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Boosting Bottle Feeding Bonding - 5 top tips...

Some readers may remember I posted about breastfeeding and bonding here - so I thought I would follow up about how mums not breastfeeding can maximise bonding with their baby.

There are various processes and hormones involved with bonding, but the one we hear most about is oxytocin; often nicknamed the "cuddle hormone".  It has been heavily linked with feelings of trust, security, and love - whilst for parents it can influence maternal/paternal behaviour and even drastically reduce the risks of abuse and neglect.  It even causes nerve junctions in the mother's brain to reorganise, making her maternal behaviors "hard-wired."

When mum breastfeeds, oxytocin is released - and many who work with breastfeeding mothers have commented it can be observed when feeding is going well.  Mums gaze at and preen their babies, playing with baby's ears, toes and fingers, sometimes almost glazing over and losing interest in chatting.  It is also oxytocin that causes mum to be so drawn to the smell of her breastfed baby, and many joke their babies are so used to their heads being scattered with kisses, they proffer that for a kiss when they get older!  Baby makes his own oxytocin in response to nursing and mum transfers additional amounts in her milk.

All that said, mothers can still fail to bond when breastfeeding - if other factors are in play, perhaps trauma after a difficult delivery or postnatal depression; breastfeeding problems, nipple trauma and so on.... It's certainly no guarantee but more of a massive helping hand along the way.

Oxytocin isn't a hormone exclusive to breastfeeding mums; a large surge happens at the start of labour (which is one of the reasons why many experts now recommend letting labour commence - even if a Caesarean section is planned) and again as baby moves down the birth canal.  It is also produced through touch and warmth ie the act of nurturing behaviour and is cyclic - so the more oxytocin is produced, the more you want to nurture, which in turn produces more oxytocin, and so on.

So going back to the breastfeeding mum - breastfeeding increases levels, which provokes nurturing behaviour and in turn more oxytocin.  Mum HAS to hold baby to breastfeed, but what about the bottle feeding mum?

I'm sure many of us have been in a cafe and seen the baby still in a pushchair, mum holding bottle with one hand whilst she sits and reads a magazine - perhaps eating her own lunch.  Sometimes baby is left to feed themselves entirely with absolutely no contact, and worryingly there is an increasing range of items on the market, designed to facilitate feeding without any human touch or "nurturing behaviour" - at what cost?  Well apart from the very obvious choking risk which is why parents in the UK are advised never to prop bottles!
A growing body of scientific evidence shows that the way babies are cared for will determine not only their emotional development, but the biological development of the brain and central nervous system as well. The research also shows mother's love acts as a template for love itself and has far reaching effects on her child's ability to love throughout life.  Research conducted at UCLA first months of an infant's life constitute what is known as a critical period - a time when events are imprinted in the nervous system.
"Hugs and kisses during these critical periods make those neurons grow and connect properly with other neurons.  You can kiss that brain into maturity"
Dr. Arthur Janov, in his book Biology of Love.

How can bottle feeding mums boost bonding?
Some mums are naturally very maternal - regardless of how they feed, perhaps having higher natural levels of oxyocin, prolactin and other natural morphine-like chemicals.  For others bonding is a process that takes time, and there are lots of things bottle feeding mums can do to help boost levels of the several important hormones:

1. Skin to skin - whilst  breastfeeding mums are often encouraged to do this for milk supply, it's often not suggested to bottle feeding mums beyond immediately after birth.  All mums and babies benefit from this contact on several levels - physically, emotionally and neurologically.
Touch-especially between parent and child- induce opioid release, creating good feelings that will enhance bonding.  Prolonged elevation of prolactin in the attached parent stimulates the opioid system, heightening the rewards for intimate, loving family relationships.
Linda F. Palmer, DC

2.  Hold and cuddle your baby - consider a pouch or sling to keep baby close, the warmth and closeness of baby boosts hormones all round.  Regular body contact produces a constant, elevated level of oxytocin in the infant, which in turn provides a valuable reduction in the infant's stress-hormone responses.

2.  Feed baby yourself - in the early days when relatives and friends come round, it can be tempting to let them feed baby whilst you get on with other jobs.  Swap roles and let them help out with chores as they would for a breastfeeding mum, whilst you relax and spend the time feeding baby.

3.  Interact whilst feeding - gaze into your baby's eyes, stroke them, examine their fingers, ears - maximise touch all round.  Feeding for a breastfed baby is a full sensory experience, mimicking this when bottle feeding makes the experience more fulfilling for both baby and mum.
One study found:
Oxytocin levels were associated with parent-specific styles of interaction. The levels were higher in mothers who provided more affectionate parenting — including gazing at the infant, expression of positive affect, and affectionate touch (Biological Psychiatry)
4.  Bathe with baby - ditch the baby bath and hop in!  Warm water and skin contact is a double whammy - dads often love this too.

5.  Don't bottle prop! - Really who doesn't have time to pick a baby up and feed them every few hours?  Seriously if you don't have this time, do you have time for a baby at all?
A more variable release of oxytocin is seen in bottle-fed infants, but is higher in an infant who is "bottle-nursed" in the parents' arms rather than with a propped bottle.
Linda F. Palmer, DC


  1. Happy to see this information again - it's so important, especially for mothers who have had their breastfeeding undermined or who have been unable to breastfeed for medical reasons. It's just IMPORTANT! I did something similar in September - some of those 'bottle propping gadgets' are scarey!

  2. Hiya
    Thanks Anne :) it's something I first wrote about years ago, after one of the hands free companies tried to get pally LOL thought it was time to update and repost here.

    Couldn't decide whether to feature more about the other hormones involved, since oxytocin is the only one that ever seems to get any press lol but I figure this one is most apt for a non bf mum, along with opiods which I touched upon.

    Thanks Maddie :)tried to keep this one a bit shorter - not easy for someone as waffly as me ;)

  3. Just read your aticle and it's fab, have you considered training to be a BFC or suchlike? am sure you would be great!

    The only bit I'm not sure about is co-sleeping, even co-cot sleeping (ie taking a side off and pushing up to bed) is there evidence this is safe for a non bf infant?

  4. I didn't think those products could possibly exist in the real world, but low and behold they do! How terrible!

  5. I have addressed the co-sleeping point in a reply to one of the posts below the article. Baby Friendly advice suggests a cot-by-the-bed arrangement for bottle feeding mothers - which is still classed as 'co-sleeping' I think. Re. my training - as you may have seen in the 'about me' bit from the other day, I'm in the pre-selection process for further training, and thought I'm dead keen to do it I realise that sometimes people respond just as well to a 'peer'. It's not one I can win I think - you're either a 'professional' or you're 'just a mum'!

  6. Hiya
    Unicef say "It is recommended that your baby shares a room with you for at least
    the first 6 months" - I wouldn't call a cot next to the bed co-sleeping? and don't think this is what many who refer to it mean either? if it's a cot with one side missing and tied to the bed it's usually co-cot or co-crib sleeping no?
    But I'm just thinking as to whether there are potential risks with the co-cot arrangement for non bfing mums?

    Nooo didn't see anything the other day, am a bit hit and miss with FB so tend to miss loads! That's great re training! Am sure you will be selected :D I don't think BFC's are professionals? but the remit is obviously massively different for a BFC compared to PS and I think the BFC world could use your enthusiasm :)

  7. Anon I know! The one far left on the second line is the most scary I think - robot feeding arm!

  8. Ps - admittedly the BF don't state whether the cot side should be on or off!
    This is a really interesting site re co-sleeping:
    The biggest danger-factor seems to be smoking, and obviously substance abuse (be it alcohol or something else!) as well.
    There is evidence to suggest that breastfeeding co-sleeping mothers get more sleep than their bottle feeding counterparts though.
    Bottle fed babies are often put into their own rooms earlier, and this increases their risk of SIDS.
    I've seen many suggestions that breastfeeding mothers sleep differently with their babies and feel they are more connected to them. The concern I think you're referring to re. co-sleeping/ bottle feeding might be to do with these 'instinctive' sleeping positions. They found that 'that bed-sharing may be safer for breast-fed than never-breast-fed infants.' - 'Principal safety issues
    regarding bed-sharing relate to the characteristic differences of these two groups:
    the danger of accidental suffocation by an infant sleeping on or near the parental
    pillows is cause for concern regarding formula-fed infants, while the tendency of
    breast-fed infant to assume a lateral rather than supine sleep position while bedsharing
    might cause concerns regarding the possibly elevated risk of SIDS.'.
    So the fact that breastfed babies tend to sleep on their sides is also considered a risk factor for SIDS even though they're less likely to be at risk of pillow smothering. They suggest that further studies be done 'with cases matched for feeding behaviour.'.

  9. Well no tbh I was thinking more of the staph bacteria found in higher concentration in parental beds which is linked with SIDS. As AF infants have reduced immunity there is suggestion they may be more susceptible to this.

    I must confess to being a bit confused about the info you posted above though. The link you posted from says:

    For breast-fed infants, mother-infant orientation, sleep position, frequency of feeding, arousal, and synchronous arousal were all consistent with previous sleep-lab studies of mother-infant bed-sharing behavior, but significant differences were found between formula and breast-fed infants. While breast-feeding mothers shared a bed with their infants in a characteristic manner that provided several safety benefits, formula-feeding mothers shared a bed in a more variable manner with consequences for infant safety.

    QUOTE - while the tendency of breast-fed infant to assume a lateral rather than supine sleep position while bedsharing might cause concerns regarding the possibly elevated risk of SIDS

    Is there any evidence at all to support this though? ie that when bed sharing whilst bfing there is risk from the supine position? I belive babies are biologically programmed to be next to mum when feeding, so if this position is often assumed I would suspect it not to be an issue. Sleeping position may be far more of a factor for sole sleepers or bottle fed infants due to oral abnormalitites caused by a bottle and paci.

  10. Hiya - I thought the term 'co-sleeping' was most often used in a different way to 'bed sharing' - I admit that the distinction could be a confusing one! I hope I showed in the piece that my personal definition of co-sleeping includes room sharing.
    I'm not sure exactly why the reports authors stated the section you highlighted in their conclusions but I totally agree with you that it goes against instinct. I can only guess that they included it here because of the advice about always putting babies to sleep on their backs to lower the SIDS risk, and the breastfed babies in this study tended to sleep on their sides? The report does say that in other studies elsewhere (Bristol and California) the breastfed babies HAD slept on their backs.
    Fleming from the Bristol study raises another issue here (pandora's box now truely opened!) which is that of tired non-co-sleeping parents falling asleep elsewhere & that increases the risks even further. "Any advice to discourage bedsharing may carry with it the danger of tired parents feeding their baby on a sofa, which carries a much greater risk than co-sleeping in the parents' bed,"
    Re. the Staph and Ecoli bacteria - that's a really good point, and one I admit I didn't know about. :-S Certainly ffed babies have reduced immunity. I will put something in the piece about this - thank you.
    Re. training - it wasn't on FB! People were asking me to put something about myself on there and so I ended up writing my story on the blog - I put it in there. I'll play it by ear - as I understand it LLL are v strict when it comes to prerequistes for leader training so I may not be suitable (having had some separation from M). If not, there will be something else for me. ;) Thanks for your encouragement. xo

  11. I'm amazed and horrified at the range of bottle prop deviced you've found pics of. I had no idea there were so many, but my personal worst is the baby in the car seat with 'prop'- I think its the outstretched arms that upset me.

  12. Hiya
    QUOTE I'm not sure exactly why the reports authors stated the section you highlighted in their conclusions but I totally agree with you that it goes against instinct. I can only guess that they included it here because of the advice about always putting babies to sleep on their backs to lower the SIDS risk, and the breastfed babies in this study tended to sleep on their sides? END

    Well I think they included it because in a study such as this, they are not taking other studies and their findings into account? purely analysing this study and any observations - so the positional thing is worth noting. The trouble with positional studies however is that they are generally only studying position and very rarely factor in to their analysis feeding method ie % of infants exclusively breastfed until 6 months Not least because it's hard to find enough that do so - therefore most (and I've read SO many) either consider "any breastmilk" or breastfed for a shorter length of time eg 12 weeks (which is pointless given the risks don't reduce until 6 mths)

    Several experts cover the "discouraging bedsharing promotes risky sleep" and I totally agree for the BF baby. As non breastfeedings mums doesn't appear to offer the same level of maternal protection when sleeping though (ie sleep cycles are different, type of sleep is different and so on) and as such MAY present a risk - I guess the question is whether a moses basket or suchlike less or more of a risk? For me when discussing a BF baby, there is potentially more risk placing a barrier betwen mum and baby which removes the protective behaviour (McKenna covers this quite a lot in various studies as do a few others) but if that isn't there anyway....

    Will check out your thing on the blog - managed to miss it totally! If LLL don't want you, more fool them - am sure one of the other orgs will! Whilst I get the criteria is to prevent those not suitable - someone only has to check out your blog to see you surely more than meet requirements! Passion, enthusiasm and a belief breastfeeding is the absolute norm are surely the most vital traits!

  13. I'm reading Nurture Shock. The authors write about the negative effects of praise on children. Essentially that kind of non-specific praise, the all encompassing: "You are the greatest, and I love you so much", is toxic to children. It makes them feel awkward, it makes them feel unworthy, it makes them feel bad and it is harmful to their developing egos. I mean, most of us know we aren't actually The Greatest. From an early age we know we have our flaws. We are astute, and we know when parents are bullshitting us. What we need, say the authors, is directed, honest opinions. "I noticed that you tried hard to get the ball. I admire your tenacity".

    I think babies know this too. They know when we are being authentic. And that's the thing I have issue with in your article. Sorry, but your tips feel like telling mothers five ways to fake it. I feel you either have it or you don't.

  14. Hi Anon
    Sounds similar to Alfie Khon punished by rewards? and think it's also mentioned in Unconditional Parenting.

    However - I don't personally think it's in any way comparable.

    As maternal behaviour and bonding in the early weeks is so linked to hormones - saying you either have the hormones or you don't would seem a bit harsh; and at what cost to both parent and chid longterm? there are no risks associated with not "bullshitting" your child as you put it - there are risks to an ineffectively bonded mother and baby dyad, and at the very worst case end of that scale potentially even abuse and neglect.

    A mum swimming with hormones naturally acts a certain way, a mother without acts differently - however as promoting certain behaviours initially ie "fakin it", in turn increases the levels of hormones, causing mum in turn to the naturally adopt the more nurturing behaviours; I think it's clearly NOT a case of you either have it or you don't - more you either have it or you can get it!

  15. could you add something onto the end of that about disabled parenting? im lucky that i can hodl my baby and breastfeed tehm but what abotu the parent who conserves tehir energy to spent tiem with their child and sits next to them while one of these bottle holders holds teh bottle for tehm so tehy dont waste energy holding the bottle up for a long period of tiem?

    i dont agree with teh reason that these bottle holders are made (to enable perfectly capable parents to be lazy) but what abotu the disabled parents that they help?

    ive always seen you as a fair person so thought id point this out :) if someone is seen using one of these while out and htey dont look disabled doesnt mean they arent... soemtimes im ok and walk witht eh pram or the kids, other days im on crutches or in my wheelchair, and otehr days i cant even roll over in bed, let alone get out of it, so appearances can be deceiving. when im on teh bus i wont give my seat to an elderly person because i am disabled and i need it jsut as much as tehm. i have been confronted about this before and its not very nice havign to explain that despite beign only 25 and looking perfectly fit i am not... imagine if it was to happed to a disabled parent usign one of these in public? x


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