Feeding your baby with a bottle is not all about schedules and exact quantities - according to Carly Veness, a paediatric speech pathologist from Babble and Munch Speech Pathology, with a special interest in infant feeding.
‘Babies are born with the ability to know how much to eat in order to grow – allowing your baby to set the pace by following his hunger and fullness cues helps him to tune into his own internal drive for eating and growing,’ she says. Here, we solve a few common bottle-feeding quandaries...
Q: How can I tell if my baby is hungry?
A: Rather than watching the clock, watch your baby. 'Hunger cues may include wide, open eyes with a bright expression, tucking arms and legs up towards his body, turning his head when he feels touch around his mouth or cheeks, bringing his hands to his mouth, and rapid sucking,’ explains Carly. ‘Fussing and crying are “late” hunger cues.’ Try to offer a feed before bub becomes distressed.
Q. How do I offer my baby a bottle without forcing things?
A. Ensuring he is awake, alert and showing hunger signs is a great start. Look for the 'rooting reflex', which is an important reflex that your baby is born with to help him latch on and get going. 'Encourage this reflex by gently stroking the teat down across his lips and allowing baby to open for the teat, rather than pushing the teat in,’ says Carly. ‘Avoid jiggling the teat or tapping your baby’s face or chin when he is taking a break during the feed. Pauses are normal as a feed progresses.’ Stop when bub is full and take his ‘no’ seriously. If feed refusal or distress with feeding are happening regularly, seek help.
Q. How do I know when my baby is full?
A. Signs bub has had enough may include becoming very relaxed with arms and legs extended, slow sucking, or stopping sucking altogether, letting go of the teat or turning away. He may also fall asleep. Other babies may start to chat and play. ‘It is important to respect a baby’s “finished” signs, even if he hasn’t taken the whole bottle,’ says Carly. Keep an eye on your baby, not the bottle.
Q. Will my baby stop when he has had enough?
A. Babies are born with an inbuilt gauge that tells them how much they need to eat. We can help preserve this gauge by following their cues. Sometimes these can be subtle and you might have to look closely for them and help your baby tune in to what is happening in his body. ‘Usually babies will stop sucking once they’re full, however, some babies continue to suck at the bottle when they have had enough milk because they find sucking comforting and enjoyable,’ says Carly. If this is happening, give your baby something else to suck on, or cuddle him instead.
Q. My baby is gaining lots of weight. How do I avoid overfeeding?
A. One of the biggies here is to stop when your little one has had enough rather than trying to finish a set amount. ‘A good sign that your baby is getting the right amount of milk is consistent growth that tracks along his own curve on the growth chart, regardless of where he sits on the chart,’ Carly says. Chat to your child health nurse if you’re unsure about volumes.
Q. How do I stop my baby taking in too much air?
A. If you hear gulping or slurping on the bottle (or breast) that’s your baby taking in a bit of air along with their milk. Wind is a normal bodily function and babies seem to get their fair share. ‘Your feeding technique with the bottle can reduce the air taken in, but may not help with your baby experiencing wind, so don’t be too hard on yourself,’ says child health nurse and lactation consultant Naomi Riley. She also suggests pacing the feed by stopping and letting your little one have a burp a couple of times throughout, and ensuring the teat is filled with milk when bub is sucking.