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Helping your baby to take a bottle

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki is a parenting writer and a mom to three wild boys who keep her on her toes (and occasionally make her question her sanity). With over 15 years of experience in the parenting industry, she has more tips and tricks than Mary Poppins on speed dial. When she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can find her sipping on coffee, hiding in the bathroom for five minutes of...
Created on May 12, 2024 · 11 mins read
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Switching your baby from breast to bottle might just feel like convincing a cat to love water—tricky, right? Whether it’s about sharing the feeds, preparing for your return to work, or just giving your arms a bit of a break, introducing a bottle offers some flexibility.


We’re here to help make this transition less about guesswork and more about smooth sailing. We’ve gathered all the nitty-gritty details and real-mum tips to help you and your little one embrace bottle-feeding without the drama.

Why do many babies have problems when switching to a bottle after breastfeeding?


It can feel like you’ve just mastered breastfeeding when suddenly, introducing a bottle throws everything off balance. But why the fuss? Well, it’s quite a shift for your little one.

Bottles require a different sucking mechanism for baby’s mouth compared to the breast, which can confuse babies who’ve gotten used to one way of feeding and that’s when baby refuses.

Plus, the flow of milk from a bottle is more consistent and requires less effort, which might overwhelm some babies at first. Breastfed babies may be used to a slow flow. And let’s not forget about the specific type of comfort breastfeeding provides—bottles don’t have the exact same feel.


When should we start expressing and offering the bottle?


Timing can be everything when it comes to introducing your breastfed baby to bottle feeding. It’s generally recommended to wait until breastfeeding is well established, which is typically around the 3- to 6-week mark. This wait helps to avoid nipple confusion and ensures your milk supply is steady.

Starting to express milk during this period can offer flexibility and relief. It allows other caregivers to get involved in feeding sessions, giving you a much-needed break or allowing you to catch up on some sleep. Plus, expressing milk keeps your supply up and ensures your baby can enjoy the benefits of breast milk, even from a bottle.

It’s wise to introduce the bottle gradually. Start by replacing one breastfeeding session with a bottle feed to help your baby adjust without overwhelming them. This gentle introduction helps your little one accept the bottle while still maintaining the comfort of breastfeeding most of the time.


When is the best time to introduce a bottle?


Finding the optimal time to introduce a bottle to your breastfed baby involves a bit of trial and error, but there are some cues and circumstances that can guide your decision.

The best time of day to introduce the bottle is when your baby is relaxed but alert, not when they are very hungry or too sleepy (this is when baby refuses). Mid-morning or after a nap can be ideal times, as your baby might be more open to trying new things when they’re not too fussy.

It’s also beneficial to offer the first few bottle feeds when you’re not in a rush and can be patient with your baby’s reluctance or acceptance. This relaxed atmosphere creates a positive association with bottle feeding for your baby. Some parents find success in having someone other than the mum introduce the bottle, as babies can smell their mother and may prefer breastfeeding if they sense she is near.

Transitioning to bottle feeding doesn’t mean you have to give up breastfeeding entirely. Many parents use bottles for convenience during outings or when mum returns to work, while continuing breastfeeding baby at other times. By choosing a stress-free time to introduce the bottle, you help ensure the process is gentle and gradual, respecting your baby’s pace and comfort.

The risks of bottle-feeding in bed


Bottle-feeding your breastfed baby in bed might seem like a cosy and convenient option, especially during those night-time feeds. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks associated with this practice.

One of the main concerns is the increased risk of ear infections. When babies are fed in a lying down position, there’s a higher chance that milk can flow back into the eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the throat. This can lead to infections, as the milk provides a breeding ground for bacteria.

Another risk is dental decay, especially if bottle-feeding continues as your baby grows older. Milk that pools in the mouth as your baby falls asleep can coat the teeth in sugars, which, over time, can lead to cavities.

There’s also the risk of aspiration, which occurs when liquid enters the lungs. If a baby falls asleep while feeding and milk continues to drip from the bottle, it can be inhaled into the lungs, causing respiratory issues or even pneumonia.

For safer bottle-feeding in bed, it’s recommended to keep your baby somewhat upright and to always hold the bottle for them, rather than allowing them to control it themselves. This reduces the risk of expressed milk pooling and ensures that feeding stops when your baby is full or falls asleep. After feeding, it’s a good idea to hold your baby upright for a short while to aid digestion and reduce the risk of ear infections.

How much do bottle-feeding babies drink?


The amount a baby drinks of expressed milk will vary based on their age, weight, and appetite, which means flexibility is key.

For newborns, the general rule is about 30-60 millilitres every 2-3 hours. As younger babies grow and their stomach expands, they can handle more milk at each feeding. By the time they’re 4 to 5 weeks old, they might be drinking about 90-120 millilitres of expressed milk at each feed, with a total 0f 900 millilitres in a 24 hour period. This should generally stay the same until around 6 months old, where it will then start to decrease as you introduce solid food.

It’s important to pay attention to your baby’s hunger cues. Signs that your baby might be hungry include fussing, smacking their lips, or putting their hands to their mouth. Conversely, stopping feeding or turning away from the bottle can indicate they’ve had enough, this is bottle refusal.

Always remember that every baby is unique. Some might drink slightly more than the typical range, and others less, which is usually perfectly normal. However, if you’re concerned about your baby’s feeding amounts or their growth, it’s a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider. They can provide guidance tailored to your baby’s specific needs and ensure they are growing healthily.

Switching back and forth between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding


Juggling both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding expressed breastmilk can be a practical approach for many families, offering flexibility and convenience, especially when you need to be away from your baby or when others want to share in feeding duties. Here are some tips to make the transition smoother:

  1. Start gradually: Introduce the bottle after breastfeeding is well-established, but before your baby becomes too set in their ways. This is typically around the age of one month. Begin by replacing one breastfeeding session with a bottle feed and gradually increase as needed.
  2. Maintain supply: To keep up your milk supply, try to pump around the same time you’d normally breastfeed. This is especially important in the early days of introducing a bottle with expressed breastmilk to ensure your body adjusts without decreasing your overall supply.
  3. Consistency in nipples: Use a bottle nipple that mimics the flow and feel of your own as closely as possible to reduce confusion for baby’s mouth. Some babies may struggle with switching if the bottle releases milk too quickly or too differently from the breast.
  4. Warmth and familiarity: Have whoever is getting your baby to take a bottle hold your baby in a position similar to how you do during breastfeeding. This familiarity can help them feel more at ease with the bottle.
  5. Keep it intimate: Just like breastfeeding, bottle-feeding is an excellent opportunity for bonding. 

Switching between breast and bottle shouldn’t feel like a compromise but rather an extension of the loving care you provide. By keeping the experience positive and stress-free, you help your baby feel secure and content, no matter the feeding method.

What if those tips aren't working?


Despite your best efforts, some breastfed babies take time to adjust to the bottle.

Remember, it’s a big shift for your little one as they’re not only adjusting to a new feeding method but also missing the comfort and closeness of breastfeeding. Here are some strategies to try if your baby is resistant to the bottle:

  1. Change the equipment: Sometimes, the solution is as simple as changing the type of bottle or nipple. Babies can be particular about the texture, shape, and flow. Try different bottles to find one that your baby prefers.
  2. Let someone else step in: Babies often associate feeding with their mother. Therefore, having another family member offer the bottle might help your baby accept it more readily, especially when they can’t smell your presence.
  3. Adjust the feeding position: Experiment with different positions. Some babies might take the bottle better when sitting up slightly, while others may prefer lying slightly more horizontally, similar to how they breastfeed.
  4. Check for oral development issues: If your baby consistently struggles, it could be due to weak oral muscle tone or baby’s mouth, or other developmental concerns. Consulting with a paediatrician or a specialist in infant oral health can provide guidance and possible treatments.
  5. Create a calm environment: Minimise distractions and create a soothing environment when they take a bottle. This can make the experience more pleasant and less stressful for your baby.
  6. Warm the milk: Ensure the expressed breastmilk is warmed to a temperature similar to breast milk. The familiarity of the warmth can make the transition less jarring. Cold milk is no-no.
  7. Be patient and persistent: It can sometimes take several weeks for a baby to fully accept a bottle. Keep trying regularly, but don’t force it so that the bottle remains a positive experience.

Remember, every baby is different, and what works for one might not work for another. Stay flexible, patient, and consult with healthcare professionals if you have concerns about your baby’s feeding or development.

Bottle-feeding with love and connection


As mothers, we understand the profound bond that forms during breastfeeding. But rest assured, this bond can continue to flourish during bottle feeding too.

Eye contact and skin-to-skin Contact
Even though you’re not breastfeeding directly, maintain eye contact with your baby when they take a bottle. This simple act fosters intimacy and helps your baby feel connected to you. And don’t forget the importance of skin-to-skin contact. Hold your baby close, allowing them to feel your warmth and heartbeat.

Talk, sing, and engage
Just like during breastfeeding, use bottle feeding as an opportunity to talk, sing, and engage with your baby. Your soothing voice is incredibly comforting to them, and it strengthens the bond between you. Narrate your actions, share stories, or simply whisper sweet nothings – every word is a thread in the tapestry of your relationship.

Mimic breastfeeding cues
While bottle feeding may feel different to your baby, you can mimic some breastfeeding cues to make it more familiar. Hold your baby in a similar position to how you would during breastfeeding – cradled in your arms, close to your chest. Gently stroke their cheek or rub their back to provide reassurance and comfort.

Embrace the closeness
Feeding is more than just nourishment; it’s a precious opportunity for closeness and connection. Embrace this time together, cherishing the quiet moments as you feed your little one. Make eye contact, share smiles, and revel in the intimacy of the experience.

Be present and mindful
In our fast-paced world, it’s easy to get distracted during feedings. But when you’re bottle feeding, be fully present and mindful. Put away your phone, turn off the TV, and focus solely on your baby. This undivided attention not only strengthens your bond but also enhances your baby’s sense of security and wellbeing.

Comfort and soothe
Bottle feeding isn’t just about filling your baby’s tummy; it’s about providing comfort. If your baby seems fussy or unsettled, pause the feeding and remove the bottle from baby’s mouth and offer words of reassurance. Gently rub their back or rock them in your arms until they feel calm and content.

Trust your instincts
As a parent, you possess an innate wisdom that guides you in caring for your baby. Trust your instincts and follow your baby’s cues during feeding. Whether they need a little extra cuddling or a change of position, listen to their signals and respond with love and tenderness.

Wrapping it up


As we wrap up this feeding frenzy, remember that every baby is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Whether you’re mastering the art of breastfeeding, embracing bottles, or finding your own mix, trust your instincts and enjoy the journey.

So here’s to messy bibs, late-night feeds, and endless cuddles. Here’s to the laughter, the love, and the magic of parenthood.

Sources


Bottle Feeding – nutrition and safety, Better Health Channel. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/bottle-feeding-nutrition-and-safety

Bottle feeding (2023) Children’s Health Queensland. Available at: https://www.childrens.health.qld.gov.au/health-a-to-z/bottle-feeding

Helping your baby to take expressed breastmilk (2022) Australian Breastfeeding Association . Available at: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/resources/helping-baby-take-ebm

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