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Introducing A Bottle to Your Breastfed Baby


Woman bottle feeding baby in restaurant..

“Should I try giving the baby a bottle?” As a lactation consultant, this is a very common question I hear. There is no perfect answer. It can be unique for each breastfeeding mom and baby. In this article, I cover general information about bottle use in the exclusively breastfed baby.


When Should I Introduce A Bottle To My Breastfed Baby?


This is also an individualized decision. Many factors go into it, especially if the introduction is in the early stages of nursing. You also do not have to introduce a bottle. If you plan to exclusively breastfeed, will not be away from the baby, and your latch and weight gain are cruising, there is no reason you have to introduce the bottle. This situation, however, is not a reality for most modern mamas.


Many women will be back to work, have other children to take care of, or have to be out of the home for any sort of reason. So, the introduction of a bottle will be a necessity. Let the timing be based on your needs. If you are not returning to work for a while, make sure you have a strong latch and robust supply before the introduction of the bottle. If you need to be away from the baby within the first 2 early weeks, you will most likely want to introduce the bottle right at the beginning. 


As a lactation consultant, when people do not have specific restrictions or constraints on their time and do not plan to be away from the baby, I usually recommend waiting until at least 3-4 weeks of age for bottle introduction. This will allow for a great breastfeeding foundation to be set before adding a new layer. If you are struggling with your latch or milk production, consider delaying the bottle evn longer when possible. 


If breastfeeding is not going as well as you had hoped and the bottle has already become a necessity, make sure to continue offering and latching to the breast. Continued practice and time at the breast will help to ensure seamless transitions from breast to bottle or bottle to breast, avoiding bottle preference and facilitating flexibility with breast milk feeding methods. 


What Type Of Bottle Should I Use With My Breastfed Baby?


If you have ever been in the bottle aisle at Target or have set up a baby registry, you already know that there are a ton of options when it comes to bottles! There is no perfect bottle on the market. Try to find something that your baby likes, does well with, and is affordable for you. Anything that reduces the air baby sucks in while bottle feeding or is similar to a natural nipple is a bonus. Overall, though, a bottle is a bottle. 


If a bottle is cracked or the nipple is damaged, it should be replaced. Bottles should be sterilized per the manufacturer's guidelines prior to use and then properly cleaned. Use warm soap and water after use and sterilize by boiling, running through the dishwasher or use a bottle sterilizer once a day. 


Nipple confusion is a big concern for many new parents when selecting a bottle for their newborn. Bottle companies know this and will often use this to their advantage in the marketing and sales of their products. With a well-established latch and breastfeeding relationship, most babies can go back and forth between the bottle and breast without issue. It is easier to get milk out of a bottle, so with frequent, early use of a bottle before establishing the foundations of feeding at the breast, the baby can start to favor the faster flow of the bottle or prefer the artificial nipple. This has more to do with establishing good habits than with the type of bottle or nipple, although it’s a good idea to use a slow-flow nipple. It is also advised to continue to feed at the breast regularly during the introduction of a bottle, so your baby will not form preferences. 


How To Bottle Feed Breastfed Babies: What Is Paced Feeding?


When introducing bottles, especially in a breastfeeding baby, it is important to try and mimic the experience of breastfeeding as much as you can. Try not to allow the baby to chug the bottle. A bottle feed should take a similar amount of time as a breastfeeding session. This can be accomplished by using a method called paced feeding. 


The concept behind paced feeding is that you control the milk flow and amount of milk your baby is getting during bottle feeds. This prevents them from gulping down milk too fast and is intended to mimic the feeding pattern at the breast. It is also meant to be an interactive exercise between the “feeder” and the baby. You should hold the baby close, make eye contact, and interact with them during the feed. Start by stimulating suckling by placing the bottle nipple in the baby’s mouth. Once they are beginning to suckle, tip the bottle upwards allowing a few swallows of milk. Then tip the bottle back for continued suckling but leveled out to avoid chugging or gulping down the milk. This will control the pace of milk intake as feeding at the breast is a little slower and takes more effort than bottle feeding. Make sure to burp the baby regularly, every 1-2 ounces. Bottle feeding allows for more air intake, so more burping is required. Try to slow or pace the feed, so that it takes at least 10-15 minutes, and the baby is not able to down a full bottle too quickly.


Tips For Bottle Refusal


Even the best-laid plans go to waste. There are instances in which you are excited and ready as a parent to offer the bottle (Yay, for first postpartum haircuts or pedicures!), but the baby has other plans and refuses. Families sometimes experience refusal when mom heads back to work or parents go out of town for the weekend. It can be extremely frustrating but absolutely normal. Babies are made to feed at the breast, and their instinct is to do so. Once a breastfeeding journey is off to a great start with a deep latch and a robust supply, some babies are not interested in trying things a different way. Therefore, my strong suggestion to anyone who will need to use bottles is to practice. Do not wait until the day before you return to work to incorporate a bottle into your feeding routine. Try it out during the weeks leading up to the big day, while continuing to feed at the breast. If you are struggling with bottle introduction, here are a few tips to try and make things a little easier:


  • Not the mama! Remember the show Dinosaurs from back in the day when we all watched network TV at night? The baby always called the Daddy Dino “Not the Mama.” Sometimes that’s just what you need to get a baby to take a bottle. Have someone other than the lactating parent offer it. Your baby knows you – your smell, your voice, and that you have milk-filled boobs. So sometimes this means they will refuse the bottle from you, their milk source.

 

  • Swap out the bottle. If you try one type of bottle and your baby refuses, try a different one. Some babies are particular about the type of bottle or artificial nipple they prefer. A great way to address this issue is to register for a bottle sample pack. Most of the major baby registry companies will allow you to do this. It is a cost-effective way of seeing if the nipple type will make a difference for your little one.


  • Catch those early feeding cues. Waiting until an exclusively breastfeeding baby is screaming hungry is never preferable and can be extra hard if you’re trying something new and introducing a bottle. Keep an eye out for baby’s cues. Look for those early, still-happy signs that your baby is ready for some milk and try bottle feeding then.


  • Remember it is a new skill. Mastering a new skill will always take some time. The first bottle feed will most likely not be perfect. That is normal and to be expected. Just keep working at it.


  • Practice, practice, practice. Sometimes you don’t get it on the first try. No worries, take a deep breath, feed the baby, and then come back to bottle feeding another time. Bottle refusal can be one of those frustrating, challenging times of parenthood, but know you can do it. You got this, modern family!


  • Ask for help! Your local lactation consultant can be a resource on this one. They will be able to help show you paced feeding techniques and the best way to alternate between feeding at the breast and with the bottle. They can also be invaluable resources for moms who are returning to work and hoping to continue breastfeeding. 


The bottle can be a crucial part of the journey for a breastfeeding family. It can allow freedom and facilitate continued exclusive breastfeeding or breast milk feeding, especially nowadays with the amazing pump technology available. Knowing when and how to introduce the bottle is an important evolution in any breastfeeding journey. Hopefully, this information makes that transition and big step a little easier. You got this, modern families!


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