If you enjoy breastfeeding very much, but you want your baby to be able to take a bottle Johanna Cusack lactation consultant explains how to ease switching from breast to bottle.
Switching from breast to bottle, or introducing a bottle
When introducing a bottle to a breastfed baby, it’s important to go slowly and make sure that it doesn’t become a battle of wills with both you and baby getting frustrated. Just like us, babies like meals to be relaxed, enjoyable and not forced.
Bottle feeding and breastfeeding are two quite different things, so it will be important to be patient and allow your baby time to learn how to drink from a bottle. Some babies seem to be able to switch between breast and bottle easily, while others seem to have no time for bottles at all! This is down to your baby’s own personality, and as you know your baby best, you can explore the way that works for you. For any baby, slowly and gradually is usually the way to go.
It isn’t true that there is a need to introduce bottles at a very early age to ‘get them used to it’. Every baby is unique and sometimes babies who take bottles early on go on to reject them later, and vice versa.
10 top tips to help you make the switch
1. Sometimes, having someone other than the breastfeeding mother introduce the bottle helps. Babies often won’t take a bottle if they know that the ‘real thing’ is right there. If baby isn’t interested, the carer can stop trying for the moment, offering again a little while later. Babies are very smart, and if it is pushed too hard the baby’s reaction may become more and more strong against the bottle.
2. Let baby breastfeed first. It may be easier for your baby to accept the bottle when they’ve already had some milk and time at the breast. Try a bottle of about 10-20 ml of expressed breast milk after your baby has had a chance to breastfeed for a bit. Go slowly, and you can allow your baby time to get the feel of the teat without pressure to have a big feed. With gentle repetition your baby will be more and more familiar with the bottle and so more likely to take it.
3. Use a slow-flow teat. Breastfed babies are used to having to work a bit for milk, and if the teat is fast flowing baby may suck vigorously and gag, splutter or cry. Sometimes the cheapest teats have very small holes and are the best for slow flow!
4. Make sure to feed your baby when hungry, rather than to a schedule. Hunger signs are baby wriggling, licking or sucking motions, or putting hands up to mouth. Your baby under about six months will usually ask to feed in and around every two to three hours if fed expressed breastmilk, and maybe a bit longer with formula as it is slower to digest.
5. Only put small amounts of milk in a bottle. For a very small baby that can mean 10-20 ml, and for an older baby 30-40ml. That way if your baby doesn’t drink it all it isn’t going to waste! It’s hard work pumping milk, and formula is expensive. You can always offer another small portion until your baby is satisfied. Another lovely way to introduce the bottle is by using ‘paced bottle feeding’. Paced bottle feeding allows your baby to control the flow of milk, as they do when breastfeeding. Here’s how it works:
6. Instead of lying them on their back, let the baby sit up on the carer’s lap, resting in the crook of the arm.
7. Bottle is held level (teat half-filled with milk and half with air) and offered in the same way you would the breast. Gently tickling the top lip encourages baby to open wide and allows baby to take the teat into the mouth and suck.
8. Bottle is held level or very slightly tilted up (depending on flow) while the baby drinks, and when the baby pauses, you can tilt the bottle down (leaving teat in the mouth) to allow the baby to rest for a moment.
9. When the baby starts sucking again, you can raise the bottle up until the teat is half filled with milk again. Repeat until the baby has taken the full feed.
10. Sucking a partially empty teat doesn’t usually cause a problem when sitting up as the baby controls how much milk is taken. Problems with wind and colic often come from gulping down milk and air when lying on the back.
If your baby is newborn and breastfeeding well, it’s recommended to wait until about four to six weeks to introduce bottles. In the early weeks your baby needs to feed a lot, at least eights to12 times every 24 hours. All of this feeding is for a very good purpose! The more time your baby breastfeeds, the more milk is produced. You and your baby are learning all about breastfeeding and bottles can interfere with this process.
What to do if your baby REALLY doesn’t like the bottle
If your very young baby is needing supplemental feeds, a cup, medicine syringe, or teaspoon can be used. Again, baby is held upright and fed slowly, taking in just a little milk at a time. Please contact your local breastfeeding support for guidelines about supplementing your baby safely. Here is a link to supports around Ireland https://www.breastfeeding.ie/Support-search/
If your baby is six months or older it might be possible to skip bottles altogether! Babies at this age are usually eating solids, learning to use a spoon and are also usually well able to manage either an ordinary or a sippy cup. It’s a good idea to only put a small amount of liquid into the cup so that any spills are easy to clean. This will give you much more flexibility as to how your baby takes liquids as the bottle is optional.
Johanna Riley Cusack is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant serving Clare and Limerick. She also teaches Clare Boyle’s Preparation for Breastfeeding classes in Limerick for expectant mums and their partners. Classes also run monthly in Cork and Dublin. Visit: http://breastfeedingconsultant.ie/index.php/services/breastfeeding-classes/
Facebook: Johanna Riley Cusack Lactation Consultant IBCLC
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