There are so many contradictory recommendations when it comes to introducing bottles. The fact of the matter is, there is no exact time to introduce a bottle. It all varies on each situation and baby.
When to Introduce the Bottle
Whether you are returning to work, school, or time spent away from your baby; it is a good idea to prepare prior to doing so. Ideally, we would love for you and your baby to have an established breastfeeding relationship (around 3-4 weeks). This way, we are not adding additional stress or learning curves to your routine. However, there are times when the return to work, school, or time spent away from your baby occurs before that relationship is established. In this case, the preparation and transition must happen sooner. Remember, you have to do what works for your family.
In preparing for spending time away from your baby, it is important to consider the factors of when to start offering a bottle. If there is no immediate need to start this transition, but you know that in the future you will use a bottle for feeding; you can start by offering the occasional bottle between 3-6 weeks to introduce. However, if you know when you intend to spend time away from your baby, prepare at least 2 weeks prior to give you and your baby time to transition.
How to introduce it
When introducing the bottle into your feeding routine, it is important to avoid stressful situations. Like dealing with a “hangry” baby or forcing the bottle. Start offering the bottle at the first sign of hunger cues. This way offering can occur over time if need be.
If at first you don't succeed, you may want to try a few different methods. Dip the bottle in expressed milk to give the baby a taste and interest them in trying the bottle. If they are still not interested, you can always try to entice them with a game touching the nipple of the bottle to their nose, cheeks, and then their lips.
Once your baby starts to show those late hunger cues (like crying) or even signs of being distressed (turning away, batting the bottle away, tense body)- feel free to offer the feeding at the breast to calm them. Once they have relaxed, you can attempt to offer the bottle again.
Another option is to have someone other than the lactating parent offer the bottle. Sometimes the association with breastfeeding with the lactating parent may be a bit distracting. On the other hand, if the person offering is not the lactating parent, and the baby is still refusing; using a piece of the lactating parent's clothing while feeding may be soothing!
If none of those methods are successful initially, it is ok to offer over a period of time. This transition may take a few days before your baby is willing to accept the bottle! If you are able to start the process well before you plan to spend time away from your baby it can facilitate a smooth transition without rushing. You can repeat all of these steps as long as needed.
If you are away from your baby and bottle refusal is still happening; there are other options like syringe feeding, spoon feeding, and cup feeding as well!
- Offer at the first sign of hunger cues
- Dip the bottle nipple in breast milk prior to offering
- Make it a fun game!
- Feed at breast first then offer the bottle in the middle of the feed
- Have someone other than the lactating parent offer the bottle
- Use a piece of clothing from the lactating parent
- Give it time and continue to offer
- Use alternative feeding methods
Feeding a Bottle
Anytime a bottle is used for feeding, regardless if it is breastmilk or formula- the bottle should be pace fed. Paced feeding is a method of feeding that uses the position of the bottle and baby to help keep the baby in control of the flow. This can help to avoid a flow preference as well as mimic breastfeeding so the transition back and forth goes smoothly. Pace feeding will also avoid overfeeding and the tummy troubles that can come with it! You can get the complete guide to pace feeding HERE.
Along with the paced feeding method assisting with flow and mimicking feeding at the breast, it is important to ensure that the baby is latching onto the bottle with their lips flanged out around the base of the bottle. Close to the collar (the piece that connects the nipple to the bottle). This supports good oral hygiene as well as latching technique. If your baby feeds at the end of the bottle like a straw, they could develop a habit that could end up in painful nipples. Learn about choosing a bottle HERE.
We understand that transitioning to bottle feeding can be difficult. The good news is, you are not alone. Reach out for support from a lactation and baby feeding professional to assist in the transition!