The benefits of breastfeeding go beyond the health advantages of natural breast milk. The act of breastfeeding itself helps create and reinforce your bond with your baby and even helps her developmentally. During breastfeeding, there is plenty of skin-to-skin contact and eye contact. Healthy breastfeeding is characterized by strong, positive emotions: safety, satisfying hunger, connection, and love.
To the extent possible, parents who are formula feeding or bottle feeding should try to mimic the breastfeeding experience as closely as possible. While this may not always be feasible, it’s a good place to start. When bottle feeding, it’s best to do it sitting upright, not lying next to your child in bed or propping up a bottle while in a highchair. Propping up the bottle denies baby the emotional satisfaction of close time with you and can increase your child’s risk of choking. Also, babies should never be allowed to drift off to sleep with a bottle in their mouths—which is more likely with a propped bottle—as it can cause cavities when the milk sits in the mouth for prolonged periods of time.
During a formula-feeding session, hold baby as if you were breastfeeding, with the head resting in your arm and with their face turned toward yours. This position ensures that:
- Your baby’s head will be higher than the rest of the body, which prevents milk from backing up into the eustachian tubes (a common cause of ear infections).
- Your baby will be able to feel your closeness, which is comforting. It’s even better if you can provide skin-to-skin contact.
- Your baby can look at you while sucking on the bottle, which has been proven to enhance positive emotional development.
- You can stand up if necessary, continuing to hold your child in the same basic position, without interrupting the feeding or breaking concentration.
It’s also a good idea to switch arms mid-feeding, just as if you were switching breasts. Not only is the variation good so as not to cause flattening of the head on one side, it also gives baby a chance to take a break from sucking and even burp before finishing the bottle.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, August 2019
- Your bottle-feeding position should mimic, as closely as possible, your breast-feeding position.
- Never prop up a formula bottle rather than holding it in your own hand.
- Always keep your baby’s head higher than the rest of the body during feeding.
- You can stand up (and even walk around) while feeding your baby in the crook of your arm.