How to Bottle Feed Your Breastfed Baby: The Ultimate Guide
Has your baby only been breastfed so far in his short life? Are you wondering how you’ll be able to incorporate bottle feeding once you go back to work?
If so, you’ve come to the right place. When my oldest child was 10 weeks old, I had to return to the workforce. It was heartbreaking, but I didn’t have a choice because my family needed the money.
I worried about how she would take to the bottle and if we would still be able to have our breastfeeding bonding time. Would she start to refuse the breast because bottle feeding was easier?
So I did what any slightly obsessed mom would do to stockpile information. I turned to my mom friends and the internet. I compiled a bunch of tips to help with my bottle feeding mission.
And you know what? All the worry was for nothing. With the right information, I was able to switch her between the breast and bottle successfully. It wasn’t easy, but it was doable. And as a side benefit, my husband was able to get more involved with the feedings.
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Things to Know About Bottle Feeding a Breastfed Baby
Introducing a bottle isn’t necessary if you plan to be with your child 24/7 for the first year. But not many women have the luxury of having so much togetherness with their baby. And, quite frankly, not every woman wants that much pressure.
Being the only one who can feed a baby is scary. You love being there for your baby, but it’s overwhelming when no one else can do what you can do. There are times you might need help and a bottle will be the only way your partner or caregiver can help.
There are good things and bad things about introducing the bottle to a breastfed baby.
The Pros of Bottle Feeding
If you’re too sick to breastfeed, you don’t have to power through it if there’s a bottle around your partner can use for the baby.
You’ll be able to go back to work outside the home if you need or want to.
You’ll be able to take a break to go to a movie or out with some friends once in awhile.
Your partner can experience some of the joy of feeding a hungry baby.
You’ll be able to catch up on your sleep if your partner can give your baby a bottle.
The Cons of Bottle Feeding
You might suffer some intense mom guilt.
You worry that you’ll cause nipple confusion between the breast and the bottle.
Your baby may not like it at first.
The Myths of Bottle Feeding
The number one myth associated with this situation is that your baby will never take the breast again over the bottle.
But before you let that myth stop you from going ahead with your plans, realize that it’s not usually true. Babies can switch successfully between the breast and the bottle. Even if he develops a bottle preference, you can still get him to breastfeed if you work at it.
When Can I Introduce a Bottle to a Breastfed Baby?
Here’s where I got lucky with my daughter. Since I had 10 weeks off of work, she was exclusively breastfed until the 2-month mark.
That gave me two weeks of introducing the bottle before I went back to the office. Turns out, that was one of the keys to my success.
You shouldn’t introduce a bottle for the first 3 to 6 weeks. That lets your baby refine his breastfeeding technique.
But because nothing is ever easy about motherhood, if you wait months before introducing the bottle, it can become a problem too. Your baby might refuse the bottle and only want to be breastfed. (source)
Choosing the Correct Equipment
You wouldn’t go into war without the proper equipment and weapons, would you? It’s just as important to be fully armed and ready for the battle you’re about to begin with your baby.
How Can I Choose the Right Bottles?
First of all, you should realize that all babies aren’t the same when it comes to their sucking patterns (source).
That means what works for your friend’s baby may not work for your baby. She might swear it’s the greatest bottle in the world, but when you try it, it could be useless. That happened to me when I was making the switch from breast to bottle with my baby.
I was suckered into my friend’s claim that a particular bottle was the only one that would work, so I ran out and bought an armload of them. And guess what? My baby hated them. She wouldn’t take them at all.
They weren’t cheap and I felt misled. But it wasn’t my friend’s fault. They really did work for her, but my baby just never took to them for some reason.
Whatever you do, when you’re searching for bottles that will work for your child, make sure you don’t buy them in big quantities. Start by buying one bottle and see if that works for your baby before buying more.
Just because one bottle type doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean that your baby is doomed to failure. Don’t get discouraged. Just look for another bottle that may work. Make sure you keep trying.
How Do I Find the Right Nipples?
Any nipple you choose should remind your baby of the breast -- that’s where he’s most comfortable. He’s already used to the shape and feel of the breast, so you need to keep that as close as possible to what he’s used to experiencing.
Here is what you should look for in a nipple (source):
A wide base that will remind your baby of your breast.
A nipple that isn’t too long -- you want it to be shorter.
A nipple that’s round will help them avoid nipple confusion and keep a good latch.
A silicone nipple instead of latex for babies that may have latex allergies.
Nipples that are slow flow -- you don’t want the milk to flow out of the bottle without your baby working for it. She’ll never want to go back to breastfeeding.
What Accessories Should I Have on Hand?
Once you’ve figured out which nipples and bottles you’re going to try, you need to also look at which accessories you’ll need.
Here are some of the main accessories you’ll want to consider and why they are so invaluable.
Brushes: You’ll need to keep those bottles clean, so a good brush will be invaluable. The brush should be able to clean the bigger bottle areas, but it should also come with a smaller nipple brush too.
Pumps: If you’re pumping milk so a caregiver can give it to your baby while you’re at work, make sure you have a high-quality pump. By having a good pump, you’ll ensure that you can routinely pump enough milk so you’ll have a stockpile in case some milk is wasted while you’re trying to introduce the bottle to your baby.
Sterilizer: Hygiene is crucial when you are bottle feeding a baby. You don’t want to introduce germs and bacteria along with the bottle. A sterilizer can give you the peace of mind you need.
Warmers: Warmers aren’t a necessity. You can get by without one. But when making the move from the breast to the bottle, I think they’re a good idea. Your baby is used to drinking body temperature milk so he may not want to drink breast milk straight from the refrigerator -- it’ll be too cold for him and that will give him one more reason to refuse it.
Tips for Introducing the Bottle
When I gave my baby his first bottle, I’m not going to lie -- I was nervous. It was so different from what we were both used to. So it may feel strange for both of you at first. But there are some tips to make it easier and increase your chances for success.
1. Let Your Partner Feed Your Baby from the Bottle for the First Time
It might be difficult, but you should step back on this one and let someone else take the reins. When your baby sees you, he can’t take your boobs out of the picture. He’s used to them being there, ready for him whenever he needs them.
If you’re the one feeding him the bottle, he’s going to fight for the real thing. But if someone else gives him the bottle, he’ll be more likely to take it because he doesn’t equate the other person with breastfeeding.
If you know you’re the type who will want to watch your baby getting his first bottle, it might even be best if you stay out of the house when it’s happening because if he sees you or hears you, your partner will be silently cursing you. He won’t stand a chance at the bottle introduction if your baby senses you’re near.
I tried to give my baby her first bottle and it was a disaster. She kept struggling to reach my breast and screaming when I tried to put the bottle in her mouth. I felt awful because I knew I could end her frustration just by giving her what she wanted. But I also knew I couldn’t because I had to go to work in two short weeks.
So that first attempt was an abysmal failure. I learned from it though. The next bottle introduction was given by my husband and I was nowhere in sight. It wasn’t a perfect attempt, but it was a lot better than I did.
2. Watch the Position
You don’t want to change too many things about your baby’s feeding experience all at once. If there are too many changes, he’ll fight the bottle even more.
Show your partner how you typically hold your baby while you’re breastfeeding and encourage him to use that same position.
3. Start with a Slow Flow Nipple
When you breastfeed your baby, the milk doesn’t come out like Niagara Falls. So any nipple you use shouldn’t have a fast flow either. Your baby still has to work for the milk she gets otherwise she may become a lazy feeder.
If you choose a slow flow nipple, your baby will feel more comfortable -- it will be what she’s used to, or even slightly faster than she’s used to. As she gets the hang of bottle feeding, you can move to a faster flow nipple.
4. Don’t Go Cold Turkey from Breast to Bottle
Give your baby the best of both worlds to ensure she’s able to feed both ways. You don’t want to go from exclusively breastfeeding to giving your baby only bottles.
You should allow your baby to do some breastfeeding, especially when they're making the transition to bottles. If you can avoid changing too many things at once, it will help your baby adjust.
5. Take Little Breaks
To make the experience seem more like breastfeeding, every few minutes take the bottle out of your baby’s mouth and give her a chance to catch her breath.
During breastfeeding, your baby is able to take it at her own pace, stopping her feeding whenever she wants. Bottle feeding should be the same for her.
6. Don’t Give Her Too Much
When you switch from breastfeeding to bottle feeding, you run the risk of overfeeding your baby (source).
Breastfeeding can be a slower process than bottle feeding because of the multiple breaks your baby takes and because the flow of the milk is generally slower than it is with a bottle.
If you’re watching the clock when you’re feeding the bottle, it can feel like your baby hasn’t fed long enough so you just keep going. But that’s a mistake. If you let her feed just as long as you did while breastfeeding, she’ll be taking in way more milk with a bottle.
When I made the jump to bottle feeding my child breast milk, I couldn’t believe how quickly she sucked down a bottle. The first time she did that, I made her a second bottle because I wasn’t sure if she was still hungry. I thought maybe I had misjudged how much milk she was truly getting from my breasts when she was feeding.
But she didn’t want one single ounce of that second bottle. She was full -- bottle feeding just hadn’t taken as long.
So how do you know when your baby has had enough?
Babies who are exclusively breastfed tend to take in about 25 ounces of milk on average from the ages of 1 month to 6 months (source).
Using a benchmark of 25 ounces, you can divide that number by the number of feedings she has each day. That will give you a good starting point for how much milk you should put in the bottle.
7. Watch for Visual Cues
If your baby doesn’t want any more of her bottle, she’ll give you clues, just like she did while she was breastfeeding.
My baby would turn her head in an attempt to eject the bottle from her mouth. But your baby may also keep sucking on the nipple while letting the milk run out of the corners of her mouth. That tells you she is using the nipple as a pacifier at that point, not as a food source.
Older babies may also just pull the bottle out of their mouth when they are done.
8. Only Feed Her When She’s Hungry
To get her to take the bottle more seriously, you don’t want to give it to her every hour. Set up a feeding schedule just as you had when she was breastfeeding.
If you’ve tried everything else and nothing is working, then offer her a little extra milk, even if it’s not her regular feeding time. She could be hitting a growth spurt where she needs a little bit more.
9. Stay in Close Contact
Your baby likely looks forward to breastfeeding time because it’s more than a chance to get milk. It’s an opportunity for some mother and child bonding.
Make sure your baby is still getting plenty of that. If someone else is doing some of the feedings, she’s probably missing you. So make sure you cuddle her and talk to her just like you used to during your breastfeeding days.
That was never a problem at my house -- my husband practically had to pry our baby out of my arms when he wanted some time with her. I think I missed our breastfeeding sessions as much as she did!
Understanding Pace Feeding
If you want your baby to retain her interest in breastfeeding so you can still enjoy some quality bonding time after you get home from work in the afternoon, you should give pace feeding a try.
Using this method, you’ll imitate your baby’s feeding pattern when she breastfeeds. That means you’ll have her take mini breaks, which will let your baby realize when she’s starting to get full instead of rapidly gulping down the whole bottle (source).
Because the experience and the pace will feel similar to breastfeeding, your baby won’t have as much confusion while trying to switch back and forth between the breast and bottle.
How To Do Pace Feeding
Position the baby in a near sitting up position, which will stop the gravity-induced fast flow of the milk from the nipple. That will put your baby in the driver’s seat when it comes to how much milk she’ll suck from the bottle.
Rub the nipple on your baby’s lips so she gets a little bit of milk. This should get her to accept the bottle if she’s hungry.
After about 30 seconds of feeding time, you’ll take the bottle out of your baby’s mouth.
Let her sit for a minute or two, which will give her time to feel whether she’s getting full rather than just sucking on the bottle because it’s there. That helps prevent overeating.
About midway through, you’ll want to switch sides that you’re holding her on just as you would while breastfeeding.
When you think your baby is winding down from the feeding, take the nipple out of her mouth, and wait 30 seconds or so before giving it to her again. If she wants it, just give her a few sucks before taking it out again. Repeat this until she no longer wants the bottle. This last step is important when it comes to making your child realize he’s already full and doesn’t need more milk.
The Pros of Pace Feeding
Prevents your baby from overfeeding.
Since it’s so similar to the pace of breastfeeding, your baby will likely have more success switching back and forth between the breast and the bottle.
The Cons of Pace Feeding
- Pace feeding may not be the best choice for a baby that’s struggling to gain weight. You’ll want your baby to drink faster before realizing she’s getting full if you’re at the point where your doctor says your baby isn’t gaining enough weight.
What If Your Baby Refuses the Bottle?
If you still have a bottle hater on your hands, remember you’re not alone. Many moms have been there. It took a few tries before my baby didn’t scream and fight me whenever I whipped out the bottle instead of my breast.
But I kept at it and tried everything I could think of. They didn’t all work for my baby, but enough of them did that we were able to power through this challenging stage. Here are some of the best tips in my arsenal.
1. Let Someone Else Do It
As I mentioned earlier, this one really helps. It can be a bit hard on moms who tend to feel this compulsive drive to meet every one of their baby’s needs themselves. But sometimes a little bit of distance from you can be the healthiest thing for a baby.
2. Leave the House
Being a mom is hard work. When you hear your baby cry, you want to go comfort her. But when she’s trying to get used to bottle feeding, that’s the worst thing you can do. You’re going to sabotage the efforts of your spouse or the babysitter.
You’ll be sending your baby mixed messages if you walk in the room to console your baby and you end up breastfeeding. She’ll never learn to bottle feed.
I feel your pain on this one. When I was teaching my baby to bottle feed, I had to constantly remind myself of the difference between meeting my baby’s needs and her wants. She wanted to keep breastfeeding, but she needed to learn how to bottle feed.
As a parent, needs versus wants is one of the most important things you can learn.
So, if you find it too hard to remain in the house while someone else’s is trying to bottle feed your baby or if you suspect your baby senses your presence and is holding out for the breast instead of the bottle, you should hightail it out of the house. Go grab some groceries or take a walk. Do something constructive with your time instead of hiding in the next room and listening to everyone of your baby’s angry cries.
3. Leave a Scented Memento with the Caregiver
Your baby leaves plenty of scented mementos behind, but the ones you leave won’t be dirty diapers. When you’re out of the house or away at work, give the caregiver something of yours, like a scarf or a pillow, that she can share with the baby.
4. Check Out Different Bottles and Nipples
Mankind wouldn’t be nearly as advanced as it is right now if we had given up the first time we failed at things. We wouldn’t be flying, driving or living in the homes we are now. The same principle applies to parenting -- we can never give up on our missions because what we’re doing is important.
So if your baby refuses the bottle, try another one and put new nipples on as well. Keep experimenting until you crack the code -- finding the right combination of bottle and nipple for him.
5. Change Up the Temperature of the Nipple and Milk
The nipple and milk may not be as warm as your baby is used to. You’ll want it to be body temperature just as your milk is.
If your baby refuses the bottle, try to warm it up slightly and see if that helps. Be careful though not to warm it up too much -- you don’t want to scald your baby’s mouth.
Or, if your baby is teething, you can try making the milk and nipple colder (source).
6. Coat the Nipple in Breast Milk
To get your baby to accept the bottle, try putting some breast milk on the nipple and rub it on her lips or just place the tip in her mouth.
Her hunger might overcome her hatred of trying something new.
7. Let Her Play Around with the Nipple
Give your baby a minute to experiment with the nipple. She may not be drinking, but if she’s playing around with the nipple, she’s at least getting used to it.
In the beginning, my baby would spend minutes rolling the nipple around in her mouth before she suddenly decided she would start sucking on it.
8. Change Positions
If you move your baby into a more comfortable position -- one that she uses for breastfeeding, you might have greater success. Try shifting her around and see what happens.
9. Try Different Times During the Day
Make sure you aren’t trying to switch to bottle feeding at a point in the day that won’t work for your baby. If she’s too tired or starving or irritated, it might be doomed to fail before you even start.
With my baby, whenever she was grumpy I knew it was a bad time to try to feed her with a bottle. I had to wait until she was in a good mood to try.
10. Use Distraction
By keeping your baby thinking about something else, you might have greater success. You can try talking to her, making faces or singing. You can also try drawing her attention to a toy instead of the bottle you’re putting in her mouth.
11. Catch Her Before She Drifts Off to Sleep
You can use those minutes when she’s just drifting off to sleep to introduce a dream feed. She might not be aware of what’s happening since she’s almost asleep and she’s so relaxed.
12. Make Sure Her Mouth is Positioned Correctly
When your baby breastfeeds, her mouth is often opened wider than it is with bottle feeding. So you want to make sure her mouth is opened wide enough and sealed around the nipple. The corners of her mouth should also be sealed around the base of the nipple so you don’t have leaking milk.
13. Try Another Feeding Method
If you’ve exhausted your possibilities and you have to go to work but your baby still won’t take a bottle, don’t panic. You can try other ways of feeding her, such as spoon feeding.
With spoon feeding, you won’t actually place the soft baby spoon full of milk inside her mouth. You just have to put it up to her lips and she’ll do the rest (source).
It’s definitely trickier than feeding your baby with a bottle, but it will do in a pinch.
You can also feed your baby from a cup. You’ll have to use caution because the milk will have to come out slowly enough that your baby can handle it.
14. Play a Dirty Trick
Sometimes parents need to be underhanded to help their child. As a last resort, you could start breastfeeding your baby before quickly removing your breast from his lips and inserting a bottle nipple instead.
Your baby may not notice much of a difference if he’s really hungry. And if he does notice, he might not mind as much since he’ll already be in a feeding frenzy.
What If Your Baby Starts Refusing the Breast?
If bottle feeding is too easy for your baby, she’ll start wanting the bottle instead of the breast all the time. If you want her to go back and forth between the two, here are some tips.
1. Give Your Baby Skin Time
Give some skin to skin time with no clothes for either you or your baby (source). That can help remind him of what he loved about breastfeeding in the first place -- the close connection between the two of you.
He doesn’t have to latch on right away to make this time valuable. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. But either way, skin time gives you and your baby bonding time.
You might find that skin time will get him to breastfeed when all other measures fail (source).
2. Try to Avoid the Bottle Whenever You’re Home
You can try spoon feeding or a cup, or even finger feeding to cut down on your baby’s preference for the bottle.
You’ll use finger feeding just for a couple minutes before breastfeeding -- it will help your baby get ready to accept breastfeeding.
How to Finger Feed
With finger feeding, you’ll use a lactation aid tube that’s been attached to a bottle full of breast milk (source).
Here is how you do it:
- Before starting, you should make sure your hands are washed well.
- Tape the feeding tube to a finger. The tube should end with your finger -- it shouldn’t be longer.
- Put the underside of your finger (the softer part) against your baby’s palate so that the tube is in your baby’s mouth. Your baby should start to suck when he feels your finger in place.
- Keep your finger flat against your baby’s tongue and keep the bottle above his head so milk will go down in the tube toward his mouth as he sucks.
3. Skip the Pacifier
Pacifiers may quiet a baby down, but they can also make him prefer artificial nipples over the real thing. That can be a problem when you’re trying to remind your baby that he used to like breastfeeding.
After my baby started switching between bottle and breast, I gradually weaned her off the pacifier.
4. Catch Your Baby While He’s Sleepy
If your baby is sleepy, it may be easier to get him to breastfeed. It will feel like second nature to him if he did it for weeks or months before you introduced the bottle.
By catching him when he’s sleepy, he won’t have the time or the energy to fight you and may even be comforted by the familiar feeling.
5. Pull a Switch
Just as you can trick a breastfeeding baby to accept a bottle if you pull a switch mid-feeding, you can also switch from the bottle to the breast during a feeding.
Your baby might not even notice.
6. Don’t Lose Your Cool
Try not to get too frustrated. Babies can pick up on stress and negative emotions. Remind yourself that your baby isn’t doing this to irritate you.
Whenever things were hard for me when feeding my baby, I’d close my eyes and put my cheek on the top of my baby’s head and inhale deeply. Just the smell of my baby was enough to calm me down and keep me focused on the task at hand.
7. Try New Positions
This works whether going from breastfeeding to bottle or when trying to reintroduce breastfeeding. Sometimes the change of scenery a new position offers is all it takes to get things back on track.
8. Give Yourself a Helping Hand with Letdown
Before you put your baby against your breast for her to latch on, make sure the milk is already flowing. You can do that by hand expressing for a minute or two beforehand, just to make sure you’ve already reached letdown. That won’t leave your baby frustrated that the milk isn’t instantly there.
9. Keep The Focus Elsewhere
Distraction can be your friend when you’re trying to get your baby to breastfeed after he’s become too accustomed to bottle feeding.
Use a gentle bounce, pat their bottom or sing to keep them distracted from what they’re doing and the fact that they have a breast in their mouth and not a bottle.
You Can Do It
Shortly after my baby switched from breastfeeding to bottle feeding, everything worked out.
But when I first started, I never thought I would ever be able to wean her from the breast to the bottle.
But I was able to return to work and she continued to thrive. It was a big relief to know that she and I didn’t have to be joined at the hip anymore.
Let us know how your own journey goes as you make the move from the breast to the bottle.