Introducing bottles to a breastfed baby - some handy tips

We often get asked for tips on how to encourage breastfed babies to start taking their feeds in bottles. For some mums this is because they are returning to work, for others it is to give them freedom of the leaving their baby with their dad or grandparent and for others their baby may need to have their feeds suplemented, by expressed milk or formula.  Whatever, the reason, it can be a stressful process and parents can feel at a loss as to how to make the transition.

For some strange reason, I have been asked this question a lot more than usual in the last week, so I have decided to write a few tips and tricks down to help all of those parents struggling out there!

Choosing the right bottle for your baby, is a bit of a minefield!  There are so many to choose from and each baby will favour a different one.  Intitially try which ever bottle you already have at home, as not all babies have a problem accepting bottles when they have been breastfed.  There are a number of bottles that are designed to be more like the breast (such as Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature and Nurture Breast Like bottles) and some that limit the flow like the breast does (such as Breastflow bottles).  Just remember that a baby feeding at the breast has to suck to receive milk and with many bottles the milk will flow fairly freely just by tipping them up.  With this in mind when starting your baby on a bottle start off with a teat for a younger baby, until they get used to the flow rate.

Breastmilk and formula taste very different, so when starting to introduce a baby to a bottle fill the bottle if possible with expressed milk.  Make sure the milk is slightly warmed too to mimic the body temperature milk that they are used to. Do remember NEVER heat breastmilk in the microwave, as with formula it can heat unevenly and cause heat spots, but also if you heat breastmilk at a high temperature you kill a lot of the good bacteria.  Heat the milk safely in a jug of warm water. Before offering the bottle to your baby, squeeze out a small amount of breastmilk and rub it on the teat so that they can smell it and taste it as soon as the teat is near them and in their mouth.

Breastfed babies are used to finding the nipple often by touch and it is good to mimic this with bottle too, rub the teat on your babies top lip and just under their nose.  Let them root for it as they would the breast and then let the teat go into their mouth.  This makes the process feel more familiar and natural for them.

With the first few feeds start with only small amounts, initially with an ounce and building it up gradually.  This will hopefully keep your baby interested, but not overwhelmed by the changes to their feeds.

For smaller babies sometimes keeping the bottle at a simliar angle to how they breastfeed can work, as they feel they are in a feeding position that they are used to.  So hold them as you would when breastfeeding and just leave a little bit more room between you and their head to allow you to hold the bottle at the right angle.  If there are other props or prompts that you normally use for a feed, then be sure to include them too, such as a particular pillow or skin to skin contact.

On the other hand, some babies cope better with the change in a totally different enviroment, so possibly try them in a sling and offering the bottle to them there or sitting in their baby bouncer facing you.  Each baby is different and so it is a bit of trial and error.

If your baby does seem to be showing signs of not wanting to take the bottle from you, do try to get someone such as their dad to give it to them, without you nearby.  Your baby can smell your milk and of course that can add to the confusion of taking a bottle from their mum.  There are many babies that will initially take bottle feeds much better from someone other than their mum.

Another trick to try, is to have your bottle ready and warming near to you in a jug of warm water and start the feed with the breast.  Then after a couple of minutes, slip your baby off the breast and place the bottle into their mouth.  Again it helps if the teat is warm too, so when warming it do so upside down with the lid on to encourage this.  If this works for a couple of minutes and then they refuse it, repeat the steps.  The ideal situation is introducing babies, expecially young ones, gradually and trying not to create any negative associations.  So keep the environment calm and persist for as long as you feel you are getting results or for as long as you wish to.  Each feed from the bottle is a step forward towards your goal!

One of the best times of day to introduce a bottle, is either when your baby is hungry but not upset, such as first thing in the morning for those not feeding at night or when they are particularly sleepy, such as night feeds.  This can just help them be more accepting of a change.

It can also be very effective to try giving bottle feeds when out and about and in a busy environment, especially when babies are starting to look around more.  The distraction can work wonders for getting them to take a bottle instead of the breast, especially with older babies.

For some babies that are six months plus and they don't accept bottles easily, it can be easier to move straight to a beaker or a cup.  They are often much more interested and accepting of these and although the feeds can be a bit more lengthy, it can avoid the stress of persisting with the bottle.  Some older babies also like the bottles that have handles attached so that they can hold them themselves.

Once your baby starts to accept the bottle for feeding time, then do be consistent.  If you are initially only giving them one a day, then make sure you do that every day, as missing a few can take you back to square one!  Rememeber all babies are different and the suggestions above are from our experience and not guranteed to work for all babies.

If you are really struggling and would like further support, then please get in contact.  We can come and spend time with you and your baby to help find the best method for you and provide you with expert hands on support in introducing the bottles.