Tips and Best Practice for Introducing a bottle to your breastfed baby

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There are many reasons why you may consider introducing your baby to a bottle. For example, you may want to start using a bottle so that you can start feeding your baby some expressed breast milk; or, know that you will need to leave your baby when returning to work, and you want to ensure they have some milk while you’re away from them. Some families get away with never having to introduce a bottle, and go straight onto cups, but for others, they aren’t so lucky. A breastfed baby can be very picky once they’re used to the breast, they seem to flatly refuse all sorts of bottles and teats no matter how hard you try, but there are a few ways round this. If you’re establishing breastfeeding, don’t try and introduce a bottle too early, otherwise you will risk disrupting breastfeeding, wait a minimum of 2 weeks, but 6 or more weeks is best. If you’re struggling being the main source of food, ask friends and family to help in other ways, like changing, carrying and taking them for walks.

Whatever the reason, this guide sets out how to go about giving your baby their first bottle, top tips in the early stages of introducing your little one to a bottle, and tactics that you can use when your child resists a bottle:

How to give your baby their first bottle

The common issue for babies being introduced to a bottle is that they will need to use a different sucking action compared to when they breastfeed. Therefore, it will likely take them time to get the hang of this new feeling.

To help, look to give your child their first few bottles when they are relaxed and happy as opposed to instances when they’re hungry and more likely to want to get fed by a method that they are used to. It could also be wise to offer your baby a bottle in the evening once their regular feeding has been complete — you don’t need to give them that much milk in this instance, as it will be more about getting your child used to the feel of a bottle’s nipple.

Another tip is to get someone else to give your baby their first few feeds — the dad or a friend or family member — as that way your baby will not be near you and smelling your breast milk. It may also be best if the mother is out of the house while the baby is being bottle fed, as many youngsters can smell their mother even from a distance. You only need to do this a handful of times until your child is used to drinking from a bottle. It’s also easy to step in and overtake, particularly if the baby is crying and you all want some sleep!

Don’t force your baby to feed from a bottle too much, and only feed them enough milk until they let you know that they’ve had enough. This needs to be a smooth transition, so your child will be more likely to rebel if they aren’t enjoying their bottle in the early stages. They may not take much milk, but even a few sips is a triumph!

What to do if your baby is resisting

If you are struggling to get your baby to make the transition from breast to bottle, there are some techniques that could help. I’ve transitioned 3 babies to combination feeding successfully using these methods, and my last baby took a bottle when necessary. He now has a cup for drinks and the breast for his milk feeds.

Types of Bottles and Cups Best for a Breastfeeding Baby

You should take the time to find a suitable product for your baby. A bottle with a nipple that is similar to your child’s dummy if they have one will likely make it more appealing to your little one, for instance. Look at the shape and size of your nipple and choose a teat that’s similar – although I’ve yet to see a true nipple shaped teat, and the nipple changes when it’s inside the baby’s mouth. The wide neck style bottles definitely work better with breastfed babies, and choose the slowest flow teat, or a variable flow one, as you want to try and replicate the let down reflex they’re used to. Variable flow lets you start slow then twist it round to make it faster flow. Soft, flexible silicone is best, and BPA free.

If you want to bypass the bottle altogether, try a transition bottle to cup. It really doesn’t matter how they get the milk in, as long as it gets in! A First Sippee Transition Cup from Tommee Tippee ticks all of these boxes, not to mention the fact that they are specially designed for a baby’s first sips and has a super soft spout that is gentle on your child’s sensitive gums. These cups may well be known to you, following a dad’s desperate search last year to find a replacement cup for his autistic son. The plea received over 12,000 retweets and the full story can be read on the BBC website.

Positioning and other tips and tricks to get a breastfed baby drinking from a bottle or cup

It’s not just the design of the bottle or cup that can help your baby with the transition. Your baby may start sucking from the cup or bottle’s nipple if you place some breast milk on it and your child tastes it and enjoys the familiar taste.

Let your baby get used to their new bottle or cup in their own time too. Don’t be quick to take the product away from them if they begin to chew on the nipple — let them do this for now as they may switch to sucking on it once they are familiar with the feeling. They may roll it around their mouth and just stare at you – this is normal at first! Try angling the teat to the roof of the mouth, cupping their face as you hold the bottle.

Inserting a clean finger into their mouth and letting them suck on it, then swapping the finger for the bottle can work well. Once they know milk comes out and it feels familiar, you’re away. Some women have success by starting a breastfeed, then switching to the bottle when the sucking action is underway. They may just get annoyed with you though!

Babies may also feel more comfortable drinking from a bottle or cup when they are held in a different position to how you breastfeed them. Feed them from a bottle or cup when they are in a semi-upright position in a car seat, for example, or by having them on your lap but with their back to your chest, or propped up on your knees facing you.

You can flip it the other way and make it uber like breastfeeding, have the bottle tucked under your armpit and keep baby in the same position, latching them on to the bottle. Think about how your baby latches on to the breast, and mimic that.

Lastly, if the baby is over 6 months, depending on how long you’re leaving them, will they desperately need milk? If they’re really adamant they won’t take a bottle, don’t force it, give water and food and they’ll catch up on milk when you get back. If they are hungry for milk they will take it eventually, babies won’t intentionally starve themselves.

Temperature and storage of breastmilk

Once expressed into sterile containers or bags, breastmilk can be stored in the fridge for up to five days at 4C or lower (you can buy relatively cheap fridge thermometers online); for two weeks in the freezer compartment of a fridge; for up to six months in a freezer. Breast milk that’s been cooled in the fridge can be carried in a cool bag with ice packs for up to 24 hours. If you’re freezing it, make sure you label and date it first, and put how much, because once it’s frozen it’s not so clear. It’s normal for breastmilk to separate into a clearer layer on the top, it doesn’t mean it’s spoiled.

It’s best to defrost the frozen milk slowly in the fridge before giving it to your baby. If you do need to use it straightaway you can defrost it by putting it in a jug of warm water or holding it under running warm water. Never microwave your breastmilk, as it damages the contents and can cause hot spots. Once it’s defrosted, use it straightaway. Don’t re-freeze milk that has been defrosted. Any expressed milk out of the fridge or freezer should be used within 2 hours.

When introducing a bottle of expressed milk, warm it to body temperature (about 37ºC), as that’s what they’re used to.

Hopefully with this advice, your baby will be happy accepting the bottle or cup for those feeds you need before you know it. Remember I’m always on hand for advice if you need it, or a friendly ear. Come join our Facebook community and chat with other mums just like you.

Disclosure: collaborative post. Contains affiliate links

Breast is best, but when you need to introduce a bottle of expressed milk or formula, the breastfed baby may have other ideas! From an experienced Midwife and Mum of 3 who's successfully combi fed, and introduced a bottle to her staunchly breastfed babies, this guide will get your reluctant bottle feeder to take the bottle. Includes practical advice on the types of bottle and teat to get for success. Click through to get started

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  • Reply Helen

    This post is exactly what I need at the moment, as I’m currently struggling to introduce a bottle to my 8 week old baby. We’ve been trying since she was six weeks with not much luck. Going to try some of your tips now!

    August 10, 2017 at 7:52 am
    • Reply Midwife and Life

      All the best!

      August 10, 2017 at 7:57 am
  • Reply Jane

    Thank you so much for this article. One of the most important tips from this article is time. Just like adults, babies too need to explore the new feeding habit before totally committing to it.

    Also, when it comes to timing, one little tip that usually helps with the transition is to ensure that you time your baby bottle feeding while giving yourself enough time to do it properly. Allowing your baby to feed slowly will also help her/him to explore different feeding positions and this will help the baby ease to bottle feeding. Another advantage to this is that you can try different feeding positions for your baby if you discover that your baby is disinterested but not distressed and you need to feed him/her at that point. But remember, when your baby starts to cry when you try it, it’s best to stop and try again at another time.

    October 30, 2018 at 12:01 am
  • Reply Mary Brice

    Great tips! My husband and family specially my sister ellay are very supportive of my breastfeeding journey, without them its very hard for me. Thanks

    January 24, 2019 at 3:47 pm
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