How to Introduce a Bottle to a Breastfed Baby
You’ve gotten into a rhythm with breastfeeding. Your milk supply is established, and you and your baby are bonded. But now, you want a bit of a break from needing to be with your child 24/7. It’s time to introduce a bottle!
First, let’s get the guilt out of the way. Introducing a bottle of pumped milk (or a bottle of formula) does not mean you are losing or diminishing your primary breastfeeding relationship. Think of the bottle as one more tool in your parenting toolbox to help you find a sustainable rhythm that allows for your breastfeeding journey to extend beyond the newborn phase.
If done correctly, bottle-feeding will not lower your milk supply, nor does it need to replace any nursing sessions you would like to keep at the breast.
Introducing a bottle to a breastfed baby is important because it can:
Give you the flexibility to leave your child for several hours without them going hungry.
Allow for you to return to work or attend responsibilities away from your child.
Benefit your mental health by giving you a break from constant care.
Allow your partner to bond with your child through bottle feeding
Will offering a bottle hurt my breastfeeding relationship?
Breast milk is made on a supply and demand basis. If you want to add a routine bottle into your feeding schedule, add in an extra pumping session to account for the milk that isn’t being removed from your breast. The occasional bottle won’t affect your milk supply long-term but losing a feeding session daily will.
When is the right time to introduce a bottle?
While this answer varies for every child, a normal timeline for bottle introduction is around 3 or 4 weeks. You know your baby is ready for a bottle once breastfeeding is well-established.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding is considered “well-established” if you can answer yes to the following three statements:
- My baby can easily latch at the breast.
- Breastfeeding feels comfortable.
- My baby has exceeded their birth weight.
Once you feel comfortable with these three criteria, congratulations, you, and your baby are ready to learn a new skill!
The Best Bottles for Breastfed Babies
Did you know some bottles are better than others for breastfed babies? This is because the mechanics of eating at the breast versus most traditional bottle nipples are entirely different. If a bottle nipple has too fast of a flow, milk will pour into your baby’s mouth making it hard for them to control the rhythm of drinking and swallowing.
The best bottles for breastfed babies:
- Offer a slow flow nipple
- Reduce spit-up
- Minimize air getting into baby’s stomach
- Allow for a similar latch with their bottle nipple shape
The mōmi bottle was designed to address the mechanics behind the suck, swallow, breathe rhythm of feeding at the breast. Unlike traditional bottle nipples, the silicone design stretches and pulls. This allows your baby to control the flow rate of milk and pace their feedings similarly to feedings at the breast.
How to Offer a Bottle of Pumped Milk for the First Time
The first step to offering a bottle of breast milk is having a reserve of milk. Add in a pumping session after your morning feed to begin collecting additional ounces. Many women find their milk supply is higher in the morning, so this is a good time of day to start your milk stockpile.
You can also use a hands-free suction device to capture your letdown milk. These silicone devices suction onto the breast baby is not feeding on and ensure your letdown milk isn’t going to waste in your bra.
These are most useful in the early days of breastfeeding before your milk supply regulates. Capture and freeze any quantities of milk to eventually use in bottle feeds.
When introducing pumped milk, make small changes to work your way up to frozen milk:
- Start with freshly pumped milk for the first several feeds.
- Then, move on to warmed-up refrigerated milk.
- Finally, move on to defrosted frozen milk.
There are subtle flavor differences in fresh, refrigerated, and thawed milk. By making small changes to the liquid contents your baby has time to adjust and accept this new flavor.
How to Offer a Bottle of Formula for the First Time
If you want to offer your baby formula in a bottle, we recommend first establishing their feeding routine with bottles of breast milk and then making the switch slowly. Once your breastfed baby is readily drinking from a bottle, introduce formula.
Gradually increase the ratio of breast milk to formula in a bottle until they are drinking each combination without hesitancy.
- Start with ¾ liquid volume of breast milk, ¼ of formula.
- Then, move on to ½ liquid volume of breast milk, ½ formula.
- Finally, offer all formula.
Once they are drinking all formula bottles you can switch back and forth between the breast and bottles of formula without concern.
Tips for Introducing a Bottle to a Breastfed Baby
Practice patience when introducing a bottle to a breastfeeding child. It can take four or five times before your baby will drink from the bottle effectively. Don’t get discouraged! More than any tips to get your baby to drink, remaining calm and consistently offering a bottle is the best way to get a bottle-refuser or a new-to-the-bottle baby to learn this skill.
Choose a stress-free day to introduce the bottle.
Don’t wait until the day before, or even the week before you need your breastfed baby to take a bottle. Babies are tiny sponges that soak up their environment. If you are stressed because they aren’t drinking from a bottle, they will pick up on your frustrations. It’s a cycle that keeps everyone frustrated. Introduce this new system with plenty of time for them to learn how to drink from a bottle without a countdown.
Give them a bottle when they aren’t dealing with sickness.
Babies seek comfort when they aren’t feeling well. Comfort to a breastfeeding infant means cuddling into your chest and nursing. If your baby has a cough or a case of sniffles, wait until they are fully healthy before introducing a bottle.
Pick the time of day your baby is happiest.
Does your baby enjoy mornings or afternoons best? Most children get more irritable as the day goes on, so we recommend offering a bottle when they are in a joyful, calm mood.
Wait until they are showing hunger cues, but not overly hungry.
Recognize hunger cues in your baby. Putting their fists to their mouth, turning their head, sucking on their hands and lip-smacking are all cues that they are ready for a meal. Waiting until they have an appetite makes them more ready to drink from a bottle.
Let your partner offer the first few feeds, while you leave the room or the house.
Sound extreme? Those tiny babies are smart and know when their mom is near! Many children will drink more easily from a bottle when offered from a source other than their mom. This is because babies can smell the milk on you and will want to nurse at the breast.
Warm up the contents and run the nipple under warm water.
Some children will drink milk or formula cold, but the majority prefer their milk to be warmed. Additionally, they are used to drinking from and latching onto a warm breast. This means if they are met with something cold on their tongue, they know it is foreign. Keep everything warm so that it feels familiar and comfortable.
Illicit a rooting response with the bottle nipple.
Stroke your baby’s lips from top to bottom so that they open their mouth wide open. Then allow them to accept the nipple rather than poke it into their mouth. By mimicking a breastfeeding latch, they are building on their feeding knowledge and using that skill to translate to a bottle.
Pace bottle feeding the same as a a breastfeeding session.
You know your baby best. Many babies follow a suck, swallow, breathe rhythm at the breast that you can hear. Listen in to their next feeding session (have your partner listen as well) and then translate that pattern to the bottle. This means tilting the bottle up or down so that they can take small breaks in between pulls of milk.
Offer a bottle while rocking your baby or walking around.
Motion calms and soothes babies. If your baby is refusing or struggling with a bottle, try walking around or rocking them slightly while offering the bottle.
You Got This! Bottle-Feeding a Breastfed Baby
At the end of the day, remember that all skills are learned. Your breastfed baby learning to take a bottle is an entirely new experience for them and isn’t a reflection on your skills as a parent.
Keep your calm, prepare well in advance and plan on offering a bottle four or five times before it all clicks.
Before you know it, your breastfed baby will be taking a bottle with ease, and you will find more freedom in your feeding routine.