Supporting Breastfeeding

La Leche League Canada

Top-up Bottles Undermine Breastfeeding

on May 30, 2016

When new mothers are finding breastfeeding challenging there are often people around them who will suggest “topping up” with a bottle as the solution to any and all breastfeeding issues.  When baby is crying and mum is crying and everyone is hungry and nobody has slept well for a few days, giving a top up bottle after breastfeeding might feel like a reasonable plan.  Understanding how giving a top up bottle can undermine breastfeeding and having some alternative strategies to try can get you through that dark moment.

A top-up bottle changes the developing breastfeeding relationship in a number of ways:

  • A bottle nipple (regardless of the brand) is not the same as a breast in the way it is molded by baby’s mouth and the way baby’s tongue is used to empty it.  When baby uses the tongue action that works on the bottle nipple on mum’s breast, it pushes the breast out of the mouth and leaves baby sucking on mum’s nipple.  This leads to sore nipples and poor milk transfer from breast to baby.  Newborns who are still trying to figure out breastfeeding may have difficulty maintaining two kinds of sucking patterns if they are asked to move back and forth between breast and bottle.


  • The milk in a bottle nipple flows faster and with less effort required by baby.  This fast flow disrupts the natural suck, suck, swallow, breath pattern of a baby who is feeding comfortably at the breast.  Baby has no control over the rate of flow with a bottle and can’t stop to take a breather when he wants to.  Because milk flows easily from a bottle, and baby has no choice but to swallow what is in her mouth, even a baby with a full tummy will take some milk given with a bottle.  The fact that baby will take milk from a bottle is not a good indicator that he is still hungry.
  • When a baby is “topped up” with a feeding from a bottle rather than suckling at the breast, mum’s body does not get the hormonal signals to make more milk. Breastmilk is created on a demand and supply system; the more the baby nurses the more milk will be made.


  • Top-up bottles undermine a mother’s faith in her own body’s ability to produce enough milk for her baby.  The more bottles given, the more her confidence is undermined.  In combination with the lack of hormonal cues for her body to keep making milk, the situation can quickly become a self-fulling prophecy.


If breastfeeding is feeling challenging and someone is suggesting a top-up bottle here are some things to try first:

  • Nurse more often. If you are following a schedule or feeling like baby should only nurse every (fill in the blank) hours put your ideas aside and watch your baby for hunger cues.  You can find more information on newborn nursing frequency in the La Leche League Canada FAQs and HERE.


  • Switch sides more often.  Babies who have become accustom to the quick flow of a bottle may get fussy at the breast when your initial let down slows down.  When the milk lets down on the side you are feeding on, it also lets down on the other side at the same time.  If baby has fed on one side and then starts to fuss try burping her and then offering the other side.  The quicker milk flow may encourage her to feed contentedly.  Switching sides also helps the baby who has long suckling sessions at the breast but isn’t nursing actively much of the time to get more milk.  You may need to switch back and forth a number of times during one feeding session.  Aside from the immediate benefit of baby getting more milk at this feeding, the switching induces more let downs which send hormonal messages to the brain to make more milk.  The body takes 24-48 hours to increase the milk supply.  A couple of days of switch nursing at every feeding can boost your milk production significantly.  There is more information on establishing your milk supply and knowing if your baby is getting enough milk on the LLLC website.


  • Call a La Leche League Leader or go to an LLL meeting.  Talking with someone who understands the normal course of breastfeeding and life with a newborn can make a huge difference both to your perception of what is going on and to the reality of your breastfeeding relationship.  Ensuring that baby is latched on well and nursing effectively will likely change the situation that had you considering a top up bottle as a viable option.


  • Don’t beat yourself up if you decide that a top-up bottle is the only solution to deal with whatever is happening at this very moment.  When you and baby have calmed down, you get to re-evaluate.  You can make that call to LLL in the morning or try nursing more often and/or switching sides starting with the next feeding.


  • If you have been giving top-up bottles for a few days or weeks you still have the opportunity to work your way back to exclusive breastfeeding.  You will likely want to talk to an LLL Leader or lactation professional to ensure that your baby is getting enough calories during the process of working away from the top up bottles and rebuilding your milk production.


  • Remember, most breastfeeding challenges have worked themselves out by the time baby has reached six weeks.  This doesn’t mean you should just wait six weeks and everything will get better on its own.  It might but you also may be able to turn things around in a few days with the right information.  There is no shame in asking for support and information.  If the first person you talk to doesn’t seem helpful keep going until you find someone who is a good fit for you and your baby.


If you need more information or have a breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to an accredited La Leche League Leader. In Canada, Leaders can be located by clicking or Internationally


If you have found this article helpful, La Leche League Canada would appreciate your support in the form of a donation so we can continue to help others breastfeed. Thank you!



LLLC Spring Appeal Campaign for the support of breastfed babies: Help LLLC Grow – If you, or someone you know, has benefitted from the support of LLLC, a donation is one way you can “pay it forward”.

Donate Today

Over 385,000 babies are born in Canada each year and we want to ensure every mother has access to La Leche League Canada support whenever she needs it. We are working hard to grow and we need your support. Every donation helps us provide more support to more families!

Thanks to past donations, we have been working hard to grow our services:

Our volunteer Leaders are the cornerstone of LLLC and the support we provide. We have increased our Leaders by 10% in the past year and Leader Applicants by 40% over the past 2 years!

More than 13,000 mothers attend LLLC meetings and another 20,000 receive one-to-one phone support from Leaders.

We have doubled our community and health professional outreach in just one year!

5 new Information Sheets in various languages were made available free of charge to mothers and health professionals

A new Communication Skills program was developed to strengthen health professional and breastfeeding peer support skills and our Best for Babies pre-natal program continues to grow.

Our Leaders are a vital part of LLLC’s breastfeeding foundation. They freely devote their time to help other parents give their children the optimal start in life. You, the donor, make up the other part of the foundation on which the LLLC breastfeeding services rest. Your gifts mean that our Leaders can carry out the valuable help families need. Frankly, we would be unable to deliver services to families without you or our Leaders so please take a moment to consider how valuable your support is and make a donation, either online or by using our pledge form. If a one-time donation is not suitable for you, perhaps spreading your gift over a year would make sense. Our pledge form has the monthly donation option for your convenience.

We are proud of our growth – but we want to do so much more! We need your support to help us serve even more mothers. Please donate today so we can grow to serve the mothers and babies of tomorrow.

Thank you for taking the time to consider supporting La Leche League Canada and our continued efforts to support all breastfeeding families who need us.


La Leche League group meeting



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