My wife didn’t know much about breastfeeding to begin with, other than that she wanted to give it a go, and I knew even less. Once breastfeeding was well established and going well, we decided to offer expressed milk by bottle to our daughter when she was about eight weeks old so that I could help with feeding and my wife could have a break.
I soon learned that feeding a breastfed baby by bottle is very different to feeding a baby who is used to drinking from a bottle all the time. Breastfed babies don't just drink milk from breasts, they also enjoy breastfeeding for comfort – I think this because they enjoy the closeness to their mother and the skin-to-skin contact. That means the breastfed baby doesn’t get the same comfort from a bottle, even when drinking breastmilk. I learned the hard way how different it is. I found it was best to try to replicate the experience of breastfeeding as much as possible but I understood it would never be the same – and not to worry because that's okay.
I found it’s best to hold the baby relatively upright and not lying down. That helps the baby to suck for milk actively instead of having it poured down their throat. A breastfed baby doesn't need such a large quantity of milk as a formula-fed baby (Editor’s note: It’s more easily digestible so fewer calories are expended digesting the milk) so it's best to ensure not to over-feed them, knowing that it isn't the milk that comforts so much, it's the breast. The expressed milk in the bottle is solely to feed them when the breast is not available.
The most successful feeding position that we found was me sitting up with Lorelei between my legs, her back against my chest and her legs facing the same direction as mine. She found it relaxing sitting against my chest, I think because she could feel me breathing and so if I was relaxed, she was too – which I think mimics her experience when breastfeeding. I would always let her take small breaks during a feed and not expect her to finish the whole bottle, as Lorelei would be much more relaxed if I let her drink at her own pace.
In the end though, Lorelei began refusing the bottle at around five months old. To begin with, I felt a bit rejected that she didn’t want me to feed her anymore. I tried several more times over the following month or so, but she wasn’t interested and eventually I figured out that there were many other ways for me to bond with our daughter.
As the husband of a breastfeeding mother, it can sometimes be frustrating that for my wife it seems much easier; she just sticks the baby on her breast and then the baby calms down. For me, milk in a bottle doesn't have the same effect – it does help a bit, because after feeding the baby is no longer ravenously hungry – but I needed to find different ways to soothe Lorelei. I found talking helped – I would talk about, well, anything! It seemed crazy at first but Lorelei soon learned to be soothed by my voice. I also used to do big, deep breaths; this motion of my body seemed to help. Also finding parts of the house she liked – a mirror, some framed pictures, looking out the window. The most important part was lots of eye contact, holding her and talking to her; skin-to-skin worked well too. I could still do stuff around the house, but coming back regularly for some eye contact, a bit of a chat and some play always staved off a massive meltdown. Well, obviously not always – that's important to remember too. Sometimes it is rubbish and nothing will work, but eventually something will. Bouncing, talking, rocking, singing, breathing; just try everything because something random will end up working. For a while, Lorelei used to be content on my shoulder; if I rocked just a little she would calm right down. Six months later, she suddenly hated it so I had to find something new. We always seemed to work it out between us.
The fact that I don't have breasts is irrelevant now. She now knows how she can get comfort from me when her mum isn't around.
Although we tried to include me in feeding Lorelei as a way to bond, it didn’t really work out that way for very long. Two years down the line, I can really see that supporting the breastfeeding relationship between my daughter and my wife has been more important than my want to feed her milk via a bottle. And not feeding her hasn’t taken anything away from my relationship with my daughter. Just the other day, she ran into the kitchen, climbed up onto my lap and announced, “Daddy, we’re best friends”!
Our son arrived five months ago and this time around, with help and support from La Leche League, my wife and I know much more about breastfeeding and how it works for our family. My wife is now tandem nursing our two children. We haven’t bothered with expressing and bottles but I am just as involved in caring for and raising our children as my breastfeeding wife.
Close to the Heart Vol. 18, No. 1 (Early-Year 2017)
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