Healthy Kids/ Motherhood

Bottlenursing My Toddler

Today’s post is written by Cassandra about the ingenious idea of bottlenursing, where she set up a routine that mimics breastfeeding in every non-nutritive aspect and allowed for the bond with her daughter to grow and flourish in the most basic of ways. I did bottlenursing with my daughter for the first 5 months of her life until she finally started nursing. I would let her rest her cheek on my boob so she was getting skin to skin and cradle her in a nursing position.-Stephanie 🙂

I met Stephanie almost a year and a half ago when I found her post about how she turned things around with her daughter to begin comfort nursing. We had similar situations where we couldn’t breastfeed following birth, but I was unable to get as far as Stephanie did and eventually gave up the struggle altogether.

From about two weeks old, my daughter had to be bottle fed and the thought of doing so tore me apart for a very long time. I was determined to maintain some semblance of normalcy by nursing her with the bottle on my chest instead of propping it or teaching her to hold it. While it’s not a perfect substitution for breastfeeding, it’s the closest thing we had then and still do.

Even after my daughter could sit up and grasp items, beyond where she could chew food and her digestion developed enough to derive sufficient nutrients from food to survive, we have continued to bottlenurse. You see, there is a difference between nursing and feeding. Babies and toddlers have an inherent desire to suckle because it is normal and natural for children to continue suckling at the breast for many years.

In an article published by Dr. Katherine Dettwyler, she compares natural weaning ages of animals closest to us genetically to demonstrate that, “The minimum predicted age for a natural age of weaning in humans is 2.5 years, with a maximum of 7.0 years.” She uses many different examples of how the age of weaning is calculated, but the gist of it is that humans take a very long time to mature and it is only modern humans who have suddenly decided that nursing should no longer be a part of the beginning stages of maturation.

In modern society, we frequently see children as old as 4 or 5 still sucking on pacifiers and enamored with their thumbs. Sometimes the thumb sucking continues all the way through adolescence and into the adult years. Hardly anyone stops to wonder if maybe the abrupt removal of the most natural aspect of human nature and subsequent shaming and demonizing of it has anything to do with the behavior. Not to mention the pervasive obsession with breasts to begin with.

Far too many people focus on the “breast” part of the equation without thinking much about the result; mother and child closely bonded in physical, emotional and mental wellbeing by the single grea
source of nourishment, comfort and warmth a mother can give outside of the womb.

What does this have to do with bottlenursing? Well, my experience with it clearly demonstrates the difference between nursing and feeding, and why it’s important to allow a child to continue to nurse beyond some designated time frame arbitrarily set by “experts” or social pressures.

I wrote this post when my daughter was only 7 months old, not fully comprehending the effects of my actions. I thought surely being that this was just a bottle and not the boob, she would not be attached to it or to me and would give it up as she started eating more food and drinking from a cup. Just because we had bottlenursed doesn’t mean she will continue to want to nurse like breastfed toddlers, right? It’s a boob thing, not a bottle thing!

Well, turns out the opposite happened. At 20 months old, she is very insistent that I be the one to give her a bottle, going so far as to retrieve the bottle, pry open my hands, shove it into my palm and flop over in my arms, mouth agape. If I am not home, she will usually forego a bottle altogether or take one only rarely from someone else.

You see, she wants to nurse.
She doesn’t want food.
She doesn’t want water.
She doesn’t want just a bottle.
She doesn’t want just to suck.
She doesn’t want just to cuddle.
She wants me to cradle her in my arms and provide for her milk from a nipple.
She wants to breathe in her mama’s scent, feel my warmth, listen to my breath, nuzzle against my skin, taste the familiar milk coming from the familiar texture of the nipple she has had her whole life.

Just because she is over a year old doesn’t mean she has magically grown beyond these desires (obviously). If she is upset, tired, bored, lonely, stressed, or just wants to be with me, she will clearly signal to me that she wants to nurse. Sometimes she only wants a couple sucks, sometimes she wants to stay for a whole hour. She wants it at night, when she wakes up, when she naps, when we get home from errands.

In every way she behaves exactly like a breastfed toddler, because the desire to nurse is hardwired into her like it is for all toddlers, whether it’s with a bottle or a boob. Eventually she will naturally decide to wean from it, just like all other toddlers, because you see, it’s normal to do so. And just how I swaddled my infant baby girl to mimick the womb, easing her transition into life on the outside at her own pace, I continue to give my toddler the comfort of nursing, easing her transition into childhood at her own pace. Breast or not, it is what is best for her.

You Might Also Like

  • Sarah M.
    June 18, 2012 at 2:36 PM

    This is not a judgemental question in the least, I just want to know what you think. Do you worry about the ramifications of her continuing to have a bottle past infancy? We know taking a bottle for too long can really harm jaw and tooth developement just like much older children sucking on pacifiers.

    Like I said, I’m really not judging. I just wonder what your thoughs are.

    • Cassandra
      June 18, 2012 at 2:55 PM

      Keep in mind that my daughter does not use the bottle nearly as often or for nearly the same length of time as other children use a pacifier, which is the benefit to me being in control of the bottle. Do I worry about her jaw muscles? Yes. Worry about her teeth? No. I have not been able to find any hardcore evidence that includes all factors of dental health (nutrition) that suggest bottlefeeding/pacifiers/thumbsucking will cause permanent damage such as crooked teeth. Given strong nutrition, the teeth will be able to overcome outside forces such as a soft silicone nipple that her teeth never actually rest on. Her jaw muscles are a different story and we do see a chiropractor who has been monitoring her to make sure she isn’t developing problems. Tongue tie can also drastically affect the jaw muscles and alignment, but I personally know several healthy adults who are still tongue tied to this day without issue. I’ve also known a few adult thumbsuckers who don’t have tooth or jaw problems either.

      • Kim
        June 18, 2012 at 5:40 PM

        My son insisted on bottle feeding until he was over 3, though mostly at night. He has no signs of any dental or otherwise. I think the emotional bond would be more important than crooked teeth anyhow.

        • Cassandra
          June 18, 2012 at 5:49 PM

          It’s quite obvious in our culture that not enough importance is placed on the emotional, mental and social health that is established in those first few years. As long as a kid appears healthy, most people assume that it equals complete health, when that’s simply not true.

  • Kelley
    June 18, 2012 at 8:11 PM

    What a beautiful story!!! It is soo wonderful the bond that the both of you have, and that you’ve kept at it. I’m going to think of you every time that I nurse even though I have no milk left there. No need to feel guilty about the lack of milk. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Cassandra
      June 18, 2012 at 8:18 PM

      Hi Kelley! Glad you made it over from MOBI and enjoyed the post. I love reading your stuff in that group, you’re a wonderful mama!

  • Tracy
    June 18, 2012 at 8:30 PM

    A beautiful story from a very wise mama. Just beautiful. And that picture is lovely. She looks exactly like my boob-nursing toddlers, all snuggled down into mama, relaxed and blissed out. So sweet. Such a lucky girl to have such a wise mama!

    • Cassandra
      June 18, 2012 at 8:32 PM

      Thank you!!

  • Jeanette
    June 18, 2012 at 8:40 PM

    Wonderful post! I bottlenurse my 23 month old, I have been pumping for him since a few days after his birth. These days, as my supply dwindles, I’m feeding him cows milk as well as breastmilk. I nurse my four older children, and I know how important sucking is to him. Like your little one, he needs me (and on occcasion his Daddy) to feed him.
    I do worry about jaw and palate development, especially as he had a PTT, Lip tie and very high bubble palate, but his need to suck overides that, it has to.

    • Cassandra
      June 18, 2012 at 8:44 PM

      Hi Jeanette! I’m really happy you read this, I love your blog. There are so many facets to health, it’s hard not to worry, but some things just take priority. It’s great you’re still able to have that bond with your little guy.

  • Tricia
    June 19, 2012 at 12:32 AM

    I have never heard of bottlenursing before this post. I am encouraged that you are in tune with the emotional needs of your kiddo.

    • Cassandra
      June 19, 2012 at 12:39 AM

      One of my goals with this post was to spread the word about the existence of bottlenursing, particularly extended bottlenursing. I had heard of other women doing it with older babies, but had not heard of anyone doing it with a toddler. They would all eventually just let the toddlers feed themselves with a bottle or switch to a sippy to give milk.

  • Meg
    June 19, 2012 at 1:22 AM

    First off. Thank you for writing this. It’s sad when Mothers want to Bfeed so badly & have obstacles. I breastfed my DD for a month. I went to see many lactation consultants and even took herbs and domperidone to improve my milk supply. Unfortunately my DD wasn’t gaining well and I resorted to exclusively pumping & bottle feeding her expressed milk for 9 months. It broke my heart, but she was still getting my milk which I was still fortunate to give her a fair amount. It was a tough go but I figured it was the least I could do for her since she couldn’t fully satisfy her hunger from my breast. I am still feeding her a bottle (now formula since I dried up at 9.5 months PP when I got ill) but we’ve weaned her to just 1 bottle at bedtime. I was told by my ND to get her off the bottle at 12 months. Must be done ASAP. She suggested weaning 1 bottle every 2 weeks. We are now down to 1 bottle a day (bedtime). It’s the most desired bottle of the day 🙂 It just doesn’t feel right to take this last one away. She really enjoys that closeness before bed & its her way of calming down for the day & just relaxing & cuddling Mommy or Daddy. Just wanted to say thanks for posting this. I feel like I really need to listen to my gut & maybe research more before I take this last one away from her.

    • Cassandra
      June 19, 2012 at 2:05 AM

      First off, what an amazing mama to do so much for your kiddo! It is a tough decision and I’m not going to persuade you one way or another. This was our experience and the research combined with our individual factors led to my decision to not wean her from the bottle yet. My supicions about 12 months old being the magical age for bottle weaning as well as breast weaning really tipped me off towards doing the research on my own.

      • Meg
        June 19, 2012 at 3:57 PM

        Thank you 🙂 I feel the same way. If I were breastfeeding I would still be breastfeeding in to toddlerhood. It feels wrong to deny her of the bottle just because its a “bottle” not a breast. Until I can find some hard evidence why not to do it at this point my DH & I have decided we let her be with her bedtime bottle (1x day). Thank you 🙂 I’ve subscribed to your blog. Found you through Candid Mommy

        • Cassandra
          June 19, 2012 at 4:31 PM

          Thanks for letting me know about Candid Mommy, very awesome YT channel she has.

  • Kelly
    June 19, 2012 at 2:55 AM

    What a beautiful description of why your daughter wants to nurse! It brought tears to my eyes because I love nursing my daughter and I can totally relate to the bond that you describe.

    • Cassandra
      June 19, 2012 at 3:16 AM

      Thank you! That was the whole point and I’m glad you agree it sounds very much the same.

  • Melissa
    June 19, 2012 at 7:24 AM

    What a lovely post! I had never heard of this before either, but have realised that is pretty much what I am doing with our 18 month old. She has never breastfed unfortunately as she was prem & my milk never came in, but she has never once fed herself a bottle. She’s the only child in our group of friends that doesn’t & we certainly cop alot of criticism, to the extent of people telling us we should just leave her crying ’til she picks up the bottle & feeds herself 🙁 I absolutely love the snuggle time/bonding & I am delighted she only wants me to feed her seeing as it’s only twice a day now & she is becoming so independent in every other way.

    • Cassandra
      June 19, 2012 at 12:05 PM

      I agree! I haven’t gotten criticism as of yet, but I do get a lot of weird looks. And since my toddler is so dang huge, we’re talking the size of a 3yo, people immediately ask me “How old is she!?” upon seeing me haul her into my lap for a bottle. Not only do the snuggles alone make it worth it, but also that I can still soothe her so easily, just like a breastfed toddler.

    • Meg
      June 19, 2012 at 4:32 PM

      I don’t understand why it isn’t socially acceptable to let babies be babies! My baby NEVER feeds herself a bottle. I tried once just to see if she wanted to and she didn’t. She likes the closeness. I’ve taught myself not to care what people think 🙂 Babies need love & they need to allowed to be little babies 🙂

  • Hannah
    June 20, 2012 at 8:59 PM

    I found the concept of “bottlenursing” wonderful. Of course, this is so very much different that kids using a bottle without “nursing” from it. I know too many parents who prop bottle starting as soon as the LO can manage, ignoring the importance of the “nursing” relationship. I think that this allows a mother (or father) to have a nursing relationship continue past the “no bottles past 12mth” mentality.

  • Lisa Waszkiewicz
    June 21, 2012 at 2:14 AM

    Vivid description. Took me back to those moments many years ago where I would sit and feed my daughter. The smells. The noise. The way she felt. Boobs or bottles… its more important to create that moment of connection.

  • Jennifer
    June 22, 2012 at 1:42 PM

    When my youngest child was 6 months I suffered an ectopic pregnancy which ruptured and left me physically unable to nurse her any longer. I continued to do what you are saying, bottlenurse, with formula. She is 2 now and will still pull up my shirt just so she can lay on my breast when she is wanting to go to sleep. I love it.

    • Cassandra
      June 22, 2012 at 4:06 PM

      How awful to go through that and then not be able to breastfeed, I’m so sorry. But it is adorable that she seeks you for comfort in that way. I wish I could have gotten a picture of my daughter sticking her hand down my shirt, but she was asleep there. She had only latched a couple times, so she didn’t even know that my chest meant anything, yet she still likes to touch and cling to it. More proof that nursing is normal regardless of circumstances!

  • Lily
    September 27, 2012 at 3:09 PM

    It is so nice to see an in-depth post about extended bottle-nursing. I plan to do this for as long as my son desires- he is 1 year old now, and still doesn’t hold his bottle, and doesn’t really understand sippy cups. His milk (donor breast milk, and just as of yesterday, a little bit of organic oat milk) is still in bottles, still in my arms. My son definitely has a preference for being fed by me, ESPECIALLY at night, when he wants comfort. 🙂

  • Kara
    October 9, 2012 at 6:46 AM

    Thank you for this post! I was unable to breastfeed my two children (and was devastated) and mimicked breastfeeding by bottle nursing. I thought it was just me and that I must be strange (or at least that’s what others had me to believe) for seeing the importance of the closeness, not just the breast. I stumbled upon your post when looking for a tutu tutorial:). You made my day! Thank you

  • Candance
    March 22, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    I am so happy I found this post, my daughter is 15 months and I have had to wean her from breastfeeding due to some medical issues that I am having. Getting her to take naps has been really hard and I thought I had tried everything. I am going to bottle nurse her today to see if she gets the comfort of breastfeeding but with a bottle. Thank you for sharing your amazing story!