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Introducing a bottle to a breastfed baby

Posted by Wendy Wright on

Your baby has been nursing for weeks now, and all has been going well. But you’re going back to work soon, and you wonder if you should introduce occasional bottles to get the transition started. But your baby refuses to drink from a bottle – now what? While most breastfed babies transition to a bottle just fine, there are a finicky few who don’t appreciate the change.

Here are some tips to encourage your reluctant bottle feeder:

  • Choose a different nipple. This may take some trial and error. Consider the flow rate – a newborn nipple might be too slow, and a standard nipple might be too fast. Some preemie nipples, despite what you might think, are faster flow. Try a variety of shapes, sizes and flow rates until your baby finds one he prefers.
  • Have someone other than mom do the bottle feedings. If mom is even in the same house, some babies will refuse. Having dad or grandma offer the first few bottles might help baby understand that feeding can be done in a variety of ways.
  • Movement seems to settle some babies. Bounce, rock, walk, sway while feeding the bottle. Rhythm is soothing and may help to distract baby. Singing or talking softly may calm and distract baby, too.
  • Is it the right temperature? Remember that breastmilk comes from the tap at body temperature. But sometimes babies will take a supplement that is not warmed, or even one that’s cold. Or, try running the nipple under cold or warm water before feeding.
  • Consider positioning. The cradle hold may be too much like breastfeeding, so try holding baby facing away from you, or even consider not holding baby but feeding the bottle while baby reclines in an infant seat. Some babies don’t like laying back the whole way when feeding from a bottle because they feel overwhelmed by the milk flow – holding baby much more upright is the key for these babies.
  • Wrap something that smells like mom around the bottle. Have mom sleep with a small blanket, and hold it near baby when offering the bottle. Her scent may entice baby to feed better.

Keep in mind the bottle isn’t the only way to feed a breastfed baby. You can try something other than a bottle - cup, syringe, medicine spoon, and dropper are all choices. While cup feeding is messy, it can be attempted even with a small baby. Place the cup rim on baby’s lower lip and tilt the cup until milk is touching baby’s lips. He should then be able sip the milk. A non-spillproof sippy cup may make this a little less messy. Allow baby to have pauses and stop when he turns away.

Don’t worry – your baby won’t starve while you’re apart. Most babies do just fine when mom is gone – they happily eat from a bottle for their care provider. Some babies decide to take in just enough to get by when separated from mom, but then do “reverse cycling” or feeding more often on nights and weekends when they are with mom. This more frequent feeding (while tiring for a mom who has to leave for work in the morning) actually helps to keep up a good milk supply.


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