At some point, many breastfeeding moms need to introduce a bottle so their baby can feed at times when breastfeeding isn’t possible. For some, it’s returning to work that makes this necessary; for others, it is because of separations such as vacations or date nights. Whatever the case, here are nine tips that can make introducing a bottle to your breastfed baby easier.
1. Don’t rush it. Most major organizations recommend waiting a few weeks before introducing any alternative nipples to breastfed babies, whether in the form of a pacifier or a bottle. This is because a newborn is still learning how to nurse, so it’s important to not confuse your infant by adding something else to the mix other than the breast. Mom’s milk supply is also still being established, so try exclusively breastfeeding for the first few weeks. That said, many parents worry if they wait “too long” that their baby will refuse the bottle. The truth is that most babies who are offered a bottle before six months of age will eventually take it, so don’t worry about introducing it so soon. In general, starting a couple of weeks before needing to use a bottle regularly is usually sufficient.
2. There’s no magic bottle. Many companies that make bottles market theirs as “the best” for breastfed babies, and this is often based on the nipple having a shape that mimics the breast. In truth, the best bottle for your baby is the one that your baby will take. With that in mind, don’t invest in a huge stock of bottles when trying to figure out which one your baby will like—buy one or two and see how it goes. Also, breastfed babies shouldn’t be taking huge amounts of milk at a single feeding, so buying the smaller 4-ounce bottles will not only save you money but will also help get that message across to your baby’s caregivers that huge feeds are not needed.
3. Think outside the bottle! Some babies may refuse all bottles, so it might be time to consider an alternative feeding method. Even if it seems strange to you, alternative methods are very common in countries outside the U.S. Examples include cups, spoons, medicine droppers, and syringes. Sometimes babies who start off needing an alternative feeding method eventually transition to a bottle, while others are happy to cup feed exclusively!
4. Keep it low-key. Feeding from a bottle and the breast are two entirely different things for a baby, from how the latch feels to the actual sucking mechanism needed to remove milk. Just like learning to ride a bike can be hard at first, so too can learning how to eat in a completely new way! Keep that in mind as you and your baby start with a bottle. Don’t wait until your baby is screaming and starving—who can learn something new when they are this distressed? Offer the bottle during your baby’s “happy time” when they show early feeding cues. Hold the bottle just near their lips and let them take the nipple in, rather than forcing it into their mouth. Talk to baby and make eye contact, and change up positions as needed. If baby refuses at first, that’s okay. Try again in a few minutes. The key is to not get so worked up that you lose your cool and your baby learns to associate bottle-feeding sessions with stress and anger.
5. Use slow-flow nipples. The goal is to mimic breastfeeding, and slow-flow nipples tend to keep a more physiologic pace when it comes to milk flow. Nipples that flow faster (often marketed as being for older babies) may make it too easy for a baby to drink, and this can lead to frustration when he or she is back at the breast. It can also lead to guzzling and overfeeding, which may make it hard for mom to keep up with providing enough milk via pumping.
6. Keep mom out of the picture. Babies are smart—why take a bottle when Mom is right there?! Have a different caregiver give the first few bottles. You may even want to consider having Mom out of the house completely. This can help baby understand that bottles are for when Mom is not around.
7. Watch out for overfeeding and scheduling. Many caregivers want a feeding schedule, both in timing and amount. With breastfed babies, however, feeding on demand really is the best way to mimic nursing and also ensure that breastfeeding will be disrupted as little as possible. Teach your caregivers your baby’s hunger cues and have them start with 2-4 ounces in a bottle since this is about how much milk a breastfed baby consumes in a feed (this will also lead to less waste of your precious pumped milk!). If baby only takes an ounce and seems satisfied, end the feed there. Variation is normal—just like with us adults—so reassure your baby’s caregivers that your baby will vary from day to day, and that’s okay. Being responsive with feeds is so important.
8. Mimic breastfeeding through paced bottle feeding. Paced bottle feeding is a feeding session that mimics a nursing session. This means feeding on demand, sitting baby upright and allowing them to draw the nipple into their mouth to make them active participants (rather than laying the baby flat and letting milk pour in), drawing out the feed to the length of an average nursing session (about 20 minutes), making eye contact, and varying positions just like when switching between breasts. This can help your baby accept a bottle more easily when learning and get them back to the breast with less confusion.
9. If at first it doesn’t work, try and try again. Some babies may refuse a bottle the first few times, and that’s okay! Just try again in a few days or weeks, and consider some of the adjustments listed here. Some babies will actually never drink from a bottle until they really get the memo that Mom is back at work for eight hours a day. Others will only take enough to get them through the day until Mom returns (making up for it with more frequent nursing in the evenings and at night). As long as your baby seems happy, has good diapers, and is growing, this phenomenon is okay too, though you may find it frustrating. Remember this is the ultimate compliment—your baby only wants you!
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, March 2020
- There is no perfect bottle for a breastfed baby.
- Slower-flow nipples can help mimic breastfeeding, as can paced bottle feeding.
- Have someone other than Mom offer bottles to help baby accept a bottle more easily.