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Ask Rachel – Using Bottles

On an almost daily basis, people introduce me as an independent midwife and lactation consultant when I would never describe myself as either! In fact, I struggle to describe myself in any particular way – some days I am like this, and some days I am like that and some days I barely know who or what I am!

Always looking slightly from the outside of any particular pigeonhole, I avoid belonging to tribes. They seem, to me, to be about exclusion as much as about inclusion and this makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. I can sign up to some elements of a club, but am always at variance with others and so then feel at conflict with the other club members. If I belong to any tribe, it is the one where its members could sign the “any other” category.

So it is with feeding our babies. If you are known as a mum who suckles her baby, it is ten to one that people assume you also an “earth mother”, that you demand feed and co-sleep, that you “baby-wear”, and that you do not want a routine-led household.

If you bottle-feed, then there is an assumption that you want a more separate relationship from your baby, that you will start weaning at four months, that you rigidly work towards a four hourly schedule for feeding etc. etc.

So what about those “any other” mums who want to mix and match? Those who suckle their babies but want to work towards a daily routine in due course or those who bottle feed their babies but want to co-sleep, throw out the clocks and “wear” their babies until they are ready to sit their GCSEs?

Today, I speak to those mums who use bottles (always or occasionally) for feeding their babies but want to better fit in with their baby’s naturally evolved way of being.

Q. What sort of bottles should I buy?

A. Once you step into the world of “Baby”, you really are at the mercy of advertisers. Their job is to make you believe that their product is best. They have many thousands of pounds to spend and they are good at their job. The latest fashion is for bottles that “stop colic” and teats that are “more like a breast”. Don’t be fooled! Anti-colic gimmicks in a bottle are just that, gimmicks. Furthermore, they require additional cleaning and sterilising. Remember that colic is hormonally driven and an evolutionary, inbuilt protective strategy to ensure survival. Read my other blogs for lots about colic and evening crying behaviour and you will see that a bottle really couldn’t and shouldn’t cure your baby of being a baby.

What you need, quite simply, is a device for holding the milk, and then a good feeding technique. Stick to a simple bottle that is cheap to replace regularly and you won’t go far wrong. Your bottle will need to be thoroughly washed and sterilised every time you use it (if you only bottle feed your own milk then a hot wash with soapy water will suffice), so the plastic will not last for ever. Tiny cracks develop over time and these can harbour bugs. If your bottle is looking well-loved, buy a new one.

Teats are an important buy so choose smartly. The “closer to nature” type are nothing of the sort and can interfere with the normal feeding motion of the tongue. See the pictures here for the type of teat I am talking about – all fancy promo and nothing positive for baby:

When a baby boobles, he gets a lot of boob flesh into his mouth and then compresses it. This causes a good, broad pressure from the boob against the roof of his mouth and, over time, the palate develops a great shape for both speech and hearing. Babies who suckle on teats miss out on this broadening and spreading of the palate and the speech can be less clear and the baby can be more prone to ear problems. The “closer to nature” style teats look great but actively prevent the baby getting the broad part of the teat into the mouth and working it, so the baby is forced to slide back onto the thin nipple of the teat. If he tries to suckle on the broader part then, often, the teat deforms and milk splurges all over the best rug, missing the bemused cat by inches!

Look for a teat with a high, fat bulb beneath the nipple bit. Get the teat out of the pack and squeeze it (you know you want to anyway!) The bulb should be easy to squeeze when the teat is on the bottle, and there should not be any deforming of the teat under the retaining ring. The idea is that the baby works the bulb and the nipple bit sits right back against the soft palate. That will give your baby a more normal work-out for the tongue and jaw and, whilst you will not be able to fully replicate the way a baby is evolved to suckle on a boob, you will have a better chance of him broadening his palate for speech and hearing. Have a look at these pictures to get an idea of what I mean by a high, fat bulb:

Q. What sort of formula should I use?

Here again, you are at the mercy of multi-million pound companies, all competing for your attention. The dangers here are potentially greater than with teat buying. So, here is some really important information for you to read, re-read and read again …

The law in this country states that ALL infant formula milks MUST offer your baby her complete nutritional requirements. Notice that I did not say “minimal requirements”. So every formula marketed, including those made from goat’s milk or soya MUST, by law, give your baby absolutely every vitamin, mineral, carbohydrate, protein and fat that she needs. Sure, not one of them gives your baby the protection to fight infection or a whole host of other stuff in mum’s milk, but you know that! What you almost certainly do not know is that the milk manufacturers add a heap of other stuff, over and above the legal limit, in order to be able to boast to you and make you think that their milk is superior. But the other extra stuff is not only “surplus to requirement” but we genuinely do not know if it is ok for babies. The companies do not provide adequate evidence to say that their magic ingredient is safe to give eight times a day for many months to your baby. The “not needed” stuff adds cost to the milk which goes into further promotion and new products in order to boost profits.

Remember that, no matter how annoyed you feel about that midwife who bent your ear about breastfeeding, she does not make a single penny out of you if you choose to suckle. She gets the same wage whether you booble for a week, a month or a year. Nor does she lose out if you choose to formula feed. It is no skin off her nose. This is the very opposite of the formula folk. Every extra tin of their milk that you buy, goes towards their profit margin. If you drift towards another brand, they lose out. This is why the manufacturers advertise so hard and why they add unnecessary ingredients – it’s a marketing dog-eat-dog world out there!

In essence then, if you buy the supermarket own-brand formula, your baby will get all her nutritional needs completely and totally met. Buy one of the top brands and your baby will get more than you bargained for, and not necessarily in a good way. Your posh formula may well be a more risky choice for your baby’s health than your supermarket cheapo.

Avoid buying according to your tribe (and those well known brands are very tribal – some are more popular amongst the middle classes and some amongst the working classes and some amongst vegetarians) and, instead, buy thoughtfully for your baby. If you can’t bear to see your friends turn their noses up at your choice, either don’t tell them what milk you use, lie (lying is not illegal if you are not the president of the United States) or transfer your formula to a sterile, air tight container so no-one has any idea of which brand you have chosen. Which formula brand you choose is your business alone and mothering is tough enough without the unsolicited opinions of other people to contend with.

Finally, don’t be duped into thinking that you should choose your formula and then stick to it. Most women, and most healthcare professionals, believe that changing formulas leads to tummy problems. This is no more true than I get tummy ache if I have toast for breakfast and rice for lunch (my tummy ache is caused by pigging out on vast quantities at each meal and then topping off with chocolate ice cream).

In fact, because each formula is slightly different in taste and texture, you could be doing your baby a favour by ringing the changes now and then (or even through the day or week). Exposure to different flavours (through mum’s milk or by using different formulas) can make life easier when it comes to weaning. The baby who has had the same flavoured meal six to eight times a day for six months can really struggle with the complex flavours of family foods. The companies which make formulas also make endless expensive but very bland weaning foods to give to those babies whose palates have never been challenged.

You are a savvy, modern woman so resist the pull of the advertisers and buy smart, not posh, and vary the formula when the mood takes you. Finally, if you want more information on smart bottle feeding, including how to give a feed in a way that reduces wind, vomiting and over-feeding, take a look at chapter 5 in my book “Your Baby Skin To Skin”.

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