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Overnight Breastfeeding and the Myth of Bonding with Bottles

There is a new trend that suggests that daddy or someone else needs to feed the baby in order to bond with the baby. In addition, mothers faced with all the uncertainties that come with breastfeeding often agree to having another person feed the baby at night in an attempt to get some well-deserved rest.

Our overtired brains seldom anticipate the exhaustion that comes from looking after a newborn. Once we experience it, we are always trying to find ways to streamline our experience of the postnatal, trying to make life easier. These days we are having babies later in life, so mothers have been part of the workforce since adolescence. Some new mothers have been in the executive world, running businesses, managing people, and in contrast to all this productivity, it can be quite a shock to find yourself completely and utterly at the beck and call of a newborn who needs you - you and nobody else. And the truth of the matter is that there is no other place in the universe as comforting to your baby than to be at your breast.

Although night-time feeding can be acutely exhausting, it works its magic too. Night-time breastfeeding is very important to maintaining milk supply. Mothers tend to make more milk overnight. If we have our biggest meal in the evening, this would make sense. Our little creatures, these newborns, are quite cleaver, they know how to survive, and they are ensuring their survival.

At the same time, they are developing their circadian cycles, they are developing and building their brains, they are lowering a mother’s risk of postnatal depression, and ultimately, they are helping their mother to get more sleep.

Wait. What? More sleep?

Yes, studies have shown that breastfeeding mothers get on average 45 minutes more minutes of sleep per night. This might sound surprising, but if you consider the preparation making up a bottle, whether breastmilk or formula, there is quite a bit of work involved. Even if the bottles have been sterilized and the contents prepared in advance, breast milk is always at the right temperature and near at hand.

Considering this latest trend, the idea that other people who want to bond with the baby need to do it by feeding the baby, especially daddies, I have a few concerns. Of course, feeing the baby with a bottle is certainly a choice for the parents. But recently on the ‘Breastfeeding Berkshire’ Facebook page, I really enjoyed a particular post with 2 photos of Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson with his newborn. One is of him doing skin to skin with his baby and the other is a picture of him feeding his wife food while she sits there breastfeeding.

The text that went with these pictures, by Lisa Marie O’Sullivan-Robinson, says the images are ‘taking aim at the myth that families that do not want, or need, to introduce a bottle must do so because it’s the only way for partners to help out and bond with their baby. Not just for partners either - grandparents, aunts, uncles, second cousin Doris twice removed on your father’s side. Sorry, I digress, but many families are coerced into introducing bottles against their will by this myth because it’s something they are told they must do. The fact is there are many ways partners, friends and relatives can help out that have nothing to do with bottles. Cook, clean, shop, do dishes, do laundry, offer to take to take baby for a walk while mum showers. Honestly, letting mum sit down with a cup of tea, a plate of food, to put her feet up while she feeds baby and you run a mop over the kitchen floor is likely to be far more helpful than you sitting on your bum feeding the baby while she loads the dishwasher. Ditto bonding - you can have skin to skin, give cuddles, you can wear baby in a sling and take them for a walk, you can bath them, change nappies, sing to them, talk to them, do baby massage, literally everything except feed them. If you did everything except breastfeed, then you would be the primary carer. You do not need to bottle feed in order to bond.’

It is indeed a myth that babies need to bond by being fed a bottle by somebody else. There is a tremendous amount of bonding that comes with breastfeeding that only mum is privileged to enjoy. After all, didn’t she carry the baby all that time in her womb, then go through childbirth? If she gets to enjoy bonding with her baby by breastfeeding day and night, she has earnt that right. Don’t try to bully her into handing her baby over to be bottle fed by someone else by using emotional blackmail; it really isn’t necessary, or kind.

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