A common question I get from new parents is how to introduce a bottle to a baby who is breastfeeding. There are many reasons why mothers choose to introduce or add bottle feeding. Some may be returning to work, while others wish to include other caretakers in mealtime routines. At times, illness or nutrition plays a role. However, most commonly, it is to provide mom with a much-needed break. So, over the years, I have compiled a list of tips and strategies to help parents smoothly transition from breast to bottle feeding. These tips also help make sure the baby will come back to breastfeeding once mom’s home and available.
It’s essential to keep in mind that breastfeeding and bottle-feeding are very different, starting with the flow.
Due to gravity, the flow from a bottle is faster than from a breast. A breastfeeding baby has to wait on ‘let down.’ Secondly, anatomically, a bottle’s nipple is different from mom’s. Unfortunately, no bottle will imitate mom’s breast 100%.
First things first, this post is not intended to promote bottle feeding over breastfeeding, nor it is to contest that one is better than the other. It’s simply to provide strategies to help you effectively transition from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding. So let’s jump right in.
1. Timing is everything
With feeding development, timing is crucial. When do you start pumping? When do you start introducing cereal or solids? When do you wean off the bottle? It’s no different when transitioning or introducing the bottle to a breastfed baby. For the mommas who plan to pump, lactation consultants recommend you start pumping after the first 3-4 weeks.
Why is the time so specific? Simply because in the early weeks, before your supply has regulated, you will likely have more milk than you need. Start pumping too early, and you may end up with an oversupply. If you are returning to work within four weeks, definitely start pumping sooner. Whether you’re pumping or supplementing with formula, offer a bottle somewhere between 3-4 weeks. At this point, your milk supply is likely well regulated, and breastfeeding is efficient. Please do not wait till the day before you have to return to work to try the bottle.
2. Look for options.
There are so many bottles on the market nowadays, each promising to be the best in reducing colic or mimicking the human breast. Take your time to find the right one for your baby. The average parent tries at least three different bottles before finding one that works. So don’t be discouraged if your first option was not the one. Start with a slower flow and work your way up as the baby becomes more efficient.
3. Do not cut nipples.
Do not manually enlarge holes to create a rapid, uncontrolled flow of liquid. After time (with washing and use), these will become bigger, and the flow will no longer be the same. Look for stiffness that is appropriate for your child’s sucking pattern. A softer nipple may be better for infants with a weak suck or who tend to tire quickly. The nipple should not collapse with the child’s sucking.
4. Position and support.
When breastfeeding, it is essential to have the right positioning. The same goes for bottle feeding. Proper positioning will provide adequate support to your baby, thus making bottle feeding more effective. Make sure the head and neck are supported. Additionally, you can support the back of the neck and lower jaw with your thumb and middle finger. For some babies, swaddling is a good option also.
5. Calm baby feeds best.
Don’t wait till the baby is “hangry.” A fussy, hungry baby who is crying will not have the patience to try something new. Instead, offer the bottle a few minutes before feeding time. Look for subtle hunger cues like rooting or bringing hands to mouth.
6. Offer breaks.
Offer breaks! Since gravity influences the flow of the bottle, offer breaks as needed. Not only will this prevent overfeeding, but it will also mimic the breastfeeding flow. Additionally, burping breaks should be more frequent when bottle feeding.
7. Don’t force-feed.
Breastfeeding and bottle-feeding are the foundations of mealtime dynamics that will continue to develop for years. Instead, try rooting or slowly dripping some milk onto the lips before offering the bottle.
So what if you tried all these tips and your baby is still not fond of the bottle? Don’t give up yet. There’s more that you can do.
- Allow another caregiver to give the bottle. Babies are smart and can smell your milk. So, it’s not uncommon for a baby to prefer breastfeeding when mom is the one offering the bottle.
- Start with breastfeeding and half-way through offer the bottle.
- Check the baby’s positioning and support. Try placing the baby in side-lying (just like when breastfeeding) instead of on his/her back.
My final and most important advice is to be patient.
It’s easy to stress out, and your baby will sense that. Ask for help when needed. If you have tried all of the above strategies and still are unsuccessful, talk to your pediatrician and ask for a referral to a speech therapist specialized in feeding and swallowing.
Remember, take time to find out what works for you and your baby. I’m here to support you and your baby on your journey to healthy eating and growth. Happy feeding time!