I have breastfed three babies and I have had to introduce a bottle to all three of them either to get them ready for my going back to work or because they weren’t gaining weight.
With every baby, I read up on the matter and decided to introduce the bottle somewhere between two and four weeks of age.
It’s important to introduce the bottle to a breastfed baby early enough that they’ll take it, but if you introduce it too early, they might start to struggle at the breast or even reject it.
Bottle feeding a breastfed baby is a tricky line to walk.
My first daughter hated the bottle.
We introduced it at two weeks of age and we might as well have been torturing her.
She was colicky to begin with but bottle feeding made her colic so much worse.
I was there the first time my husband tried to feed her, and at first she sort of nibbled on the nipple with curiosity.
Once her hunger hit, however, she screamed so hard and so long in her protest that she stopped to take a little catnap every couple of minutes just to regroup enough to keep on screaming.
We did this a couple of times a week as the time of my six week maternity leave ticked away and I needed to return to work and it never got much better.
I hoped that once we got into the routine of my working every day it would improve, but it really never did.
She wanted nothing but the breast and in the five hours that I was gone each weekday, she drank nothing but an ounce or two from her father or babysitter.
When I got home from work, she screamed and screamed while I put my stuff down and used the bathroom until I came to nurse her and she spent all afternoon and evening making up for the fact that she had been on strike all morning.
I was so afraid that all breastfed babies would have this problem.
I was able to wait until my son was four months old to go back to work, but I introduced the bottle to him when he was two weeks old anyway.
Right from the beginning, he was a champion nurser and when we gave him the bottle, he drank it with absolutely no hesitation.
It turns out my son didn’t really care where the milk came from as long as he was eating.
When I pumped for him, I pumped two or three times the amount I’d pumped for his reluctant older sister and he drank 6-10 ounces during the weekdays when I was away from him for five hours every morning.
I finally got to stay home with my third daughter and I hoped I wouldn’t need the breast pump much if at all, but she struggled a bit with breastfeeding.
When she was about three weeks old, she started losing weight after having gained and her pediatrician told me I needed to pump after each feeding and feed her my hind milk from a bottle to make sure she got enough calories.
I was the one to feed her this time because I was the one who was home with her and she took the bottle easily while continuing to improve her latch at the breast.
Once we realized she didn’t care if she had bottle or breast, I started pumping extra for my husband to feed her at night so I could get a couple of hours of sleep before taking the baby duty night shift.
Eventually, we stopped giving her the bottle because she chunked up very quickly once she figured out how to nurse effectively and it was no longer necessary.
Unfortunately, we forgot to keep her in the practice of using it once a week or so and when it came time for me to have a girls night out, she refused the bottle from my husband and hasn’t taken one from him since.
In her case, this is okay because she is rarely away from me and she has just started eating pureed foods.
In six months time she will be one year old and she will be able to drink cows milk, juice, and water in addition to my breastmilk and it will no longer be her main source of calories.
Establish Breastfeeding First
When introducing the bottle to a breastfed baby, the first and most important thing is that they have established a good breastfeeding relationship with you.
Synthetic nipples work differently than the breast and require a different sucking motion.
They generally let out milk at a faster rate as well so a baby who isn’t accustomed to the breast yet will or may start to prefer the bottle to the breast if they are fed a bottle too early.
It is more important to get your baby feeding from the breast than it is to teach them how to use a bottle.
For this reason, many nursing experts ask that you eschew any synthetic nipple, even a pacifier.
Don’t Supplement With Formula
If you want to use formula for your breastfed baby, go for it, but understand that it will deplete your milk supply.
If long-term nursing is your goal, then using formula may undermine that, both by decreasing your supply and by decreasing your baby’s desire to breastfeed.
You should always supplement with your own milk by pumping as often as your baby feeds when you are separated.
Mom Shouldn’t Give The Bottle
It’s best that mom doesn’t give the bottle.
When the baby is with the mother they should always expect the breast.
Have the father or caregiver bottle feed – not the mother as this may also cause confusion.
I have known mothers who do both – myself included – so it can be done, but again, be sure that your nursing relationship is well established before trying it.
Have Mom Leave The House Or The Room
Mom sounds different, feels different, and even smells different than anyone else.
She must smell like comfort, like home, because babies just love the scent and feel of their mommies.
With that in mind, Mom might need to leave the room or even the house while baby starts a bottle for the first time.
Her scent or the sound of her voice can be upsetting when a baby accustomed to the comfort of her breast is offered a bottle.
I mean, why would they drink from a bottle when Mommy is obviously right there?
With my first daughter, I left the house when my husband tried to bottle feed her.
It was disastrous if I didn’t, and still bad even when I did.
She did eventually take a small amount of milk from the bottle if and when I was gone.
Your Baby Won’t Starve
Unless there is an extreme case, a baby who boycotts the bottle won’t starve.
I know of a woman who had twelve hour shifts as a nurse and her baby refused to bottle-feed when she was gone.
He screamed all day with his nanny and nursed all night with his mommy.
This obviously was a very difficult situation, but the baby continued to gain weight and thrive.
It may seem stressful if your baby refuses the bottle, but unless there are extenuating circumstances, they won’t starve.
Just like an adult for whom anything tastes good when hungry, they will eat if they need to.
If you find that it is really becoming a problem, maybe you can find a way to go home during your lunch break to nurse your baby, or have your babysitter bring them to your workplace for a mid shift feeding.
My daughter drank the bare minimum from the bottle when I was gone all morning to teach.
She drank just enough to survive without me.
When she was with a sitter for shorter periods of time, she drank nothing.
When I came home, she made up for the calories she’d been refusing.
She continued to gain weight and she has grown up into a well-rounded, well-loved six year old with no lasting damage from the hours she spent screaming without me.
Being the type of mom who prefers a more attachment parenting style, it was difficult for me that she had to go through this, but unfortunately, necessity determined that she must and we all survived a difficult situation just fine.
Try Something Else
When struggling to introduce the bottle, you could try feeding the baby with a syringe, with a finger dipped in milk, or even with a cup or a low-flow sippy cup.
If they end up being one of those breastfeeders who won’t take a bottle, this can also be useful for giving them some nourishment while they are away from their mom.
Try A Couple Of Different Bottles And Nipples
Make sure you have a shape their mouths are comfortable with and a nipple that has a good flow.
Also, choose a bottle that reduces air bubbles and gas.
The Playtex Nurser is a good bottle (there are many) for breastfed babies.
My first daughter seemed to prefer the shape of the Nuk nipple to any other.
My suggestion is to get a couple of different bottles to try before stocking up on one kind.
That’s what we did when we were pregnant with our second child.
Of course, he ended up taking whatever bottle we gave him. He didn’t really care.
Still, this was a good tactic as some babies might just need a differently shaped nipple or a nipple with a slower or faster milk flow.
Warm The Milk
Since my husband is really the one with all the bottle-feeding-a-breastfed-baby experience, I asked for his best advice.
He says that the best tip he can give after bottle feeding all three of our babies is this: make sure the milk offered is warm.
It can’t be too hot, of course, but breastfed babies don’t generally like it cold.
If they’re really hungry they’ll take it but they drink more and they drink it faster if it’s warm.
Besides the fact that the heat can kill all the important living components within the milk, it heats the milk unevenly and can cause pockets of superheated milk that will burn the baby’s mouth.
Instead, place the bottle or bag of breastmilk in a bowl of warm water or Tomme Tippee warmer when traveling.
This will take longer but is definitely more effective at achieving a good temperature.
It’s tough having to leave your breastfed baby with a bottle whether they learn to take it willingly or they don’t.
Hopefully, you will find your attempts to give your nursling a bottle to be successful.