Being left along with a baby for an extended period of time can be a harrowing experience for a new father. At times, this is simply a lack of exposure. But even for a Dad down in the trenches, running solo is always scary because you will inevitably run into the food dilemma.

If you’re formula-feeding your baby (or supplementing), Dads are far more likely to be battle hardened for solo time with the baby. This post is assuming that you’re opting for the breastfeeding route.

Prior to introducing a bottle (which is another one of those highly variable things — some parents will need to introduce a bottle early on, some may wait — but the wisdom handed down by doctors and books dictates that you should probably start thinking about introducing the bottle around 6 weeks and slowly ease the baby into it. Too early and he might get confused about bottle vs. Mom. Too late and he might decide he doesn’t want to ever like it), there’s simply no way that a Dad can go too long without Mom around. This becomes a pretty nice security blanket. You know that you’re never more than a couple hours from the cavalry arriving.

But after the bottle is in the picture, you’re no longer insulated. I figured today (Saturday) was a good day for me to write this post, as it will help me commit details to memory and psyche myself up for the coming challenge. Janelle will be off for a day of bachelorette events for a good friend of ours. She’ll be leaving around 2pm and returning at 9pm or later. I’m pretty excited she’ll be getting an outing, as I feel guilty that to date the extended absences have been mine alone. But the fact remains that this will be the longest period of time that either of us have been alone with Joshua, and the honor is falling to the journeyman.

Just because I relish the notion of wading in waist-deep for alone-time with Joshua doesn’t mean that the prospect isn’t vaguely spine-chilling.

Today will be the sixth instance where I’ve fed Joshua from a bottle. Three of the previous times went smoothly. Two of them did not. I will explain why and how in each case, but first, some critical information regarding breastmilk, an almost mythical substance, for new Dads.

Breastmilk, after being expressed and stored by Mom via pumping (which is 100% weird to watch happen), can be left alone, at room temperature, for about four to six hours. This is room temperature at around mid-70s, by the by. None of your Arizona heatwave shit. If you choose to immediately refrigerate expressed breastmilk, it will stay good for around three days.

Frozen breastmilk can be kept for six months (be sure to label it clearly with the date). Once you remove breastmilk from the freezer and place it in the fridge to thaw, you must use it within approximately 24 hours. Once you’ve heated breastmilk (whether by running the bottle under hot tap water or boiling water on the stove – do not microwave it as the milk may end up being deceptively hot in contrast to the cool bottle exterior and may not be a uniform temperature throughout) you need to use it within about 30 minutes of the heating.

The tricky part about getting ready for a bottle feed, unless your baby isn’t too picky, is timing heating the milk. You don’t want to start too early, especially if your baby is sleeping, as you don’t want to interrupt a nap just so you can use the milk you heated up. But start too late and you run the risk of having a very, very angry baby while you stand around and hope that physics will hurry up. Your best bet is to have a pot with water waiting on the stove and when you hear those cries that mean an awake baby is imminent, fire up the burner, drop in the bottle and then go retrieve your kid. Once you’ve checked and/or changed a diaper and gotten your feeding area all set up, that bottle should be most of the way, if not all of the way, heated. Some babies may not care about the temperature of the milk, but Joshua 100% does. Two of the times I had trouble feeding him the milk was warmed up… but still slightly cool. And he basically demanded the waiter send it back to the kitchen to be heated better by screaming very loudly and generally drooling milk everywhere.

Check the milk’s temperature before you start. Just like you used to see in TV and movies, a couple drops on your wrist will do it. Get your baby positioned how you like. Any way that is comfortable for you and for the baby is workable, but it is advised to use a different setup (location and orientation) than the one Mom uses so you don’t confuse the baby. They should realize that this is a new thing happening, and not the usual. My only real notes regarding your position is make sure it’s one where you can, without too much jostling, adjust the angle of your baby. With a boob, he’ll just stay in one position until he’s done. With a bottle, you’ll want to be tipping that bottle up to get all the milk out, and at a certain degree of movement, you’ll pop it right out of your baby’s mouth if you’re not careful. Also, and this is something easy to neglect, make sure you’re set up to be comfortable for the next 15-20 minutes. Bottlefeeding is fast, but it’s more that it is faster than it is actually a fast process.

Before you bottlefeed, I recommend that you pay close attention to how your partner helps the baby feed. There are many, many particulars she is keeping in mind. You have it easier, but let’s try not to undo all her hard work, shall we? Most noteworthy here is how she sets up your baby’s lips when he’s feeding. If a baby is sucking poorly it’s not only likely he’s not sucking very well and getting in a sub-par amount of milk and potentially a lot of air for tummy problems later, he’s also likely causing Mom a lot of pain. If not now, later for sure. So, you want to do on the bottle the same thing Mom does on the breast. Pull his lips out. When a baby is feeding, it should look like he’s making duck lips. You want to ensure he’s not curling his lips in or clamping them down. Basically, you want your baby to look like, if you were to remove the bottle and keep the face the same, he’s doing his impression of someone with too much lip collagen.

Burping is going to be important. When you burp will be determined by how well your baby feeds on a bottle. Here’s where we get back to the couple times Joshua did not feed well. Because a baby has a tendency to take in more air feeding from a bottle, I wanted to make sure to get a burping session or two in during his feedings. However, it seems that once the initial flow of milk has stopped, that Joshua loses interest in going back on the bottle. Not quite as good as the real thing, I suppose. So, I wait until he’s finished entirely now, and hope that he doesn’t get so much air that his burping turns into spitting up. If your baby is less particular, I recommend stopping to burp about halfway through the feed. This way you can free up air bubbles, and also approximate the pause mid-feeding where Mom would be switching him from one breast to the other.

Don’t be alarmed if the feeding seems awkward. For starters, Mom’s had weeks of practice where she gets to clock in some hours six times a day. But you’re also trying to approximate a natural system with all sorts of foreign hardware. It’s going to be awkward. As long as the baby gets his meal, though, you’ve done a great job. Even if there’s squirming and spitting and crying and dribbled milk, as long as more of that milk ends up in the baby’s tummy than on a burp cloth, call it a win.

For a final note, there are a many types of bottles out there. What we went with was a brand called The First Years and their Breastflow line. The notion here is that the shape of the bottle top (very wide) will approximate the breast better in your baby’s mouth. Also, the double reservoir system in the nipple will slow down the flow of milk for your baby, making it more like the speed the milk is released from Mom.

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  1. #1 by Júlli on August 10, 2010 - 4:12 AM

    I loved feeding Emil when I first got the chance (still do actually). There’s a feeling of intimacy with your baby that you don’t really get elsewhere.

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