move up to faster-flow and larger bottles as your baby grows.
- Offer the bottle every two to three hours in the beginning. Let your baby drink their fill, and don’t try to force down extra. You’ll likely find that they will go a bit longer between feedings than a breastfed baby will because it takes longer to digest formula than breast milk. Also, a baby’s stool is often a bit thicker and firmer with formula, but as long as your baby has regular wet and dirty diapers, it’s nothing to worry about.
- Sanitize! Bottles shouldn’t be reused without a thorough washing, and any breast milk not consumed within two hours or formula consumed within one hour should be dumped rather than saved for later.
- Warm safely or serve at room temperature or cold. There’s nothing wrong with serving cold breast milk or formula, but if your baby won’t take it, heat the full bottle under warm running water or in a bottle warmer. Skip the microwave, which can create hot spots that could burn your little one.
- For safety and best digestion, cradle your baby upright in your arms as you give them a bottle. Hold baby’s head up rather than laying them down flat, and burp regularly to avoid tummy discomfort. Do not prop the bottle up on something to free up your hands. If bottles start to show wear and tear—cracking, discoloration, or ripped or thinned nipples—toss and replace them.
Choosing Breast Milk or Formula
Every feeding option has benefits and downsides, and it’s up to you to decide what the right choice is for you and your baby. Breastfeeding comes with the benefits of being cost-effective, getting extra skin-to-skin bonding time with your baby, providing your baby with antibodies through your milk, no cleanup, reduced risk of obesity, asthma, and other illness in babies, reduced risk of breast cancer and other illnesses for the nursing parent, as well as other health benefits. On the other hand, it’s also inconvenient at times, as you may feel like you’re tethered to your baby, you will be limited on what medications you can take and sometimes what food you can eat, and there is a lack of support for breastfeeding parents.
While bottle feeding is usually associated with formula feeding, you can also bottle feed your newborn breast milk. Pumping is an excellent option for a nursing parent with a sufficient milk supply—but full disclosure: it’s also a very challenging option. Pumping requires a lot of time; it can be more physically demanding than breastfeeding and involves a lot of cleaning and freezer space. However, it also comes with most of the same benefits of breastfeeding, plus you can share the responsibility of feeding with your partner or other caregivers, offering you a little more freedom.
Infant formula comes with a high financial cost—especially for babies with sensitivities, and the formula shortages in 2022 taught us that there could be some unpredictability in this feeding method. Still, it’s not without its benefits, such as convenience, keeping baby full, and flexibility in who can prepare a bottle and feed the baby. Plus, If formula is the best option for you and your baby, know that it is a healthy choice and that your baby will get all the nutrients it needs. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has extremely high health and safety standards that formula manufacturers must meet in order to market in the US. Additionally, several specialized formulas have been developed specifically for babies with cow milk allergies, special diets (vegan), colic, acid reflux, or those born prematurely. Consult with your pediatrician about which formula is the best option for your little one, and always follow the directions on the formula container, measuring the formula and water carefully to provide optimal nutrition to your baby.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how you feed your baby—whether you pump, breastfeed, or formula feed—it just matters that your baby eats and that they are getting the nutrients they need to thrive. To learn more about keeping your newborn healthy and fed, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) resources for formula feeding and their policy and recommendations on breastfeeding.