7 Tips for Bonding With Baby While Bottle-Feeding
There’s lots of research around how parental feeding practices can help foster an emotional bond with baby. After all, babies need to be fed to grow and thrive, and they rely on parents for this (and every other) act of caregiving. According to clinical psychologist Shoshana Bennett, PhD, bonding is a process of familiarity and getting to know each other that happens over time—and it can be fostered no matter how baby is fed. While breastfeeding is often discussed as an effective tool for bonding, know that bottle-feeding is just as powerful an opportunity. “The act of feeding is more important than what is in the bottle,” says Natasha Burgert, MD, FAAP, a Kansas-based pediatrician and Philips Avent expert. “An increasing body of research is focusing on factors that increase bonding between infants and non-birthing parents…All parents have an equal chance for bonding success, regardless how an infant is fed or the design of their family.”
When it comes to forging a strong connection with baby, a lot of it stems from feelings of comfort, reassurance and dependability for both the parent and baby. “Parents who feel they are successfully providing comforting nourishment to their infants report stronger bonding,” Burgert says. So how can you and your partner go about nurturing that close connection? Check out these expert tips for bonding while bottle-feeding.
With all the things you have going on and how much time you spend feeding baby in those first few months, it can be hard not to multitask. But when it comes to forming a connection between you and your little one, staying present is one of the most important things you can do, says Susan G. Groner, a parenting coach and founder of The Parenting Mentor. “Instead of this being purely about getting sustenance into your baby, think about it as building closeness. No phones. No books.” Give baby your full attention while they’re bottle-feeding, and don’t rush them to finish. Instead, let them snuggle you to their heart’s desire—and let yourself savor this precious time too.
This one might be a no-brainer, but if it’s the middle of the night and you’re exhausted, you might not find yourself smiling down at your little one as much. However, research has found time and again that there’s a strong correlation between facial expressions and emotional bonding between parents and infants. The notion was first introduced in the revolutionary “still face” experiment, published in the 1970s, which demonstrated both babies’ need for connection in infancy and how parental facial expressions can help or hinder that bond. Since then, several studies have further confirmed the findings. A 2015 study even found that the bonding process is so effective that by 4 months old babies smile to make their moms smile.
Similar to smiling at baby, studies also show that eye contact assists baby’s learning and cognitive development and influences how their brains process emotions. Eye contact has also been found to strengthen the communication between babies and their caregivers. More good news? It’s easy to make great eye contact with baby while bottle-feeding, so take advantage of it! “Eye contact is a fundamental way to demonstrate human interest and care,” Burgert says. “Feeding time is not a break to scroll, but an opportunity to connect.”
There are numerous proven benefits of skin-to-skin contact and physical touch between babies and their parents. Studies have found that physical touch can stabilize baby’s heart rate and breathing, lead to decreased crying and aid both parents bond with baby. According to a 2011 study, non-birthing partners were able to connect with their newborns through infant massage and cuddling. “Skin-to-skin contact is thought to improve emotional co-regulation, decreasing stress and anxiety in both the infant and parent,” Burgert explains. To better bond with your little one, use physical touch during your bottle-feeding sessions. Try taking off or unbuttoning your shirt and holding baby close to your chest. Or, “add a few minutes of skin-to-skin time during burping or after-feeding snuggle time for the first few weeks of life,” Burgert suggests.
You might have already guessed that babies find their parents’ voices calming, but you might not know the extent of its power. A 2019 study found that soothing sounds from parents resulted in a calming response for babies; a 2021 study found that mom’s voice actually reduced pain levels in premature babies by triggering a release of oxytocin (the “feel good” hormone); and a 2022 study demonstrated that when parents sing lullabies to babies, it doesn’t just calm them down in the moment, but it also benefits their emotional regulation later on in life. Based on the research, it’s clear that making soothing sounds and singing lullabies to baby aid in forming the baby-parent bond. “They get used to hearing your voice and knowing it’s safe,” Groner explains. To incorporate this during bottle-feedings, try speaking to your child in a loving, quiet voice or singing to them.
It isn’t just your voice that baby finds calming—music can also help. “Feeding is a multisensory experience,” Burgert says. “Adding music during the feeding session has been shown to increase bonding.” According to a 2021 study, when combined with skin-to-skin contact, music therapy can strengthen the bond between babies and their parents. Another 2021 study also found that music can assist in the building and maintenance of the bond between parents and their young children during times of uncertainty and change.
It may save you a few minutes, but propping baby up with a bottle can be unsafe and wastes potential bonding time. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, propping the bottle causes an increased risk of choking, the bottle slipping out of position, ear infections, tooth decay and overfeeding. “Bottle propping is not only a dangerous practice, but it limits a parent’s ability to cuddle and touch their babies. Babies are calmed by loving touch,” Burgert says. “When bottle feeding results in a calm and content infant, the nourishment provided extends beyond physical calories and includes an invaluable emotional connection.”
About the experts:
Susan G. Groner is a New York City-based parenting coach, certified parent educator and creator of the CLEARR method of parenting. She is also the founder of the consultancy The Parenting Mentor and author of Parenting with Sanity & Joy: 101 Simple Strategies.
Natasha Burgert, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician at Pediatric Associates in South Overland Park, Kansas, an expert partner with Philips Avent and the blogger behind KC Kids Doc. She earned her medical degree from University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
Shoshana Bennett, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist with over three decades of experience. She is the author of several books on the topic of postpartum depression and has previously served as the president of Postpartum Support International.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.