Bonding While Not Breastfeeding: 4 Tips to Create that Bond

Let’s face it: in the original design, breastfeeding was made to happen.

I know it doesn’t always work like that, and I’m not trying to say that it is the only way for baby feeding to happen, but it’s true that it is the way our bodies were designed to feed our babies.

Trust me…I know it doesn’t always work that way.

In case you missed my (lengthly) breastfeeding journey story, I have exclusively breastfed our first baby, I have exclusively formula fed our second baby and I have exclusively pumped for our third baby.

I truly believe that one glorious and wonderful thing about breastfeeding is the bond that is created between mother and child. When a woman is exclusively breastfeeding, it forces us to sit down with our baby every few hours and just be with them. They can look at us, smell us, touch us and bond with us during the feeds. I’ll be the first to admit that breastfeeding doesn’t always feel lovey-dovey, but there is that beautiful moment of connection that is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.

When Abi arrived in our home, I quickly realized that we didn’t have the same connection as I did with Tera. I hadn’t carried her or anticipated her arrival for 10 long months. I hadn’t birthed her and I hadn’t seen many of her firsts. I hadn’t even known that she existed three days before I brought her home. When we did bring her home, I struggled to bond with her. I loved her almost immediately, but the bond took longer to build. 

When Kiah arrived on the scene, I thought for sure the bond would be immediate since he was biologically mine. It didn’t happen that way, however, and I have to contribute some of that to the fact that our breastfeeding journey was over before it even really began.

Through my three experiences, I can now see that feeding the baby is vital to the breastfeeding experience. I brainstormed for myself and have gathered a list of several ways to help facilitate bonding with my baby, even if I am not breastfeeding. 

  1. Limit who holds the bottle. It is very important to establish attachment and a bond with the baby that I am the one that is feeding the baby. A baby has a need, he/she cries and then the need is met. If the need is met by whoever happens to be closest to the baby, and that is a different person every time, there is no attachment formed. If the need is met by the same person each time, the baby learns to attach and depend on that person. I learned with Abi that I was too quick to hand the bottle over to someone else so I could get a break. I was frequently letting other people feed her and not gaining that attachment. Of course, it’s ok to let hubby take a few midnight feeds here and there, but an attachment bond needs to be formed.
  2. Sit Down to Feed the Baby. It is so tempting when bottle feeding to either let someone else do it or prop the bottle up so I can keep getting stuff done. However, I have found that I need to be intentional about taking those frequent pauses throughout the day to sit down and feed the baby myself. It takes a lot more work and it’s not quite as convenient, but in the long run that bond is established and that is so vital to the babies development and the parent/child bond.
  3. Find a Private Location. This does not always have to happen, but it should be intentional, especially at the beginning. Many women feel perfectly comfortable nursing in public, but for many,  it is far easier to retreat to a private corner or room. Privacy encouraged the mother to relax, it keeps the baby from being distracted and it facilitates that bond that there is no one else in the world right at that moment. With a bottle, it is so easy to just feed the baby wherever we are. It is so easy to be having a conversation with someone and just pop the bottle in the mouth and ignore making the feeding the one on one priority. Whenever possible, I will retreat to a private location just to feed my baby his bottle.
  4. Skin to Skin. When a person breastfeeds, they are always doing at least a small amount of skin to skin. With bottle feeding, this is not the case. Whenever possible, I tried to take off my shirt and lay the baby on my skin to feed her/him the bottle. I also encourage Theo to do the same thing when he is giving the feedings. Skin to skin releases endorphins and is found to be crucial to a baby’s circulation, bonding and even health!

I am not an expert on breastfeeding, but I have personally found these methods to be incredibly helpful in bonding, be it with biological children or foster children.

If you were unable to breastfeed, what were some of the ways that you found to create a bond with your baby? If you breastfed, do you think it helped you bond?



  1. Chelsea McKinney says:

    This is such a wonderful and thoughtful post Suzanne! While I was a mama that chose and was able to nurse my daughter, I know that is not everyone’s story. I know that I have many friends who wanted to breastfeed, but weren’t able to. This post is so supportive of that!

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