Get the most out of feeding-time (and not just breastfeeding-time)

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By Lorraine van Niekerk and Cozette Laubser

Any mother that has read a little bit about babies, even if it is just the label on the formula container, will be aware that breast is best.  But did you know that whilst babies breastfeed, they get much more than just the optimal nutrition that breast milk has to offer? During the BabyGym programme, BabyGym Instructors assist parents to simulate breastfeeding conditions so that a bottle fed baby can still benefit from some of the wondrous developmental opportunities that breastfeeding offers. Here are some of those helpful tools.

Hold your baby close

Being exposed to mother’s smell for nine months, babies are comforted by it.  When baby is breastfed, baby gets to smell mom throughout the feed.  Because moms smell is familiar, it is calming to baby and a calm baby has a better suck-swallow-breathe rhythm and will consequently feed better and swallow less air.

When you bottle-feed, hold your baby close, so that he or she is surrounded by your natural smell.  You can even lay your baby on your bare chest, so that your baby can benefit from the valuable skin on skin-closeness he or she would have had, if breastfed.

According to Dr Melodie de Jager, the founder of BabyGym, the distance from a mother’s breast to her eyes is the perfect distance for optimal visual stimulation.  Furthermore, your eyes attract attention and focus- it offers contrast, black on white, it moves and it shines.  Therefore, when you are feeding your baby, hold him or her close to your breast- the perfect distance from your face. Put away your cell phone and make eye contact. Not only is eye contact good visual stimulation it is also a wonderful opportunity to calm your baby with your soft gaze.

Develop language

When babies feed they are strengthening their lip-, tongue-, cheek- and jaw muscles. These same muscles will need to work hard when baby starts to talk, so exercise those mucles- it is great preparation for clear speech and pronunciation one day! It is for the same reason important to introduce babies to basic communication skills whilst feeding, make eye contact and talk to your baby.

Does your baby suckle correctly?

Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, your baby should latch correctly and master the suck-swallow-breathe rhythm when drinking. Babies who struggle to get this rhythm right often swallow air and suffer from cramps, colic and/ or reflux.  It is a good idea to consult a Lactation Consultant, even if you do not breastfeed, to make sure that your baby latches correctly and suckles well.  A baby who does not suckle well misses out on the opportunity to develop the jaw-, cheek-, tongue- and lip muscles and may encounter a speech impediment later.  If you are bottle feeding, choose a teat that looks similar to mommy’s nipple shape; it is also beneficial if it is peristaltic. What is a peristaltic bottle? A bottle designed to enable baby to replicate natural sucking pattern learned at the breast. It caters to the 3 key steps when a baby sucks: latching on, peristaltic tongue movement, and swallowing.

 Draining the ears

The correct suckling motion clears sinus passages and the inner-ears and this reduces the chances for inner ear infections.

Swap feeding sides

A breastfeeding mom would at some stage naturally swap arms so that baby could feed from the other breast.  BabyGym teaches us that when swapping arms mid-feed, baby’s neck gets the opportunity to change position and direction, giving the neck a good stretch, and exposing the other side of the face and body to moms touch and attention, consequently developing the opposite side of the brain and body.  So, when you are bottle feeding, remember to swap sides mid-feed.

In conclusion, whether you are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding:

  • hold your baby close
  • make eye contact
  • talk to your baby
  • encourage good suckling
  • relax baby before the feed to aid the suck-swallow-breathe rhythm,

and remember that feeding is not only for survival but also crucial for bonding with baby, and developing the best brain possible.



De Jager, M 2004.  BabyGym. Kaapstad; Human en Rousseau

De Jager, M 2011.  Brain development MILESTONES and learning. Johannesburg Mind Moves Institute

De Jager, M 2008.  Rooting and Sucking Reflex; Necessary building blocks for later function

De Jager, M 2011.  Stimulating the sucking reflex in infants.  WHYkids Vol 4 No 4 Summer 2011 pg.6-7

De Jager, M 2010.  Understanding Developmental Milestones. (Issue 56 February 2010)

Vaglio, Stefano 2009.

Chemical communication and mother-infant recognition ( 3/7/2014

How to get the most out of your bottle feeding relationship ( 3/7/2014


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