As a mom to two daughters, I have been through more of my fair share of breastfeeding highs and lows. Good days, bad days, and all of those days in between. Of all the breastfeeding challenges I have experienced, however, I didn’t expect that getting a breastfed baby to take a bottle would be one of the most difficult to master!
There are lots of reasons why you may want to give your breastfed baby a bottle, the most obvious of which is to give yourself a well-earned break. You may also be thinking about going back to work after maternity leave, and need someone else to be able to feed your child when you aren’t around during the day. Expressing a bottle can not only take the pressure off on those cluster feeding days, but can also allow Dad to support breastfeeding, giving them the opportunity to bond with their baby, having a snuggle as they give your baby their bedtime feed.
Encouraging a baby who is established on the breast to take a bottle however isn’t always a straightforward process. If your baby has been breastfed since birth, the unfamiliar sensation of a bottle teat can feel more than a little alien. Try and introduce a bottle too early and you face the risk of nipple confusion, therefore it is recommended your wait till your baby is at least a month old. In my experience however, timing is also a very fine balance – leave it too long, and it can become even more difficult for your baby to adapt.
Here are some hints and tips to help your breastfed baby take a bottle.
- Choose your bottles wisely – Buy a bottle that mimics the natural shape of the breast for an easier latch and carefully consider the speed of the flow. If you normally have a fast let down and high quantity of milk, you may find that baby feels they have to work too hard on a first stage newborn teat, and as such become a little lazy when trying to feed from the bottle. If the baby takes a pacifier, try and find a bottle with a similar texture e.g. latex or silicone. You can also warm the teat of the bottle before hand to make it feel more similar to the breast.
- Let someone else feed her the bottle. Babies aren’t stupid – they know that when Mom is trying to feed them with a bottle that their usual source of milk is RIGHT THERE, and will often refuse and try to latch on as normal. By offering the bottle from someone else, ideally, you have a much better chance of them accepting the feed.
- Leave the house – Believe it or not, babies can SMELL your milk, even if you think you are out of sight, and given that there may be a few tears of confusion whilst the adapt, you may find it easier to leave the house all together. My partner used to make me actually wave goodbye as I left, to make it even more obvious that I wasn’t hiding somewhere ready to jump out at the crucial moment.
- Try giving a bottle at different times of day – Whilst trying to encourage them to take a bottle, try at different times during the day to see which is most effective. If the night time feed is very challenging it may be that this is when they most want their Mom for comfort and familiar smells before they drift off to sleep. Try giving a bottle at another point during the day when they may be slightly more calm and settled and be able to cope better with a change in routine.
- Experiment with temperature – It’s hard to know exactly what kind of temperature you are dealing with when your milk comes straight from the breast, so if your baby is refusing the bottle it may be that the milk is warmer or cooler than they are used to. Try serving the bottles at different temperatures to see if there is a particular one that they respond to better.
- Avoid instant gratification – Avoid popping them straight on the breast if you decide to give up for that day, you don’t want the baby to learn that if they get distressed you will instantly provide the breast, otherwise they may cry immediately knowing that this will lead to their preferred feeding method. Wait 5 minutes (as long as they aren’t too distressed) and then feed as normal.
- Give it time – encouraging a breastfed baby to take a bottle can be a slow and challenging process, but don’t give up – keep trying regularly. As with anything, the more it becomes familiar to your baby the more they will adapt, so keep trying each day or a few times a week will help them get used to a change in behavior.
- Consider the cup – If you are really struggling to get your baby to take a bottle, and the baby is a little bit older, why not consider a cup? Generally baby cups are suitable from around 4 months of age (or if assisted when they can support their own head) and unlike bottles, you don’t need to phase them out or worry about the impact on their dental health.
Most importantly, remember everything is a phase. Today’s challenges will be tomorrow’s distant memories!