Bottle feeding, with love

I am planning on bottle feeding my new baby. I am so tired of hearing what a bad decision I'm making. I know the pros and cons and I just don't feel comfortable nursing. Can't I be a good mom and bottle feed too?


Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Of course you can! While breastfeeding has the advantages of supplying closeness with your baby and optimal nutrition, bottle feeding does not preclude holding your baby while you feed her.

Consult your pediatrician about finding the best possible formula for your baby, and one that makes it less likely that your newborn will develop food allergies.

Mom-baby fit is important

A key factor in mother-infant bonding is meeting the needs of both baby and mom. Breastfeeding can provide a perfect way to feed for many mothers, and should definitely be supported and encouraged for those who choose it as a preferred choice to nurture their newborn. If you have weighed the pros and cons, and concluded that, for whatever reasons, breastfeeding is wrong for you, then it cannot be right for your baby. If you are uncomfortable breastfeeding, your baby will experience your tension. Ongoing tensions surrounding breastfeeding can decrease your milk supply, creating a vicious cycle which can affect not only your bond with your baby, but your self esteem as a mother.

Create a loving and satisfying feeding ritual

The most critical aspect of feeding, beyond nutrition, is that it is an enjoyable experience for both mother and child. An emotional advantage of breastfeeding is that it sets the stage for increased and periodic interaction between a mother and her infant. This can be a boost to bonding. Mother and baby will get to know each other's rhythm and develop a healthy and emotionally rewarding feeding ritual. In the beginning of the postpartum period, feeding (including breastfeeding) can be frustrating, but learning about your baby eases the adjustment. Breastfeeding promotes an atmosphere in which mother and child tend to look more at one another and touching and cradling occurs naturally during feeding.

In the middle part of the last century bottle feeding became popular in the United States and many women were discouraged from breastfeeding. Bottle feeding did not include touching, holding and interacting with the newborn. Many babies were immediately put on rigid feeding schedules that served to decrease intimacy between mother and child. Babies were seen with bottles propped on diapers, holding their own bottle and left swaddled in a crib, while adults busied themselves with other tasks nearby. Many people today still associate bottle feeding with less touch and interaction, but this does not have to be the case.

When bottle feeding, you can look into your baby's eyes and your baby will look back into yours. Sorrel Madrona, MSW, MPH (University of California at Berkeley) studied maternal and child health with specific attention to the ways that mothers and babies bond. She discovered that cradling your baby when feeding and looking into each other's eyes an important behavior that forges attachment, during feeding. Whether bottle feeding or breastfeeding, attention to the quality of love and care is key to a satisfying emotional bond.

Feeding should be enjoyable. Remember that bottle feeding or breastfeeding is not the determining factor in the quality of your parenting.

What to say to your critics

What should be your response to women who criticize? Let them know that you are happy for their choice and hope that they can also respect yours. It is likely, too, that once your baby arrives, and bonding has taken place you will be less likely to doubt yourself. It is clear to all of us who have been parents, that there are a multitude of factors that contribute towards being a good parent. Although this may be the first time you find your values in parenting challenged, it certainly will not be the last!

Focus on your values and learning from your child. Create the fit that is right for the two of you, and enjoy!

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