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Breastfed babies don’t have to take a bottle. If your baby is nursing well, transferring milk, gaining weight, and diaper count is good, your baby does not have to take a bottle. The only real exception to this includes if your baby is premature or requires additional supplementation for medical reasons. Your baby can be exclusively breastfed at the breast. But, the reality is many mamas have to return to work, and you may fall into this category too, so when to introduce a bottle to a breastfed baby is a common question among breastfeeding mothers.
When’s the Right Time to Introduce a Bottle?
If you’re a mama that has to return to work, school, or just get out of the house, you may want to introduce your baby to a bottle. It’s vital that breastfeeding is well established before you introduce your baby to any bottles or other artificial nipples. You can read more about pacifiers in my post Should You Give Your Baby a Pacifier.
If you are planning to introduce a bottle, wait until breastfeeding is well-established, at the very least three-four weeks. The longer you can breastfeed at the breast exclusively, the better. You’ll be able to build up your milk supply easier and faster this way.
If you’re returning to work, you can introduce a bottle 2-3 weeks before you have to return to work. Pump milk for your baby and do a practice run before you return to work. Leave the house for a few hours and allow your partner or family member to feed your baby while you’re gone. Practicing can ease the stress on you and your baby before your first day back to work after maternity leave. You can read more about pumping in my posts How to Build a Breast Milk Supply Stash and Best Tips for a Working Mom Breastfeeding Schedule.
How Much Milk Does Your Baby Need?
Essentially you want to pump for every time your baby eats. Paced feeding is essential to ensure the baby isn’t overfed while you’re away. You want to leave about 1-1.5 ounces of milk for every hour you’re away. If you’re working an 8-hour day, that will be about 8-12 ounces of milk. If your baby is between 1-6 months, they will usually drink about 3-4 ounces per feeding session, maybe a little more or a little less depending on the baby. This means you don’t have to purchase gigantic bottles for your baby! All you need is a 4-ounce bottle. Babies don’t drink more than 3-4 ounces at a time and this will reduce wasting that precious breastmilk.
How to Feed Your Baby with a Bottle
How you feed your baby is equally as important as what you use to feed your baby.
Paced Bottle Feeding to Mimic Breastfeeding
- To make bottle feeding mimic breastfeeding, position your baby upright so that baby has to actively suck to remove the milk, rather than gravity working.
- Position the bottle so it is as horizontal as possible, tipping it just enough so the milk is even with the baby’s lips.
- Gently stroke the nipple down your baby’s lips and wait for the baby to open his/her mouth wide.
- Insert the bottle nipple deep into the baby’s mouth. Your baby should take in the nipple tip and the broad base, if it is too wide, try a narrow nipple shape.
- Delay the flow of milk from the bottle by allowing your baby to suckle at the nipple for about a minute before raising the bottle so the milk enters the nipple. This will mimic the letdown reflex while breastfeeding.
- Switch sides during the feeding, so your baby gets used to you switching sides during breastfeeding.
- Allow your baby to “pace” the feeding session. Throughout a feeding, tip the bottle down, so the milk returns to the bottle or remove the bottle from the baby’s mouth and allow it to rest on your baby’s lips.
- If the nipple is removed and your baby doesn’t express interest by opening her/his mouth again for more milk, your baby may be done. Don’t force your baby to drink more if she/he is not interested.
The goal of paced bottle feeding is to emulate the experience your baby experiences at the breast. They may have a nipple or flow preference which can leave them frustrated when going back and forth between the breast and bottle. They are smart and they want the easiest option. Your baby will want whichever one is going to get them to their goal of eating the quickest!
Types of Bottles
There are many types of bottles that can be used. The critical thing to consider when introducing your baby to a bottle is how it affects your breastfeeding relationship. You want to ensure the experience mimics breastfeed at the breast as much as possible so it’s an easy transition back and forth.
Look for bottles with a wide base and gradual slope up to the tip of the nipple. These nipples will encourage your baby to latch on to the bottle with a wide mouth, which is what you want them to do when breastfeeding at the breast. Bottles with more narrow nipples can cause them to only suckle on the tip of the nipple like a straw, which hurts mama when they come back to the breast. Buy nipples with a slow rate of flow, which means you may have to purchase it separately if it doesn’t come with this (even as your baby gets older, stick with the slow rate).
This diagram shows the best nipple shapes. Be wary of marketing claims. Some will suggest their bottles are just like the breast, anti-colic, skin color, and big in size. Ignore these marketing claims and focus on finding a bottle that allows your baby to have a natural movement with their tongue and oral anatomy. And please remember mama, no bottle can replace a mama’s breast! Babies are smart, they know a real breast from an artificial nipple.
These are my top picks for bottles using all the information I provided in this post. I also included my top recommendation for glass bottles if you’re looking for a plastic-free version:
More Tips for When Introducing Your Breastfed Baby to a Bottle
- Wait at least three weeks after their birth before you introduce a bottle. You want breastfeeding to be well-established and practiced.
- Look for bottles with a slow flow rate, gradually sloped nipple shape, and a nipple tip that looks like a real nipple (not strangely shaped)
- If you’re worried about your baby taking a particular bottle, I suggest starting with two different ones so you don’t waste money on bottles they don’t like. Just buy one of each for now until you know they take to that kind.
- Only buy and use nipples with a “slow flow” which again mimic the flow of breastmilk to your baby. You want them to wait for it and suckle on it like they would the breast naturally.
- Allow your partner to bottle feed your baby, so your baby doesn’t get confused between breastfeeding and bottle feeding.
- Practice paced bottle feeding to mimic the letdown at the breast.
- Leave the room while your baby is bottle-fed, so they don’t sense you are there and want you instead.
- If your baby is reluctant to nurse after introducing a bottle, try an alternate form of feeding such as the ones below, and offer the breast when your baby is sleepy, at night, and during the times you aren’t working.
- Always pump for every time your baby eats. You want to replenish every once that your baby is eating.
Other Feeding Devices
- Cup feeding with a small cup can help eliminate any bottle/nipple confusion. I’ve even seen premature babies drinking from cups like this one. Babies are smart!
- Syringe-feeding is another option to help babies get milk, especially in the early newborn phase, when they are drinking colostrum in the first 24-48 hours after birth.
- Spoon feeding a newborn is a great way to give your baby milk. You can even hand express colostrum on a spoon and give it to your baby.