By Ali Weatherford

A lot of people like the idea of dividing the responsibility of baby feeding between both parents. There are a lot of great reasons for doing this.

  • It can give each parent more uninterrupted sleep time.
  • It can help the non-breastfeeding parent enjoy the experience of feeding their hungry baby.
  • It can offer the non-breastfeeding parent a way to bond with the baby.
  • It can also give a breastfeeding parent opportunities to be away from the baby for longer periods of time knowing that their baby will be fed when hungry.

It might take some extra time and effort, but it’s true that a lot of families can make this work. How hard you want to try to make this work depends on your overall feeding goals.

If your goal is to make sure your baby gets only breast milk, this can mean some extra steps from the breastfeeding parent. In order to have bottles of breast milk that your partner can offer the baby, you’ll have to make time to pump or hand express some milk to store in the fridge or freezer.

For some people, this is pretty easy and worth the effort. For others, there might be some downsides that make it too hard to be worth it.

  • Pumping or hand expressing breast milk can be a very difficult chore for some people and might mean spending a lot of time attached to the pump. It might not feel worth the effort if this is the case for you.
  • The best way to establish and maintain a great milk supply is to have the baby on the breast as often as possible, especially in the first few weeks. Minimizing the number of times that baby is fed directly from the breast can affect the overall milk supply. Oftentimes a pump is not as effective as a baby is for removing milk from the breast. Your body knows to make more milk when it is stimulated by a baby’s suckling or a pump’s sucking. If the action of the pump is not recognized by your body, it may not keep up with optimal milk production.

If you are not using breast milk to feed your baby, that is a very different situation. Anyone who is needing or wanting to feed the baby can learn to properly mix and use formula and give the baby a meal. It doesn’t require additional time or effort from one parent, and there is no concern about milk supply. We even have a Formula 101 class that all of your baby’s caregivers can take to learn about how to properly choose and use formula.

Anyone who might be feeding your baby with a bottle should know some things about how best to do it. There are a lot of ways to bottle feed, but there are some things you can do to make it easier, healthier, and more enjoyable for all.

  • Find the right nipple/bottle type for your baby. When purchasing bottles for the first time, you might want to buy just one of several kinds of bottle. If you purchase a large supply of one kind and your baby rejects it, it can be frustrating to have to return the products and quickly find something that works better. Some babies will drink out of anything, but others have more specific preferences or needs.
  • Don’t warm milk in a microwave. It’s best to warm milk by setting the bottle in some warm water or use a bottle warmer. Microwaves can sometimes create “hot spots” that might burn the baby’s mouth. Some babies don’t mind cold or room temperature milk! Warming is not required.
  • Hold your baby in a more upright position when bottle feeding. Because the baby will have to work against gravity to get milk out of the bottle, it will better mimic breastfeeding and slow down the feed.
  • Use the paced-bottle feeding strategy. Paced bottle feeding attempts to simulate a more natural feeding rhythm for your baby that is more like breastfeeding. This can help you avoid overfeeding your baby which is especially important if your baby is exclusively bottle feeding. It can also help prevent your baby from developing a preference for the bottle because it is so much easier. This is most important if you are bottle feeding AND breastfeeding. Some babies can learn to reject the breast after bottle feeding because they don’t have to work as hard to get the milk from a bottle. Babies who are exclusively breastfed develop the strength they need to be great at breastfeeding very quickly, but easy bottle feeding can interfere with that. You can watch our paced-bottle feeding video, or get our care plan for paced-bottle feeding.
  • Always hold your baby when feeding. It’s not a good idea to leave your baby alone holding a bottle or with a bottle propped up in some way. Remember that a lot of bonding happens when you feed your baby and you can take advantage of that opportunity to make eye contact, get some skin-to-skin time, and give your baby complete focus. Additionally, propping a bottle for convenience can actually be dangerous.
  • Switch sides. You’ll help your baby get used to eating while facing different directions. It may also be beneficial for their eye development.
  • Wait to introduce a bottle until the baby is at least 3 weeks old. There is a window of time between 3 and 6 weeks of age when a baby might be most receptive to taking a bottle. Starting with a bottle too soon might interfere with establishing your milk supply if you intend to breastfeed, and waiting too long can lower the chances that your baby will accept a bottle in place of a breast. Most babies will drink from a bottle even later, but starting within that window might make it most easy.
  • Babies shouldn’t be allowed to fall asleep while bottle feeding. The formula that doesn’t get swallowed by the sleeping baby can stay on the gums and teeth causing tooth decay. Gently wipe away any formula residue from the gums before putting the baby to bed. Breast milk actually does not cause tooth decay even though it is very sweet. 1The reason for this might be that breast milk has antibacterial properties that can kill the bacteria that causes cavities.
  • Throw away unused milk.

It’s important to recognize that even if a dad or partner can’t participate in the feeding of the baby, there are plenty of other things they can do to bond and connect with their baby.

Diaper changes are often a responsibility they can take on, although it’s not very glamorous! Some people get a lot of satisfaction from having the responsibility for diapering, and there are definitely bonding opportunities with diaper changes. That parent might spend time and effort doing excellent work with that job. It might mean:

  • Finding and purchasing the right diapers
  • Discovering the right solutions to diaper rash
  • Keeping diapering stations stocked with supplies
  • Making sure there is a good dirty diaper disposal or cleaning system
  • Learning the baby’s needs and finding tricks for keeping the baby safe and happy during diaper changes.

Partners can also develop routines and bond with the baby in a number of other ways. These small daily or regular routines are a great way to “have your own thing” with your baby.

  • Daily stroller or baby carrier walks outside
  • Bath time
  • Bedtime/naptime rituals. For many months, every evening I would read a book and tuck our toddler into bed while my husband would put our baby into the baby carrier on his chest, play some music (usually Bob Marley was the baby’s favorite!), and dance around our bedroom until he fell asleep.
  • Massage. We have a great baby massage class to give you a lot of useful tips for infant massage!
  • Tummy time company and activities.
  • Doing grocery shopping with the baby in the shopping cart or in a baby carrier.
  • Musicians might practice their instrument while being in charge of the baby and enjoy bonding over music.
  • Your very own creative routine….

These might even be things you continue doing with your child as they get older. Things will evolve so they can participate in new and different ways.

For example, trips to the grocery store might turn into your child walking along with you and pushing their own tiny shopping cart. You can even let them get some of your grocery list items from a low shelf and put them in their cart!

My kids are 12 and 15 years old, and now we can just divide up a shopping list. They love to wander the store and find the items themselves, and we get the shopping done quickly (I get the added bonus of NOT having them next to me asking for everything they see!). Not only have we been bonding, but my kids have also been learning about how to do grocery shopping so they can easily do it for themselves someday.

As your baby grows, tummy time might turn into time on the floor building with blocks or wrestling, and then legos or board games. Kids love it when the adults get down on the floor with them and give them undivided attention.

Whether you are bottle feeding your baby, or finding other ways to bond and connect, babies definitely benefit from having more caregivers who are willingly and lovingly participating in their upbringing and care. I think the most important piece of advice is that you find something that you can be good at, something you can do CONSISTENTLY, and something that you do with lots of love and UNDIVIDED ATTENTION. Your baby will benefit from your regular and undivided attention in big ways. It can sometimes be hard to find a lot of time for this, so building those little routines that are part of their care is very important and very worth the effort.

1 Breastfeeding and the risk of dental caries: a systematic review and meta-analysis


Tips for buying bottles
Bottle feeding tips from AAP

Our articles are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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