Breastfeeding Challenges, Part Three: The Problem with Bottle Feeding


Ok, a tough one to tackle.  Bottles are such a “normal” part of our society.  We see them everywhere—in baby books, on pillow cases and sheet sets, receiving blankets, diapers, t-shirts, on the news when they are talking about babies, in the mall to indicate a family room or diaper area, they come with dolls, they are featured in commercials—the ubiquitous bottle cannot be escaped—and why should it be?  Well, many a practitioner much more learned than I have written numerous chapters[1] on the bottle and how our exposure to the image over and over does damage to breastfeeding.  I would like to take a different approach—why does it, from a technical (i.e. baby’s) point of view, interfere with breastfeeding?

Well, we know from some very good research done with electromyography that a baby uses facial muscles differently when sucking on a bottle vs. suckling at the breast.  We know that bottles have a consistent flow throughout the feeding, and in this way they flow differently than breasts—breastmilk ebbs and flows with mother’s let down and bottles flow one of two ways:  either always because the slightest pressure on the teat (even no pressure with some teats) causes the milk to spray or drip out; or, with some of these newer–trying-to-imitate-breastfeeding bottles, they flow as the child puts pressure on the teat.  Either way—it is different.   The flow of milk from the breast is sometimes easy and fast, sometimes goes a bit more slowly, and sometimes requires intervention from the mother (like having a mother do breast compressions or offer the other side.)  So why is that such a problem—this difference in flow?  For some babies, it’s not.

I have heard and seen many babies go back and forth between breast and bottle for many many months with no trouble at all and no affect on the breastfeeding.  I have seen some do this for a few months and then the trouble starts—pulling at the breast, baby seems gassy, baby is fussy between feedings, baby sucks on his hands frequently and teething is blamed—because he is drooling at the same time—baby bites the breast, mother suddenly gets sore nipples, etc., etc.  I have had mothers come into our clinic because of sore nipples and say “my baby takes the bottle with no problem and goes back to the breast with no problem, either.”  And she doesn’t see that there is a relationship at all.  I have even seen babies get one bottle and display the above-behaviours at the breast.  And I have seen parents train their baby with a bottle a day since birth and then one day it all goes to pieces.  What I ask parents is, how do you know which baby you will have?  The answer is: You don’t.

So why not just use a cup?

A cup is clean, cheap, easy, can be found anywhere (every restaurant has one), it doesn’t need to be a special kind and every kid one day has to know how to use it—you don’t see bottles on the prerequisite list for kindergarten do you?  With cup feeding, the baby is forced to bring his tongue out and forward—a bit like breastfeeding but not quite.  However, as the baby does not have anything to suck on while cup feeding, there doesn’t seem to be that flow preference concern.  Don’t get me wrong, I have seen kids down milk from a cup faster than they take a bottle—but again, it’s different and doesn’t tend to cause problems.

Lastly, there is much thinking and some research lately on the effects of a bottle on the palate—and I mean permanent effects.  We know that babies are born with narrow skulls (and therefore narrow palates) so they can get through the birth canal more easily.  We know that with breastfeeding the skull widens as does the palate over time—and this is as it should be.  This allows for our airway passages to widen and work as they were meant to work as we move into adulthood.   But there have been some correlational findings that suggest bottle feeding, extended finger sucking, and pacifier use may prevent or decrease this widening and cause problems in adulthood, e.g. sleep apnoea.  Now, we don’t yet have a causal relationship documented in the research, i.e. nothing that says bottle feeding leads to sleep apnoea.  Just that there is a correlation between those who were bottle fed as babies and those who have sleep apnoea in adulthood.  The problem is, so many who were breastfed (in the 60s, 70s, and 80s) were also later bottle fed.  My own mother insisted she exclusively breastfed all of us, but recently I found a picture of my older brother, as a baby around 6 months, who was being given a bottle of water by my father—under the instructions of the paediatrician!  So, what damage occurred due to the occasional bottle my brother got?  Who knows?  We need the research.  In the meantime, if mom needs to have someone else feed the baby, for whatever reason, or is slowly transitioning off the breast, or only breastfeeds a couple times a day, then I say, go for the cup !

Posted by:  Edith Kernerman, IBCLC

Read more from Edith Kernerman at her blog site

[1] Gabrielle Palmer, Jack Newman, James Akre, Infact Canada


Breastfeeding Challenges, Part Three: The Problem with Bottle Feeding

October 12, 2011 07:00 AM by Edith Kernerman
hi Sara, Sara, you did not fail at breastfeeding, the system failed you. Period. We in the world of breastfeeding and lactation drone on and on about Breast is Best--an awful statement in many of our minds--and then, when we have finally hooked mother in to trying it out, we leave her on her own to learn how to do something that yes, is certainly natural, but it is a learned behaviour. Just like walking, we need to practice over and over and when we fall need help getting up and slowly we will learn. Certainly, when we fall do our mothers say, that's it, enough is enough, time for a wheelchair for you!! Of course not, we get help and we learn and eventually, with help and guidance, encouragement and support, we figure out how to walk. Breastfeeding used to be no difference with the women of our community guiding and encouraging us. But where is that community now? Many of us live in isolation--be it in a big city or in a rural town--we have so few women around us who have breastfed who can guide us. I agree, a website is not the best form of support. I will be so forward as to say that our website, I believe, does a pretty good job of helping women and supporting women and there are many more out there. As well, from our website anyone can email us and ask us questions and we will answer personally. Please feel free to check this out at and go to the Contact us page for personal help. Yes, a midwife and a doula are a great way to start the normal birthing process that is likely to lead to breastfeeding going well. All the best, and good luck!

Breastfeeding Challenges, Part Three: The Problem with Bottle Feeding

October 12, 2011 07:00 AM by Kimmelin Hull, PA, LCCE
Edith and Sara, I cannot agree more with the sentiment, "you did not fail at breastfeeding, the system failed you." Women who are not "able to get breastfeeding to work" do not have malfunctioning bodies...they are not to be blamed or made to feel guilty. When we successfully change our system to properly mentor and support new mothers in the art of breastfeeding, the success will follow.

Breastfeeding Challenges, Part Three: The Problem with Bottle Feeding

October 12, 2011 07:00 AM by Edith Kernerman
@Janice Williams hi Janice, Cute! Don't think I have been forced to drink that stuff since i was 5! Sorry if you were a bit put off by my post. I need to disagree with your conclusions--for the sleep apnea thing, I have not said a causal relationship at all, instead what I said was: "But there have been some correlational findings that suggest bottle feeding, extended finger sucking, and pacifier use may prevent or decrease this widening and cause problems in adulthood, e.g. sleep apnoea. Now, we donít yet have a causal relationship documented in the research, i.e. nothing that says bottle feeding leads to sleep apnoea. Just that there is a correlation between those who were bottle fed as babies and those who have sleep apnoea in adulthood." And I believe this information is important in the spirit of informed consent because every parent needs to be genuinely informed in order to make a decision they feel comfortable with. Many will say, and i have to agree, there is more to breastfeeding than just the breastmilk, so mode of delivery is important. And I do agree with you--sometimes a mode of feeding will give mother a sense of being trapped or alternatively a sense of freedom. And for every mother the type of feeding, or feeding combination, is different. My beef comes with the industries that talk about how trapped mothers feel breastfeeding and then they proceed to list all the crazy accessories and "rules" one is supposed to follow. Like needing a breastfeeding pillow; or needing something to cover up; or a pump as a necessity (if a woman likes a pump--fine, but has anyone ever told her about how useful her hands are? I know of so many women who could express more milk and faster with their hands then a pump, and with some woman the pump works best); or that she has to feed x number of minutes per side (no evidence and doesn't work); or needs to get hind milk (one of the biggest myths in breastfeeding!); or she needs to feed every 2 or 3 hours---yikes! what drivel!! So, when it comes to needing to leave one's baby with someone else, my feeling is, why don't we as a community, ever talk about cup feeding? It's cheap, it's easy, it's fast. That's all. If a mother chooses to use a bottle that's her choice. Funny thing, I find is so often mothers come to our clinic using a bottle and I ask if they prefer it over a cup they look at me with surprise on their faces because they had never been told cup was even an option. why wouldn't we share that with mothers? I think because the bottle industry doesn't make any money when we talk about cup feeding. :)

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