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Order’s Up! Feeding Expressed-Milk Bottles, Paced Feeding, and More

Updated: Feb 20


Breastfeeding mom sitting on a bed next to an electric pump with a couple ounces of collected milk

Pumping is increasingly more common and popular in the breastfeeding world. Women are back to work, leading active lives, or in some cases, simply choosing to exclusively pump. Human milk expression has never been easier with the huge variety of breast pumps and milk storage products on the market. Which can make a difference in the lives of many breastfeeding moms, although there are some differences when compared to feeding at the breast. 


The Difference Between Breastfeeding and Bottle-Feeding Breastmilk


With bottle feeding, some of the microbiome communication between mother and baby is lost, some of the musculoskeletal development advantages of feeding at the breast are lost, and some of the obesity prevention benefits are lost. But all of the other advantages of human milk that are not reproducible in formula remain, such as immune system support, whole nutrition for babies, active antibodies, and healthy gut benefits. So let’s get down to business and discuss what to do after the milk is expressed and what is the best and safest way to get it to the baby.


In general, the answer to the question, “How do I serve breastmilk?”, is simple – with a bottle. Bottles are the most common device for feeding babies, yet we have all been to Target or Walmart, the options are confusing and endless! How are you supposed to select the correct bottle? What is the difference in all the options? And do you need all the other warming, cleaning, and feeding supplies?


Hopefully, this article will help you better understand and navigate breastmilk bottle feeding, the most common form of feeding expressed breast milk. However, I would like to recognize that depending on your stage of nursing or how latching is going, there are alternative feeding methods, including a spoon, syringe, supplemental feeding device, or cup. These methods are a little nuanced and you should work with your LC or baby’s healthcare provider if you are going to use a method other than a bottle. Here we are focusing on bottle feeding and the common questions from pumping moms about feeding with expressed breast milk.


What bottle should I use for breastmilk?


Your baby’s favorite of course! Bottles come in all shapes and sizes, with many different claims: the most “breastlike”, best for reflux, number 1 rated by dentists, etc. The truth is, for the most part, a bottle is a bottle, and most babies can have success with anything. Some medical exceptions should be recognized and require work with feeding specialists or your pediatrician (for example, cleft palate, premies, failure to thrive, very low birth weight, etc.). Overall, though, a slow-flow bottle that decreases air intake is a great starting point. There is not a superior brand or design and many online registries will allow you to order a mixed pack of bottles to try out with your baby before committing fully to a preferred brand. I would recommend this route initially as you figure out what will be best for your family.


What is paced bottle feeding?


The concept behind paced feeding is that you control the flow and amount of milk your baby is getting in a bottle feed. This prevents them from gulping down milk too fast and is intended to mimic the feeding pattern at the breast. It is also meant to be an interactive exercise between the “feeder” and baby. You should hold the baby close, make eye contact, and interact with them during the feed. Start by stimulating suckling by placing the bottle nipple in the baby’s mouth. Once they are beginning to suckle, tip up the bottle allowing a few swallows of milk. Then tip the bottle back for continued suckling, but leveled out to avoid chugging or gulping down the milk. This will control the pace of intake as feeding at the breast is a little slower and takes a little more effort than bottle feeding. Make sure to burp the baby regularly, every 1-2 ounces. Bottle feeding allows for a little more air intake so more burping is required. Try to slow or pace the feed so that it takes at least 10-15 minutes, and the baby is not able to down a full bottle too quickly.


How should I prepare the expressed milk bottle?


Expressed milk can be given straight to the baby within 4 hours of pumping. Otherwise, you will need to thaw it or prepare it from its proper storage container. Place milk in a clean bottle. Some babies will drink the milk cold, but often babies prefer it warmed. When feeding at the breast, the milk is body temperature, roughly 98.6 degrees. To warm milk, you should use a bottle warmer or warm water bath. NEVER microwave a bottle of breast milk as there can be hotspots that burn the baby. After the milk is appropriately warmed and ready to feed, make sure to test out the temperature. Many people do this by placing a couple of drops on their inner forearm. Once the baby starts drinking the bottle it should be discarded and cleaned within 2 hours. Partially consumed or rewarmed breastmilk should never be put back in the fridge or re-frozen.


How should I clean the bottle?


Bottles can be cleaned similarly to breast pump parts. Use warm, soapy water, and allow thorough drying. They should be sterilized daily. This can be done with a sterilizer device or in the dishwasher. If there are cracks or damage to the bottles or teets (artificial nipples), they should be discarded. Look out for teet damage, especially in babies with teeth!


What are some tips and tricks for bottle refusal?


Step 1: take a deep breath and summon your patience. Similar to many things in parenthood, bottle refusal at its root is an exercise in patience and consistency. A couple of other things that you should try are feeding at early cues in a calm environment. Do not wait until the baby is screaming or “hangry” to offer the bottle. Allow someone else to feed the baby. They are smart, so they will know who can provide a breast instead of a bottle. Give someone else a turn feeding the baby. Make sure the temperature is correct on the milk. Practice, practice, practice. Continue to work with the baby. Over time they often catch on. Depending on age, consider an alternative to the bottle. If they are starting with solids or a cup, they can often take the milk from a spoon or sippy cup. 


Can I switch between bottle feeding and feeding at the breast?


Yes! Once a good breastfeeding relationship and latch have been established many families can toggle back and forth between bottle-feeding breast milk and feeding at the breast. The key is to continue both regularly. If a baby is starting to show preference for one, try to remain patient and continue to offer both. Feed your baby, protect your supply, and enjoy the journey. 


Hopefully, this information gives you the confidence to provide expressed milk to your baby and enhances your breastfeeding journey. While the full benefits of breastfeeding remain at the breast, providing expressed breast milk is a game changer for the modern family. It allows so much more flexibility in feeding plans and freedom for the breastfeeder. Order’s up, modern mama!


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