Stacy Kucharczk is a Hampton Roads based Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and owner of BestFeeding Lactation Services, LLC.
Why don’t you let me give a bottle so you can rest….
Oh those little newborns. It sometimes seems as if they never stop eating!
As a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), I’m often asked, “When can the baby be given a bottle for the first time?” When I am asked this question, I like to know why—as in, why do they want to give the bottle?
Sometimes a Mama feels Dad needs to be able to give a bottle in order to bond with the baby (He doesn’t—spending time consoling baby during a fussy time/walking with baby enriches the father’s bond in a way that just putting a bottle in a baby’s mouth can’t). Other times, it is a necessity, as in, the Mama is going back to work in a few weeks (in this case, get breastfeeding well established and then introduce around 4-6 weeks).
Often, though, it is being asked because the father wants to do what he can to help the Mama. She’s tired. Baby is waking every 2-3 hours to breastfeed. It is felt that if he gets up at 3 AM to give a bottle of pumped breast milk, it is a “win-win” situation. Mama gets some sleep, and baby still gets breast milk.
However, this is one of those sneaky situations where what appears to be, really isn’t so. Prolactin is the hormone that tells a woman’s body to make milk. It gets released when the baby breastfeeds or if the mother expresses milk by hand or pumps. Although one would think that pumping a bottle of milk before bed would be fine, it often leads to problems with milk supply later on. Why? We are not really sure, but one thought is that the middle of the night feeds are really important.
Prolactin levels (the hormone that tells your body to make milk), are higher at night than during the day. So, missing those feeds when baby would still be feeding frequently during the night is thought to impact the body’s ability to make milk. I think what most likely happens, is that it is one of those “slippery slope” kind of things.
If everyone becomes accustomed to baby being given a bottle when the Mama is available to breastfeed, it breaks a barrier. Then, a time comes when everyone is rushing around, trying to get out the door for an appointment. If baby becomes hungry as they are about to leave, the response is, “Go ahead and give him a bottle…I’ll pump later”.
Unfortunately, if later is a couple of hours later, then a feed has been missed. And the body is pretty smart—if the milk is not removed, a signal is sent to “STOP MAKING MILK”. It doesn’t happen overnight. And doing it once probably won’t do it. BUT…it doesn’t take very many missed feeds for a Mama’s milk supply to drop. So what’s a father to do?
My favorite way to help Mama can be done whenever there is an extra set of hands in the house in the morning. Baby breastfeeds for the first feed of the morning—then is handed off to Dad or Grandma, who takes baby downstairs to play (there’s that bonding time!). Mama goes back to sleep! A couple of hours later when baby is ready to breastfeed again, Dad brings baby back to Mama. After baby is done feeding…baby goes BACK downstairs with Dad…AND….Mama goes back to sleep! Repeat as needed :)
How did YOU survive those early weeks of frequent breastfeeding?