Introducing Your Breastfed Baby to the Bottle

Baby Feeding on Bottle

Whether you will be returning to work after your maternity leave or would like to get your partner more involved in feeding your new babe, introducing a bottle to your breastfed baby can be a helpful, and sometimes tricky, endeavor. Many women like to have the option to have pumped milk available that a family member or caregiver can give the baby should they need a break, some extra sleep or happen to be away for more than a couple hours. Here are 5 helpful tips to introducing your breastfed baby to the bottle so that it’s a smooth and gentle transition for you both.

5 Tips to Introduce Your Breastfed Baby to the Bottle

  1. Timing is everything: Your midwife or lactation consultant will likely tell you that introducing any sort of bottle or artificial soother must be well-timed. Too early, and you run the risk of disrupting your newly established breastfeeding routine and too late, your babe may reject the bottle all together. The ideal time to introduce a bottle is between 4-6 weeks. That way, you will have already found your groove with breastfeeding and your baby will likely not experience any nipple confusion. 
  2. Choose a slow flow nipple: When picking out a bottle and nipple for your baby, choose one that most closely mimics the breast and allows for a slow flow of milk. Sucking from a bottle requires a different latch and tongue movement than suckling from the breast. A slow flow nipple will most closely replicate the experience of breastfeeding and allow baby to take his time eating. 
  3. Have your partner give the bottle: Getting a bottle from mom who usually breastfeeds can be confusing and frustrating for a little one. If possible, have your partner be the bottle aficionado. Even better yet, take the time that your partner is learning to bottle feed your baby and do something for yourself. Take a shower, take a nap, go for a walk or run an errand. Your baby is more likely to have a successful bottle feeding experience if they can’t smell mom and her milk nearby. 
  4. Take baby steps: Rather than having your partner or family member offer the bottle when your baby is hungry, try introducing it after they have breastfed. This way, they will not be frustrated as easily with the process and can explore the feel of the bottle without the pressure of needing to satiate their appetite. You don’t need to put a lot of breastmilk in the bottle, even starting with a half an ounce should suffice. If the milk is not freshly pumped, place the bottle in warm water to heat it prior to feeding. Baby may be more likely to accept a warm bottle versus milk that is directly from the refrigerator. 
  5. Encourage paced feeding: One of the challenges with bottle feeding is that we decide how much baby should drink rather than baby deciding. To most closely simulate the experience of breastfeeding, never force the nipple into baby’s mouth and simply allow him to decide how much he wishes to drink. Give baby breaks for burping and rest and switch sides from which you feed him as he would when breastfeeding. It’s also important to make sure your partner or the caregiver is able to recognize baby’s hungers cues so that he or she can feed baby when he’s hungry versus on a set schedule. 

Introducing bottle feeding does not have to be a stressful process if approached slowly, gently and with plenty of time for practice. If you have questions about the process of introducing a bottle to your breastfed baby or are pregnant and considering a natural birth in a homelike setting, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our Birth Center. We are here to support you throughout your journey of motherhood.