If you’ve struggled to get your breastfed baby to take a bottle, you are not alone. Many mothers experience this very same challenge. Stay-at-home mothers may breastfeed exclusively and then for one reason or another choose to introduce a bottle. Working mothers face this same challenge even more so, especially when they are working outside of the home full-time and need to pump and bottle-feed to continue to supply baby with breast milk.
But the big question of course is, will baby even take a bottle?
After having three kids in three years as a working mamma, here are the best tips I’ve come to learn in helping your breastfed baby take a bottle.
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Make sure you’ve waited until your baby is at least 1-2 months old before you even introduce a bottle. It takes times for your newborn to adjust to nursing to begin with. Throwing a bottle into the mix can be confusing and stressful for both of you.
Once you have your breastfeeding routine down pat, slowly introduce the bottle. If you wait beyond 3-4 months after birth, your baby is likely going to refuse it or have a hard time. But that’s okay if you’re already past that point! Keep reading.
Have Daddy Introduce It
If you try to feed your baby with the bottle it can cause confusion and stress. Your baby knows exactly what you feel like and smell like while they nurse. If they’re not comfortable it can wreak havoc on their emotions.
Having your husband feed your baby will distinguish the difference more gently. Your baby doesn’t have the same experience with Daddy as they do with you. So keeping the bottle only with Daddy can become an expectation and not a frustration for your baby.
Feed Them When They’re Not Hungry
Some babies will pitch a fit with a bottle if they’re famished. Starting with a bottle when they’re not urgently focused on curbing their hunger can be easier. Isn’t it easier to try something new when you’re in a good mood? Same goes for baby.
Once they’ve taken to the bottle fine, then you can feed them with it on their normal nursing schedule.
Start Slow, Then Build Up
Going from exclusive breastfeeding to a bottle is like quitting cold turkey. It’s difficult and can be overwhelming for your baby. So start with small steps.
Have your husband feed your baby maybe once, every other day to start. Then you can work to once every day after a week. Then gradually increase the occurrence of a bottle until you’re matching the preferred routine.
For example, if you know that you’re going to be at work all day and the baby will need a bottle then, have them use a bottle all through the day. Do this even while you’re still at home if possible. That way your baby gets the routine even before you have no other option.
If your baby takes to the bottle just fine, you can speed up this process based on their cues. I know you may not have a long maternity leave in order to establish these routines. Do the best you can and gauge off of your baby’s cues.
Use A Bottle Type That Mimics The Breast
There are so many different bottles out there and they all claim to be the best. But what I have learned is that not every bottle is the same. I’ve chosen to use Platex Nursers that have the drop in liner. The reason why is because as your baby nurses, the liner slowly compresses based on your baby’s sucking.
This is what happens inside of your breast. Bottles that stay the same shape have a different sort of suction that your baby has to deal with that’s not like how your breasts empty. I’ve found the Playtex Nurser bottles work well and even reduce the chance of colic in your baby.
Use A Medium Flow Nipple
Most breastfeeding books and instructors will tell you to start with a slow flow nipple. I even did the same thing. It does help reduce the amount of milk that’s shot into your baby’s mouth so they’re not overwhelmed. Choking down a lot of milk from a completely new feeding setup can be overwhelming.
However, most of of the time, the flow of milk from your breasts is much faster than a slow flow nipple. I found that my boys would become frustrated that they weren’t getting the same amount of milk they were used to fast enough. So I often started them with a fast flow nipple because they were more comfortable with that.
On the other hand, your baby may find that a fast flow nipple overwhelming. So until you know how your baby is going to fully react to the whole process, start with a medium flow nipple. If they seem to be doing just fine with that, try a fast flow nipple. Play off of their reactions and make adjustments as necessary.
Keep The Milk Luke Warm
Next time you pump, feel the temperature of your milk after you’ve just expressed it. It’s definitely luke-warm. If your start feeding your baby a bottle right from the fridge they are going to not like it at all. But when it’s too warm, that can be upsetting too.
Aim for bottle milk that is the same temperature as milk directly from your breast. Use warm running water to do so a few minutes before you’re reading to feed your baby. Never use the microwave or stove top to heat up a bottle. Remember to shake up the milk to evenly distribute the temperature too.
Step Back When Needed
If you find that your baby is reacting very negatively to this entire process, don’t keep forcing the bottle on them. Back off for a little while and then try again the next day or even a few days later.
I know it may not be possible if you’re already back to work or circumstances won’t permit. That’s why I’ve also suggested the next tip.
Last Resort Bait And Switch
This tip is only something you can try if your situation is a little desperate. You don’t want your baby’s experience with nursing to be unbearable. But at the same time, there are moments when you have to encourage them to just get used to it.
When you’re nursing, once they’ve finished a breast or are taking a break to burp, don’t go back to the breast. Have the bottle ready for you to feed them with. They’ll still have the comfort from your body and the satisfaction that they nursed off your breast. They’re not starving either, so their stress levels should be low.
Don’t pass the baby off to your husband just yet. You feed them with the bottle once you’ve nursed them mostly on your breast. Try this a few times to see how they take it. Then you can hand off the baby to your husband and try the tips outlined above.
Just Remember …
The hardest part about getting your breastfed baby to take a bottle is that you have no idea how they’re going to react until you try. My boys would often give us a distinct ‘I-know-what-you’re-trying-to-do’ look when Daddy started feeding them. It was rather funny.
Even how each child takes to the bottle may vary from child to child. As much as possible, follow your baby’s cues and always comfort them as much as possible. Here are the steps again:
- Start when your baby is 1-2 months old.
- Have Daddy introduce the bottle.
- Feed them when they’re not hungry to start.
- Start slow with once a day a few times a week, then build up in consistency.
- Use a bottle type like Playtex Nursers that mimics the breast.
- Start with a medium flow nipple, then adjust as necessary.
- Keep the milk luke-warm.
- Step back when your baby is having a tough time.
- As a last resort, feed them a bottle directly after a breast.
At the end of the day, a fed baby is a happy baby! I hope these tips serve you well and that they’re able to take a bottle just fine.
Remember that as your baby gets older and more accustomed to growth and change, it will be easier to introduce them to new things. Then feeding will not be so much of a hassle because they’re used to whatever you give them.
Eventually you can even give them a bottle that doesn’t require the drop-in liners because they’re passed the colicky stage (about 9-12 months). You may even be able to save time and give them a bottle right from the fridge that’s cold after a while (usually around 9-12 months too).
No matter what, enjoy feeding your baby. It’s a wonderful bonding experience and a joyful moment to just gaze down at them in amazement. How do you feed your baby?
Sarah Prince is the creator of MyNaturalBabyBirth.com and the Confident Mother Natural Birthing Course. She and her husband have three little boys and love hiking together. She loves dark chocolate and is devoted to helping passionate mothers prepare for the achieve the natural birth experience they desire. You can contact her by emailing sarah (at) mynaturalbabybirth.com. Connect with Sarah on Facebook and Pinterest.
Ana, a mom to three rambunctious little boys, has supported hundreds of thousands of women throughout their pregnancy and motherhood journey since 2012 as a blogger and maternal health advocate at MommysBundle.com.