The bond you feel as you hold your baby close is unbreakable. Feeling those tiny lips on your breast, feeding, is the most natural thing in the world. As much as you want to continue breastfeeding, the time comes when you have to bottle feed. Sure, you can bid your time. “All in due time,” you say. But that time is coming, and sometimes, you may have to do it earlier. There are plenty of reasons why – and prudent ones too.
When Should You Introduce a Bottle to Your Breastfed Baby?
Under normal circumstances, you would start bottle-feeding your baby between 4 to 8 weeks.
By the time you celebrate the first “monthsary,” your baby should just about be getting used to nursing. Introducing a bottle earlier than that, and there is a chance that your bundle of joy may no longer want to nurse. On the other hand, if you delay and go beyond 8 weeks, your baby may have gotten too comfortable with breastfeeding and refuse bottle-feeding.
The key to easing your baby during the transition period is to strike a balance. The timing should neither be too early nor too late. More importantly, you do not want him/her to get overly comfortable with either nursing or a bottle.
Why Do You Need to Bottle Feed?
There are numerous reasons, including some unforeseen ones. But before getting into that, there are also hesitations. Among the most commonly held beliefs is that once exposed to artificial nipples, a baby may develop a preference and refuse to nurse. The veracity of this phenomenon, called nipple confusion, remains debatable.
At some point, you do have to start bottle feeding – after 4 weeks, of course. But there are instances when you may have to do that sooner. For example, your newborn may be struggling to latch or suck, especially if you have inverted nipples. You may have a low milk supply or cannot initiate breastfeeding, under medication, or seek postpartum depression or anxiety treatment. Some mothers cannot nurse because of an illness or perhaps a dependency on drugs. There are also other reasons. Teenage moms may need to return to school. You may have to go back to work and make both ends meet.
On why you should start bottle-feeding, there are likely a trillion reasons.
How Do You Introduce a Bottle to Your Baby?
Once you have decided that it is time, you have to do a little bit of planning. Did your pediatrician specifically instruct you to feed your baby a total number of ounces per day? If so, divide that by the number of times you nurse your baby. That would be the volume of milk you provide in the first bottle feeding.
For example, the pediatrician told you to feed your baby a total of 24 ounces per day. Let’s say your baby nurses 8 to 12 times a day.
24 ounces / 8 times a day = 3 ounces
24 ounces / 12 times a day = 2 ounces
It means that for each feeding, you are to provide 2 to 3 ounces. In preparation, you should pump and store at least 2 ounces in a bottle. Also, have some extras – 0.5 ounce – saved if your baby is not satisfied with only 2 ounces.
On the other hand, your pediatrician may have given you a range – from minimum to maximum probable amount – based on your baby’s weight. That makes it even easier. You simply store the smallest amount per bottle. A little extra is good. You never know when they might come in handy in case your baby gets hungry, unexpectedly.
Are you ready?
It begins with you pumping the “leftover” milk after feeding and freezing. Most likely, it would not be all that much, but you can add more later. Once you have stored enough, thaw the 2-ounce bottle overnight in the refrigerator.
On the day of bottle feeding, have someone around – your primary support person. The reason for that is quite simple, actually. Quite possibly, your baby may expect to latch on to your nipple – not some foreign object – and thus reject the bottle. If so, another person providing the bottle might help avoid that issue.
When you see your baby start stirring, put the 2-ounce bottle in a bottle warmer or warm water bowl. Run the bottle nipple in warm water so that it is not too cold, coming from the refrigerator. And while you do that, have your primary support person get the baby.
Your support person should hold the baby in an almost upright position, hold the bottle, and tilt just enough to fill the nipple with breast milk. This nearly horizontal position helps control milk flow by not letting gravity play a role and thus encouraging your baby to suck.
Bring the bottle nipple close to the baby’s mouth, tickling the lips, and aim towards the palate. As soon as the mouth opens (like yawning), gently push the entire nipple into the mouth until the lips rest on the nipple base. Never let the baby suck on the tip of the nipple. Once accustomed, your baby could do the same to your nipples when you nurse – and that hurts.
Remember that your baby is an active participant – seeking, opening the mouth, and latching to your nipple during breastfeeding. This behavior is what you are replicating.
Watch closely when the baby starts sucking. Tip the bottle just enough so the breastmilk covers the hole and most of the nipple. In other words, make sure the baby does not suck in air. Let the baby control the pace. Most importantly, watch for visual cues – signs of comfortable feeding or stress.
If the baby gulps with splayed fingers and wide-open eyes, the breast milk might be flowing too quickly. In that case, adjust the bottle’s position by keeping it near horizontal to slow down the flow. Other signs to watch out for are gasping, panting, worried brow, looking away, or pushing the bottle.
Remember, nursing with a bottle should be the same as the breast. Your baby should look comfortable, and there should be no leaks. Usually, bottle feeding should last 15 to 20 minutes. If it takes only 5 to 10 minutes, that is too fast. On the other hand, if it takes 30 to 45 minutes, that is too slow. The culprit is most likely the flow of milk, and you may have to replace the bottle and nipple.
Once you notice slower suckles and your baby releasing the nipple or falling asleep, that’s the end. Do not coax your baby to finish the bottle if there are still some left.
For the first time, it might be better if your baby does not see you. It may also help if your support person can have a cloth you have worn placed on his/her arm, chest, or shoulder so the baby can smell your scent.
Having another person is merely a suggestion. If you are alone, by all means, try it. In most cases, it should be fine.
What Can You Do If Your Baby Refuses the Bottle?
Although not likely, you may encounter resistance during the first try or tries. During the next few days or even weeks, your patience could be tested. Do not feel disappointed because that is normal. And there are things you can do to make the transition much less cumbersome. Remember, in as much as you are learning, so too is your baby.
If you tried to bottle feed, you might seek a third person – husband, partner, relative, or friend. As long as you are there, your baby may refuse an artificial bottle, fully expecting to nurse from your breast. On the other hand, if it is another person whom the baby is declining, then maybe it is time for you to step in.
When your baby continues to refuse, you can try to change your position.
- Try holding the baby upright while you are in a semi-reclining position.
- Hold and cuddle the baby in a manner that is similar to nursing from the breast.
- Have the baby sit back, leaning on your chest, looking outward.
- Put the baby on a stroller or bouncy chair and then offer the bottle.
Alternatively, you can also divert your baby’s attention.
- While holding your baby, walk around the house and look at different things.
- Take the baby outside to look at birds, plants, trees, clouds, cars, and anything else there is to see.
- Start with your breast, and as the baby becomes comfortable or sleepy, try pulling a fast one by switching to a bottle.
- Offer a pacifier to calm down your baby. Once settled, try to feed with a bottle.
- Sing the same song you do while nursing.
What Else Should You Know About Bottle Feeding?
When you speak to other moms, you are bound to hear plenty of tips. These are all suggestions that may or may not work. Some are bound to work for you, too.
- Your breastmilk may have an excess of the enzyme lipase. As a result, it may taste soapy once refrigerated or frozen. Most babies do not mind this at all. Some do and refuse to drink from the bottle. In this case, try scalding the mild first to inactivate the enzyme before cooling.
- Keep a happy and relaxing atmosphere before offering a bottle, once or twice a day. Make it fun and enjoyable about 5 to 10 minutes before feeding. You could even try to let your baby play with an empty bottle and nipple. Think of it as “normalizing” bottle-feeding.
- In the beginning, your baby may need time to accept bottle-feeding as opposed to nursing. Even only a few sips are enough. Do not force your baby to finish the whole bottle.
- Sometimes, your baby may also feel overwhelmed and frustrated with the attempts to bottle-feed. Stop, console, and calm your baby. After some 10 minutes, you can try to nurse.
- Be mindful of your baby’s preference. Some prefer fresh breastmilk, others like it to be cold.
- Ideally, you should offer a bottle when your baby is just getting hungry, not starving. Some parents think that withholding may work because the baby would be too hungry to refuse a bottle. Usually, the refusal is not because of stubbornness. Your baby may not know what to do with a bottle and needs time to learn.
- When your baby is adamant at refusing a bottle, never let one person (like the dad) always be the one feeding and be the bad guy. You may ask another person or take turns.
- Do not be negatively affected by difficulty in bottle-feeding attempts. You and your baby both need time to learn and acquire new skills. If your precious little one is giving you fits, take it in stride.
How to Introduce Paced Feeding to Avoid Drawbacks of Bottle Feeding?
A typical bottle/nipple usually has a better milk flow, so some babies may prefer them over breastfeeding. A way to avoid that is to use a nipple with a slower flow rate. One brand you can try is Munchkin LATCH baby bottles. Even better, employ the paced bottle feeding method that mimics nursing from the breast.
Paced feeding a breastfed baby is designed to simulate the natural breastfeeding process and offer several benefits. For one, it helps avoid feeding too little or too much. A baby may have to keep gulping and choke during conventional bottle-feeding. Paced feeding eliminates that by letting your baby eat at his/her pace. Not only does it practically eliminate the chances of colic symptoms, but it also causes less stress and avoids colic symptoms.
Paced feeding also makes the switch between nursing and bottle-feeding seamless. For sure, it avoids any issues associated with nipple confusion. More importantly, when a baby learns to pace and recognize when to stop eating, it helps promote a healthy eating habit in the future.
It is easy.
Proceed with bottle-feeding your baby, but tip the bottle downward or remove from the mouth after 20 to 30 seconds. That is similar to what happens when nursing.
Also, move your baby to the other side, just like what you do when nursing. Simulating switching from one breast to the other prevents your baby from developing a side preference. Moreover, it lets the eyes see a new view, which is excellent for development.
Once your baby is near full, remove the nipple by gently twisting. You can offer again, and if accepted, allow 10 sucks. Repeat the cycle until your baby refuses. This step teaches the feeling of satiety. It bodes well in the future by reducing the chances of feeding too much.
Aim to Paced Bottle Feed for a Healthy Future
After four weeks of nursing, it is time to introduce a bottle. You may not feel the need to begin that early, but that is a prudent thing. There is credence to the notion that a baby that has tried bottle-feeding would likely refuse to nurse in the old days. Back then, breastmilk freely flows out of the bottle, and it is much easier for babies to eat.
But continuing to nurse may disrupt other necessities in life. For example, you may need to go back to work. Or, knock on wood, there might be an emergency that requires you to leave the baby at home for some time.
Bottle-feeding, usually, should not pose much of a problem – especially when you use those that have a slow flow rate. Your baby would have to work a bit to suck and eat. It means that you can have the option to nurse or feed using a bottle with no trouble.
But you should also take it one notch higher by introducing paced feeding. Yes, it is meant to make nursing and bottle-feeding seamless. But more importantly, it is a way to train your baby to recognize fullness. It is a feeding method that instills good eating habits that will last a lifetime.