Introducing the Bottle: How Early Is Too Early, How Late Is Too Late?
I’m expecting my first child is 4-6 weeks depending on how much little baby wants to get out of there. My plan is to breastfeed, and I would love to exclusively breastfeed for a year. I’m in Canada so I could take a year’s leave, but unfortunately due to financial reasons, I’m going back to work after 5-6 months and my husband will be staying home with baby. (We can’t live on a third of my salary and no benefits for a year ) I’m a teacher, so I can’t really do the whole pumping at work thing unless it was during lunch break, and that just seems like too much hassle with supervision and extra help at lunch etc. when I can barely find time to just go pee during the school day.
So, the current plan is to breastfeed until I have to go back to work and then mix breastfeeding when I’m at home, and formula while I’m at work. So really at that point, baby will only need 1-2 bottles of formula during the day on average.
That’s all fine and dandy… so when do I start introducing bottles? Do I introduce them with formula early on? Or just with breastmilk to start? I know some picky babies that refuse formula if they’ve only ever had breastmilk and that refuse bottles.
How do I ensure that this will work out 5-6 months down the road?
A confused first time mum.
The timing of bottle introduction is an easy question to get confused over, because holy crap, Internet, you sure are full of a million different and contradictory opinions and theories about it. MAKE UP YOUR MIND. Introduce too early and risk nipple confusion and bottle preference and screw up breastfeeding forever! Introduce too late and risk all-out full-on bottle rejection and screw up your work/daycare plans and any hope of a few hours’ escape! Heck, I’m pretty sure I’ve covered other versions of this question already, but the question keeps getting asked. So why not, let’s talk about it again.
We successfully switched back and forth between bottles and boob, and formula and breastmilk, with all three of our babies, and let me tell you: It was GREAT. Is it okay to admit that? Because I repeat: IT WAS GREAT. Best of all of the worlds, personally speaking.
Not that it technically happened by choice, mind you, and didn’t cause me all kinds of new-mom anxiety at the time. I had major supply issues with my first baby, and so a bottle of formula was introduced on day four or five when his weight loss officially dipped too far. (He also had a very weak suck, which compounded the supply problem, but we never experienced any nipple confusion or bottle preference, despite the bottle being “easier.” YMMV.) I probably supplemented at least once a day from then on until he weaned. My other two also had their first bottle of formula within their first few days because my milk took forever to come in and they were dehydrated. Once the bottle was introduced AND breastfeeding was going well, it just made sense for us to keep using the bottle every now and then. I’d pump milk to up my supply and we kept formula around too, so I had the freedom to like, go get my hair done or go out on a date night.
So much angst over that initial bottle, by the way! Every time, I felt disappointed that my perfect dreamy dream of true 100% exclusive breastfeeding was dashed so early on. Now I look back and think: Dude. Chill out. Breastfeeding is great. So are bottles. Let’s all just chill out together, yo.
Your baby and breastfeeding relationship will be your own, of course, and wholly unique. You might decide to supplement early on for a variety of reasons, or you might never need to. If you don’t, wait to fully establish a good latch and milk supply, and then think about trying out a small bottle of pumped milk or formula. My completely non-expert and unscientific opinion is that if you know for a fact that you NEED your baby to take a bottle later on, I wouldn’t wait too long before at least trying. A lot of sites recommend waiting six weeks (as that’s the average time it takes to establish your milk supply), while others say you can try earlier — just be sure to pump milk so the bottle doesn’t kill a regular feeding. Also, just because you try a bottle one time doesn’t mean it immediately needs to become a regular, daily thing. It can just be something you try every now and then, for your own peace of mind re: your back-to-work deadline. Trust your gut; you’ll probably know when the right time comes along.
Here’s what to do, for first bottle introduction: Buy a PREEMIE or LOW-FLOW nipple for the bottle. Let some milk dribble out onto the upper lip so the baby can smell it. Don’t ever just shove the nipple in his/her mouth — wait until his/her lips open. Some babies prefer the wideneck nipples/bottles; others prefer the standard. Some do better if it’s someone other than Mom who offers the bottle; others are the opposite. Some take a bottle just fine on their first try; others need a couple attempts before they get it. Same goes for what’s inside the bottle. Some are happier with breastmilk while others prefer that the bottle be something completely different. (Mine all seemed to like formula better than pumped breastmilk when it came to their bottles, and they liked their formula cold.) You can even go halfsies with both breastmilk and formula — just remember that any bottle with leftover formula will need to be discarded, rather than re-refrigerated. It all might click from the get-go, or it might take a little trial-and-error. That’s normal. DON’T PANIC.
And again: For every bottle you give the baby, give your boobs a session on the breastpump, so your milk supply won’t be affected. Save the pumped milk for the next bottle, or freeze it for when you go back to work.
This is a lot of words for something that hopefully won’t end up being a big deal for you at all. Instead, I hope breastfeeding winds up going spectacularly well for you and one day you can just be like, “Hey! Let’s try a bottle.” And your baby takes the bottle and then your baby goes back to the boob the next time and bam. Done. And the Internet tried to make it all complicated. Pffft.
Published July 18, 2014. Last updated October 29, 2017.