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The “Just One Bottle” Myth

By Aisha Al Hajjar, AMANI |

AS a lactation consultant (breastfeeding counselor) I often get calls or emails from nervous new mothers who worry that their milk supply isn’t enough or has dried up. It’s understandable to have such concerns, especially with the myriad of pressures from friends, relatives, doctors, and media to supplement with bottle feeds.

Generally speaking, these worries are not justified. In fact, most mothers produce more milk than their baby needs and the more she nurses, the more milk her body will make.

“False Alarms”

Mothers get alarmed and attribute several myths to their worry about supply:

Baby may change feeding frequency or habit

It is expected that baby’s feeding patterns will change over time. In fact, it’s very common for babies to increase feeding frequencies just before a growth spurt.

Mother’s breasts feeling less full than before

As mother’s body adjusts to the sucking stimulus, she will find that her breasts do not feel full between feedings, since the milk is not “let down” until the baby suckles.

Inability to get much milk while pumping

A lack of expressed milk may just mean that mother is not able to effectively replicate “let down” using pumps or hand expression. It’s also important to understand that the mother must acheive a very relaxed state in order to release hormones in her brain that trigger her milk to “let down” (whether nursing or pumping). Often times, she just cannot reach that deep level of relaxation while pumping, as she naturally does when actually nursing her infant.

Baby having fussy periods

Fussy periods can be caused by many factors, including nipple confusion or lazy nursing after experiencing the easy flow of artificial teats. Onset of illness or teething can also be normal culprits to baby’s change in behavior.
Trust Your Body

For many women it’s difficult to just trust our bodies to provide for our babies. Since we can’t measure how much our babies are drinking we are vulnerable to doubts, worry, and outside influences.

However, the best determinations are the baby’s output (wet/soiled diapers) and weight gain. Newborns will typically need to be changed six times per day with three or more of those being soiled changes. As babies mature, it is normal to have less bowel movements than before (usually after six weeks of age).

As for weight gain, it is important to note that babies lose up to 10% of the birth weight. If they have gained back to their weight at birth by two weeks, they are doing well! From this point until about three months they should gain 140 to 170 grams (5-6 ounces) per week.

Unfortunately, many doctors do not receive adequate training or study in lactation. Additionally, it’s much easier to calm a worried mother by offering the “easy” and measurable alternative of bottle feeding during a ten or fifteen minute office consultation than spending the time it may take to counsel and reassure a breastfeeding mother who may have a hard time believing what she cannot see (amount of milk being consumed).

Expect Insatiable Nursing

Growth spurts can also be a cause for concern as baby will suddenly seem to be hungry “all the time.” Typically they occur between 2-3 weeks, at six weeks, and again at three months. Sadly, many women make the mistake of “just one bottle” during these times as they feel their baby’s insatiable hunger is a sign of starvation rather than a natural increase in stimulation to prepare extra milk for the coming spurt.

[Qur’an 2:233] “…mothers may nurse their children for two whole years, if they wish to complete the period of nursing…
It’s no coincidence that the majority of women who do not complete the full two-year nursing term tend to quit after just 2-3 weeks, or at six weeks, or at three months. I really cannot stress enough that the baby needs NOTHING but mama’s breast milk for the first six months of his/her life. As I said in Relearning the Natural Way of Infant Feeding,

“Nothing” really does mean NOTHING: no formula supplements, no baby cereal or foods, no juice, no teas, not even water!

“Just One Bottle”

The biggest concern I have as a lactation consultant is the “just one bottle” myth. Many mothers are encouraged to get some extra rest or to leave baby with a relative and allow “just one bottle” of formula. “Just one bottle” can interrupt the establishment of milk supply and put a mother on a downward spiral towards more and more supplementing and less and less nursing.

Read what the World Health Organization and others have to say about supplements:

1. “The administration by bottle and teat of water, herbal teas, glucose solutions or worse still, milk-based formulas, not only is unnecessary on nutritional grounds, but reduces the infant’s sucking capacity and therefore the mother’s lactation stimulus. Furthermore, such practices increase the risk of introducing infection and in the case of milk-based formulas, of sensitizing an infant to cow’s milk proteins!” –Joint WHO/UNICEF Statement, 2006

2. “Babies who are fed by bottle are likely to suck the breast in the same way. “Nipple sucking”, in contrast to “breastfeeding”, means the baby does not open her mouth and attach to the breast in a way that effectively removes milk and causes breastfeeding hormones to be released. Mothers of babies who have been given bottles often get sore nipples and make less milk because their babies are nursing ineffectively. Pacifiers can cause the same problem. Even one bottle can interfere with breastfeeding. The risk of interrupting breastfeeding increases with the number of bottles given.” –Responsibilities of Health Workers under the International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes and WHO Resolutions, 2009, ICDC

3. “Breast milk is the only necessary food for the first six months of an infant’s life. No formula preparation comes close to breast milk in meeting the nutritional needs of infants and yet over the past century, the formula industry has reversed feeding trends from primarily breastfeeding to formula feeding through pervasive marketing strategies targeting hospitals, health providers, and the general public.” –Kaplan, D.L. and Graff, K.M., Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 2008

4. “Breast milk is a ‘live’ food that contains living cells, hormones, active enzymes, antibodies and at least 400 other unique components. It is a dynamic substance, the composition changes from the beginning to the end of the feed according to the age and needs of the baby. Because it also provides active immunity, every time a baby breastfeeds it receives protection from disease. Compared to this miraculous substance, the artificial milk sold as infant formula is little more than junk food. It is the only manufactured food that humans are encouraged to consume exclusively for a period of months, even though we know that no human body can be expected to stay healthy and thrive on a steady diet of processed food.” –Thomas, P. “Suck on This”, The Ecologist, 2006

Supply and Demand

Just take a look at this example of a mother who supplied milk for nine infants in a time of dire emergency: Officer Breastfeeds Quake Orphans. Surely, if she could sustain a baseball team of infants, masha’Allah, the average woman can supply one, insha’Allah.

The point is that our bodies are amazingly designed by the best Creator to provide all the nourishment our babies need. It is a delicate balance between mother and baby; demand stimulating supply.

Unfortunately, this natural balance is upset when we introduce something “man” has claimed equivalent or better than that which Allah has provided. “Just one bottle” really can make a detrimental difference, especially in the very early days.

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