Breastfeeding is one of the most natural processes in the world. However, it doesn't always come naturally or easily. For some mamas, it is as simple as putting baby to breast. For most mamas (and babies), it is a big learning curve. Sometimes, there are instances in which a parent isn't able to, or does not want to, nurse their baby. Luckily, there are ways to breastfeed/chestfeed baby other than directly from the breast.
Everyone's journey is unique. Alternative feeding methods can be short-term, temporary, transitional, or long-term. Reasons they are needed include:
- Baby being born premature
- Adoptive mother
- Non-gestational parent
- Milk supply issues
- Latching or sucking issues
- Breast or nipple surgery
- Body modifications
- Health reasons
- Working mother
- Exclusively pumping mother
- Baby cannot or will not take a bottle
- And more
Any amount of breastmilk that your baby gets is beneficial for them. Whether a mama is exclusively breastfeeding, exclusively pumping, feeding expressed milk (her own or donor), supplementing breastmilk with formula, or any combination thereof, she is a breastfeeding mama. "Breastfeeding" can happen in a variety of ways!
All the methods have pros and cons. If continuing to also feed directly from the breast is important to you, many factors should be considered, since alternative feeding methods can have different impacts on baby's ability to breastfeed directly. Other factors to consider may include cost, ease of use, safety, cleanliness, length of use, reasons needed, baby's preference, parents' preference, impact on oral development, and again, potential impact on feeding from breast.
It is important to note that we always recommend that you see a certified lactation consultant or attend a legitimate breastfeeding support group - La Leche League is international - if you are having any issues and/or you want to find out about your options for alternative feeding methods. No matter what technique or method is used, it is imperative to use it properly. Especially with cup, spoon, and syringe/eyedropper methods because if not done correctly, these can lead to overfeeding or even aspiration.
Alternative feeding methods include:
- Bottle feeding
- Cup feeding
- Spoon feeding
- Syringe or Eyedropper feeding
- Finger feeding
- Nursing supplementer (sometimes called an SNS system)
Of course, bottle feeding is the most common and most well-known way to feed a baby who is not breastfeeding directly. Bottles are typically not the best choice if the baby is less than four weeks old. Some babies are picky about the type of bottle and nipple they will take. Bottles are used most commonly long-term by exclusive pumpers, working moms, when supplementing with donor milk or formula, and more. Always choose the slowest flow nipple available and make sure to be well-versed on how to bottle feed correctly. You may need to educate yourself and any partners or caregivers about paced feeding.
It may seem unbelievable, but yes - even very small infants are able to drink from a cup! Most people who use this method prefer cups that are small and slightly flexible. This is often a great short-term option that will transition well to baby still being able to feed from the breast. It is extremely important to learn the correct and safe way to use this method from a trained professional.
Using a spoon is often a very temporary, transitional method. If a baby is too sleepy or lethargic after birth and not latching, a spoon can be used to give them tiny amounts of colostrum. When done correctly, the baby can drink at his/her own pace.
Syringe or Eyedropper Feeding
This can be used on its own or in combination with the breast. The tip of a feeding syringe can be inserted into the baby's mouth while they latch onto the breast, in order to give some supplementation while still encouraging baby's latching and mama's milk supply. It can be used on its own to give a young baby small amounts slowly. Care should be taken to pay attention to baby's swallowing in an attempt to allow them to "control" the amount they receive.
This is usually used if a baby is having latching issues. It is used in conjunction with a nursing supplementer system. Tubing is attached to the finger. The baby is able to "latch" and suck on your finger while receiving milk from the attached tube. When done properly, it can teach baby correct latching position.
Nursing Supplementer (SNS System)
This is probably one of the best and safest options. It is especially beneficial when wanting to protect or encourage the nursing journey and milk supply, since it doesn't interfere with direct breastfeeding. This is more of a long-term method and is used when baby is able and willing to latch onto mama's breast. There is a tube that is secured to the breast. This device is often used to supplement a low breastmilk supply. It can also be used by adoptive mothers and those wanting to establish a breastfeeding journey or even relactate. They can also be used by preemies or babies having some sucking issues. A nursing supplementer is a great alternative feeding option for almost any of the reasons a different method may be needed or wanted.
Breastfeeding is natural, but it doesn't always come naturally. Whether you want or need a short-term or long-term alternative feeding method, you can still have a successful breastfeeding journey. Don't hesitate to reach out to a lactation consultant. We can help solve any issues you may have, direct you to the best feeding solution for your situation, provide training on proper usage and technique, and also help integrate the chosen system with direct breastfeeding.