Bottle Feeding Breast Milk: The Basics

There’s always a third option when it comes to feeding your newborn, but most mothers don’t know about it. If you’re at wit’s end with exclusive breastfeeding, but you don’t want to end up with formula either, bottle feeding your own breast milk is a possibly clever solution. Read on to learn more about this alternative and if this option is the best for you and your child.

Medical experts have always advocated pure, exclusive breastfeeding. If your situation calls for an alternative, breast milk in a bottle (or an alternative method) may be a good substitute as compared to giving formula.

What is the best food for newborns?

Newborns up to 6 months of age are best fed with breast milk. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusively breastfeeding up to 6 months of age and continuing breastfeeding with complementary foods onwards, if able.

When is the best time to shift to the bottle?

Mothers need to establish their milk supply as much as possible before shifting their child to bottle feeds. Delay the transition as long as you can, but make sure your baby is being fed enough during this time.

If all goes well, introduce bottle feeding at around 4 to 6 weeks of age. Otherwise, start expressing your milk and feeding your child through the bottle to make sure they receive adequate nutrition.

Reasons why you might want to pump your milk instead of using formula

There are quite a number of reasons why mothers consider pumping out their milk and bottle feeding their baby instead.

Breastfeeding is painful

You may fall into the bracket of mothers who have enough milk, but have an unsuccessful latch with your child. Some have taken great lengths to remedy this by visiting lactation consultants and pushing themselves beyond the pain. While this is commendable, there are mothers who cannot bear the pain, so they opt to feed their milk through a different way.

You have too much milk!

If this is your situation, you are very blessed indeed. Expressing milk is also good for mothers who experience breast engorgement and pain, even after feedings.

Mothers who produce an excessive amount of milk, much more than their baby can drink, can always pump or hand express their milk for storage and future use. You can also consider donating extra milk to those who could not produce enough of their own.

Your baby won’t latch

You’ve done everything on your part, but for some reason, your child just won’t latch properly. It can be frustrating knowing that you have the milk, but you can’t give it through breastfeeding. Choosing to bottle feed your own breast milk is a great choice, as your infant will still get the complete set of nutrients they need.

Your baby was born premature

Depending on how premature your child is, chances are, they were already started on your breast milk while at neonatal intensive care. As long as you still produce breast milk, you can continue giving this at home through bottle feeding. Your doctor will advise you on whether you can continue bottle feeding, or if it’s possible to shift to breastfeeding at home.

You have twins, triplets, or even more!

Two adorable twin boys are happily practicing tummy time.

It’s a different scenario altogether if you’re taking home more than one baby. You can actually alternate between breastfeeding and bottle feeding your breast milk, if possible. In this situation, it’s best to have support from your family or friends.

Returning to work or school

Some mothers are unable to secure maternal leave, or for some other reason must return to school or work immediately. Although breastfeeding support in the workplace has been championed by organizations such as the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) and UNICEF, not all workplaces can provide this. Some may have workplace hazards that are unreasonably dangerous for both the mother and the infant.

How to bottle feed breast milk

You can hand-express your milk

Some moms are successful with hand-expression, especially those with a large supply of breast milk.

Start by washing your hands with soap and water. Massage your breasts for one to two minutes. With one hand, place the thumb and index finger around (not on) the nipple, then push your fingers backwards, towards your chest. Compress the breast with your fingers, then roll it outward. Release your hold then repeat.

It’s advisable to hand-express during your baby’s first week of life. The amount of milk your breasts produce may be too little to pass through the the pump tubing successfully.

You can also use a pump

A mom is choosing to use a breast pump to get milk to feed her infant girl.

If hand-expressing milk is too cumbersome for you, a breast pump is a good investment.

Manual breast pumps are inexpensive, lightweight options, operated by hand. However, it may take longer to pump milk manually as compared to other types.

Electric breast pumps are more expensive and heavy, but are much more efficient to use for large volumes of milk. If you plan to breast pump for quite some time, it’s best to purchase this type instead.

Battery operated breast pumps are more portable and require less effort on your part, as compared to manual breast pumps. The downside of these pumps are inefficiency in terms of establishing your milk supply. Most mothers use this only if they need to pump milk a few times per day.

How much milk is needed?

A newborn baby is laying down next to stacks of frozen breast milk, that mom has chosen to pump and freeze for future feedings.

The amount of milk that can be pumped out at every session is not the same for all mothers. Usually, breastfeeding mothers see only a few drops of milk every session, for the first three days. The amount may sharply increase as early as the second day for some. For others, it can take even up to 5 days to establish their milk supply.

A good estimate would be an average of 5-10ml per feeding session for the first three days. This can increase to 20-30ml by the fifth day, and will rise to more than 30ml per feed at the end of the first week.

To help your baby transition to bottle feeding, use a slow-flow nipple. This ensures your child doesn’t grow used to being fed milk straightaway without any effort, as this will pose problems as they grow older.

Pumping milk — how frequent and how long?

Newborns normally feed every two to three hours. To ensure the continuous production of breast milk, you will have to simulate the number of times your baby would feed at the breast. This means pumping every two to three hours, round the clock. Don’t worry —  as your child gets older, there will be longer intervals between feeds.

In terms of how long we should pump per breast, we need to apply the same principle: how long does a baby breastfeed? Newborns usually take 15 to 20 minutes on one breast before switching to the other. So for every pumping session, take 15 to 20 minutes per breast.

Tip: At the end of pumping, right when there’s no more milk output, you can try pumping for a few minutes longer. This signals your body to make more milk, ensuring a continuous breast milk supply for your little one. You don’t need to do this if it causes significant pain.

How frequent do I feed?

An infant should be able to feed every 2 to 3 hours. This means feedings are between 8 to 12 times in a day. However, not all babies feed at the same time and pace.

Experts recommend feeding your baby when they present with hunger cues, and not because of a predetermined schedule. This is called paced bottle feeding. Make sure that all other caregivers practice this when it’s their turn to feed your child.

Sanitize first

A mom is washing baby bottles so she can add breastmilk and feed her baby afterward.

Make sure to wash your hands before handling your child and the feeding bottles. Thoroughly wash the nipples and bottles with hot water and soap. You can opt to have these sterilized before use.

Warm things up

Your baby will thank you if both the nipple and the milk itself are warm. It’s better to run the nipple under warm, sterilized water before giving the bottle to your child. Only use sterilized, clean water.

Breast milk is usually lukewarm or at around your body temperature. If you’re giving breast milk that was stored in the fridge or freezer, make sure to warm it up first. Never warm it up on the microwave or stove. Place the milk inside a sterilized bottle, then place this bottle into a bowl of warm water, or under a warm tap. Make sure that only the body of the bottle is exposed to warm water to avoid bacterial contamination at the nipple.

At the start of the feed, slowly let your baby take in the nipple by themselves. Don’t push the nipple into their mouth, nor press the bottle to start the milk flowing. Let the infant decide when to receive the milk, at their own pace.

Alternative: cup feeding

Another less known but equally effective alternative to feeding your breast milk is by cup feeding. This method is especially preferred for premature babies.

For mothers who choose to breastfeed when available and feed alternatively when busy, cup feeding is a good way to retain your baby’s preference for your breast. It lessens the chances of nipple confusion.

How to store milk

The CDC recommends keeping your breast milk stored at certain temperatures. The following table shows how long you can store breast milk, depending on the type of storage location and temperature.

Breastmilk storage guidelines
Image: CDC.gov/breastfeeding

Make sure you’re okay

Pumping breast milk has its own challenges — while it can relieve you from the disadvantages of breastfeeding, it can also take a lot of your time. As with all mothers who have recently delivered, it is common to experience stress, dejection and anxiety. Take care of yourself by taking in enough of the right foods and fluids, and asking for help from your family and friends when you need to take a break.

FAQs

My baby didn’t finish the thawed breast milk. How long is it good for, after feeding?

Thawed, unfinished milk can still be given to your child within two hours at room temperature.

My baby didn’t finish the thawed breast milk. Can I store this again?

Breast milk that’s already been thawed cannot be frozen or returned to your storage or supply. If it’s unused for more than two hours after thawing, discard the milk.

Can you use the same bottle twice for feedings?

Yes, you can use the same bottle, but only after cleaning it. It’s not necessary to sanitize a bottle for every feed, but the bottle should be cleaned after every feeding. Remaining milk can easily spoil and introduce bacteria if the bottle is rinsed only and not cleaned.

Takeaway

Bottle feeding your own breast milk is a good alternative to exclusive breastfeeding for certain situations. It allows you to feed your child with the best nutrition — breast milk. This option has its own challenges, such as milk storage, bacterial contamination and your own personal adjustments in feeding; however, if done correctly, bottle feeding can truly be the best of both worlds for you and your child.

Sarah is a healthcare writer, motivated by her love of reading books while growing up. She took up human biology and further studies in medicine, in order to fulfill her passion for helping kids. While she isn't a biological mother yet, she has taken two young dogs, named Indy and Obi-Wan, under her wing. She would love to someday travel the world and meet kids from different cultural backgrounds.

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