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How To Introduce a Bottle to a Breastfed Baby

How to Introduce a Bottle to a Breastfed Baby

By Amalah

Amy,

I am a first time mom to a wonderful six-month old baby boy. He is sweet, lovely and all manner of precious snowflake. And if I don’t get an evening away from him, I might scream.

Son is breastfed. When he was first born I tried pumping and had no luck, and with all the other madness I was dealing with, I decided not to bother. I live in the UK and am getting a year of maternity leave (which is incredibly lucky) so I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal since by the time I went back to work I would be fine with son being weaned.

Of course, with son being breastfed entirely from the breast, it means that I can’t be away from him for more than a few hours at a time. Or have a few cocktails. Not that I’m dependent on alcohol for a good time, but after pregnancy plus six months of breastfeeding, an evening out with friends and a martini or two sounds like heaven. And it would make me feel slightly less…trapped day to day (which I know sounds terrible, but there you go).

So, after putting off getting a better pump because it would be a waste of money at this late date, I was given one by a friend (score!) and am starting to have some luck with pumping (double score!). I’ve now started to try to figure out how to, you know, get some of this breast milk I’ve pumped out of myself into my son.

And I have no idea. Do I use a bottle? A cup? And how do I get him to take a bottle or a cup?

Google is failing me because all I am finding is advice for how to switch a breastfed infant to formula (and the advice is generally WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT YOU ARE SUCH A MONSTER AND YOUR BABY IS GOING TO GROW UP TO BE A PSYCHOPATH) (also, why are moms so mean to each other?). Or I’m finding advice for introducing bottles to breastfed infants which basically says do it before two months or you’re screwed. Which…not helpful.

I’d just like to be able to get him to drink milk without me sometimes but not set him up to self-wean completely or set myself up to have to fight a bottle away from him in a couple of months anyway.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.
Ready For a Break

I’m afraid “thoughts” are about all I can offer you on this one, as opposed to “actual successful first-hand experience.” While all three of my babies were breastfed AND bottlefed, we did indeed introduce the bottle much, much earlier. We could never weather the initial wait for my milk to come in (combined with initial low supply each time around) without supplementing a couple times. So all three of my babies were given a bottle during their first week of life,…which admittedly did make life much easier later on, when I wanted to use a bottle and pumped milk/formula for other reasons. Like work! And getting my hair done! And cocktails with friends! And cocktails just because COCKTAILS WHOOOOOO.

So I’m hoping commenters will be able to supplement my advice (HA! Geddit? It’s a breastfeeding pun!) with some personal tips and experience. Preferably beyond story after story of babies who never took a bottle ever, no matter what, doooooommm.

Just Do It!

My personal advice at this point would be to stop overthinking this and just go buy a bottle.  Just buy any old bottle, really. BPA-free, obviously, but don’t go all deer-in-the-headlights at first and feel like you need to try 14 different styles right out of the gate. I was always partial to the Dr. Brown’s, but for the occasional bottle for a baby without gas/spit-up issues I’d say you can probably go way more basic at first. Go to the store and buy one standard (narrow) bottle and one wide neck. The next steps are as follows:

1) Put breastmilk in the bottle.
2) Give baby the bottle.

And. Yeah. That’s about all there is to it.

Okay, okay. Maybe not. You might need to let some milk drip out of the nipple and onto his lips and mouth so he understands that this is food and not some new strange kind of pacifier. You might want to give the first bottle to him yourself (so he’s primed and expecting milk in the first place), or you might need to enlist a non-boobed individual to counter any “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS GIVE ME THE REAL STUFF” reaction. Hold him slightly more upright than breastfeeding. Rub the nipple against his upper lip a couple times to get him to open his mouth. If he still requires a burp after feeding, burp him midway through the bottle (especially if you sense he’s gulping more air).

But no matter what, you have to try first. I can’t really troubleshoot any further for you until you give it a shot and see what happens. If he rejects the standard bottle, try the wide-neck one. If he rejects that, try having a different person offer the milk. Warm the milk. No? Okay, try serving the milk cold.

Try something different

Still no dice? Skip the bottle and start experimenting with sippy cups — find something labeled for his age and repeat all the steps above.

Some babies want the bottle experience to be as close to breastfeeding as possible, hence all the pricey fancy boob-shaped bottles on the market. Other babies want the opposite — the bottle is a separate thing so they want anyone but Mama, a different temperature, different nipple shape, etc. Some babies (i.e. mine) don’t really end up giving much of a crap either way, once it registers that OH OKAY MILK COMES OUT OF THIS HERE THING TOO WHEEEEEE.

Final protips on introducing a bottle to a breastfed baby

1) If you’re concerned about bottle preference/self-weaning, start him off with a nipple that’s one level below the age recommendations. Bottle preference and supply issues CAN happen if your baby gets too used to a higher-flow nipple that doesn’t require as much “work” to get the milk out. I liked to start my newborns on preemie nipples, and only moved up to level ones once I was 100% solidly sure that they were still willing to latch on and properly suck. I don’t know if the UK uses the same numbering system for bottle nipples as we do here in the US (preemie, 1, 2, 3, etc,), but if you see something labeled six months and up, try the next age range down first and move up only if you have to.

2) If you think your pumped milk looks or smells funny, or your baby makes a face/spits it out when he tries it, read this article on Kellymom about lipase. It’s an enzyme in breastmilk that — in excess — changes the taste in expressed breastmilk (even if it’s been stored correctly). A quick scald on the stove can solve the problem going forward.

Look, I’m not going to lie. I loved breastfeeding. I also totally loved bottlefeeding, with both pumped milk and formula. So did my husband, since it gave him the chance to feed and bond with his babies, and ALSO gave him the chance to see me out with him, dressed up for date night, without a baby constantly attached to my chest. Do not feel guilty for wanting a break. Now stop Googling and worrying and go see if you can get yourself a break for a few hours already.

And relax: at six months, as you introduce solids, his dependence on you as Sole Food Source will naturally diminish, so encouraging even more independence with a bottle or sippy cup now is good timing. I highly, highly doubt he’d self-wean at this stage, with six solid months of established nursing under your belt. He’ll realize food comes from other places (spoon, finger foods, cup, whatever) but he’s not going to forget where his comfort and closeness comes from.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Myriam
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Myriam

Also, one thing Amalah doesn’t mention is that YES, you can drink while breastfeeding. The alcohol doesn’t go straight to your baby, but goes first to your blood, then to milk, than to baby’s stomach then to baby’s blood. The concentration is greatly diminished by the time it reaches your baby. One common sense rule is as long as you’re ok to drive, you’re okay to breastfeed (which is 0,08 over here in Canada). You can also buy test strips. If you end up drinking while breastfeeding, you don’t have to pump and dump. Your milk doesn’t store the alcohol,… Read more »

Myriam
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Myriam

One more piece of advice… Some older babies who refuse bottles will simply not drink will you are away, and make up for it when you get back. As you introduce food, you might find that you will be able to leave your baby with care-givers with him not requesting milk, and then dive-bombing your chest as soon as he can hear/see you!

Leslie
Guest

I also first tried the bottle at around six months, with limited success.  The first time I gave my son a  bottle, he did swallow the whole thing down, quick… I thought THIS IS GOING TO BE EASY!!!  ha ha.  That was the only time.   By nine months, he was taking a bottle easily. what worked for us:  Mom had to be unavailable.  completely.  pump, give hubby the bottle & the baby, and go shopping.  Don’t be in the next room, don’t be in the house.  By nine months, he would take a bottle from anyone, even myself, but… Read more »

Karen
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Karen

Congratulations on 6 months of nursing! That’s great! So has the baby actually refused anything? I would try a bottle, maybe it will work. If not, try a cup (not a sippy, but a small regular cup that his caregiver would help him sip from), and so on. As Myriam said, a 6 month old can go some time and just wait until you return. When you are gone might affect the success. For example, my son had some bottles at daycare, but nursed to sleep and so we just worked on putting him to sleep without nursing for the… Read more »

Hi, I'm Natalie.
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Hi, I'm Natalie.

When I had a bottle-refusing baby, Amy (and great comment-ers) had this advice – hopefully you won’t need it, but still some good tips: https://alphamom.com/parenting/baby/bottle-strike/

Diana
Guest
Diana

My daughter would never take a bottle so at 6 months we just introduced solids. In a few weeks she was eating reliably enough that I could get away for a few hours. Rice cereal mixed with lots of formula….

Lise
Guest
Lise

There’s some good information about drinking and breastfeeding here: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-3/230-234.htm Women used to be told to “pump and dump” to rid their milk of alcohol. That’s not necessary or effective. Your milk has the same alcohol concentration as does your blood, and as your body metabolizes the alcohol it also removes it from your milk. Three of my four babies just weaned straight to a cup. We used old-style sippy cups (not spill-proof, which require the baby to suck) or a small open glass. Ironically, shot glasses are great as a first glass. By six months they were carefully watching… Read more »

Sarah
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Sarah

Try milk in a shot glass like a real cup. It’ll take awhile but kids love to mimic their parents. Yours has never seen you use a bottle but he’s seen you use a cup. You can probably google some Montessori talks about this too.

Shot glass so it’s holdable for a baby :p

Paige
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Paige

We introduced the bottle to my daughter at 7 months and my son at 3 months. I say we because with both my babies, I did not do the bottle feeding. Partly it was to avoid confusion for the baby, but mostly it was to protect supply – if I’m home, I feed the baby myself. If I’m not, well, here’s the bottle, and here’s daddy. You figure it out. This seemed to work – my husband reported no problems getting either child to take a bottle. He did not heat the milk, either. He just took it straight out… Read more »

Jennifer
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Jennifer

Medela Calma nipples for the win! My breastfed son was having a lot of trouble with fast flow from nipples. The Calma nipple solved the problem immediately–no sucking=no milk.

Jennifer
Guest
Jennifer

Oh, and also, the fast flow was causing him to form a really shallow latch on me (I have overactive let down, so my boobs accommodated his laziness), which really hurt! The Calma nipples took care of that, too.

Jen
Guest

My son totally took a bottle around 4 weeks with zero drama, so no firsthand experience here, but my niece was a totally different story. She would never take a bottle, and when my SIL weaned her around 6 months to go back to work, it was a real problem. They finally discovered a sippy cup (Nuk brand in North America) with a soft latex spout, but NOT nipple-shaped, that she took to right away. And from then on it’s been what she drinks from. But yes, I echo the other sentiments of ‘don’t overthink – just go for it’… Read more »

Jenny K
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Jenny K

My secret was cheapo Playtex bottles with a brown rubber (not silicone) tip. I think the color, shape, and texture were the most booblike. My daughter rejected some of the fancier stuff. Keep trying bottles if at first you don’t succeed!

Sam M.
Guest
Sam M.

We had to really train our daughter to take a bottle (congrats on making it 6 months; I was going completely stir crazy after 3!). We did a few things that seemed to help:  1. I had to be completely out of the room. If I was in the room, or even if the baby could hear me, it’s like she just knew I would come in and feed her. So for the first few weeks and actually the first couple of months, we started feeding her with the bottle when I wasn’t available or I could disappear for a… Read more »

Helen
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Helen

If other methods fail I second the advice of a sippy cup (take the valve out if it has one, so your son doesn’t have to suck to make it “work” – you can always put the valve back in once he’s got the hang of the idea that milk comes out of this thing).

I seem to remember that my daughter steadfastly refused bottles from the word go, so at six months we moved on to age-appropriate baby food and water (in a sippy cup) when I wanted a break.

Autumn
Guest
Autumn

I had 7 month maternity leave, so we were breastfeeding exclusively with me stash pumping starting around 3 months. She was NOT a fan of the bottle.  We started around 4 months, and just not interested.  My husband did most of it, and we found success with him sitting next to her, both looking the same direction, not at each other, her in the bouncy seat.  Which lasted about 2 months.  I was FREAKING out, have to go back to work, kid doesn’t take bottles, but those day care ladies didn’t bat an eye.  I came back to a stash… Read more »

Sam M.
Guest
Sam M.

Our daycare ladies also took it in stride. She was still hit or miss with the bottle at home when we took her in and we showed up that first day thinking we’d get called to come get her. By the end of the day, she was taking the bottle like a pro. It was magic!

CJ
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CJ

+1 to just try things out. Our baby started on the bottle at 1 month old, and he was mostly accepting of it. From 3-6 months, he had a bottle all day and I pumped. He didn’t really like it, but was fine with it. Then at 6 months, he refused it. Howled and pushed it away. This went on for 2 weeks, where he nursed not-a-whit while I was at work. Then he begrudgingly took bottles and the sippy. At 12 months, he entirely stopped bottles and would just wait for me. Point being, don’t beat yourself up for… Read more »

Becca
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Becca

Hiya, just wanted to chip in on the teat front – we used Tommee Tippee bottles because they were the only brand in our local Waitrose and I figured it was best to have something for which I could just pop and get replacements easily without having to special order! Anyway, my main point is variflow teats. These are the ones that vary the flow according to how much suction, and they’ve served us brilliantly – for first son who only drank EBM from birth to 3 months and combi fed until 15 months, and for second son who will… Read more »

Caroline
Guest
Caroline

Hi! Does he use a dummy? If so, is it a particular type (such as Avent), if so, then get a bottle manufactured by the same people, or at least one with a nipple as similar as possible in type to that dummy. Apparently this helps A LOT. Also, when it comes time for that first bottle, don’t you be the one to give it to him. Let Dad or granny or any other random passing stranger do it, at a non-urgent time, ideally when he is hungry but not angry-starving. I know lots of people who had massive issues… Read more »

Kat
Guest
Kat

So I was giving my baby the bottle at 3 months because I had to return to work. I really couldn’t afford to try all kinds of bottles and nipples and what-not. I already bought the same bottles I used with my first baby and that was going to have to work. It took about 2 weeks. All I really did was offer the bottle when she wasn’t really starving. It’s important that you don’t frustrate the baby. I would offer it once or twice a day at first and then a little more often every day. When she cried… Read more »

Jenny
Guest

I had the same issue with my son when he was young, so I’m going to try and introduce the bottle a little earlier to my daughter after she comes out. I like the idea of putting breast milk in the bottle, but my husband might not since he has to do all the cleaning. 🙂

Jen
Guest
Jen

At 6 months, I would skip the bottle totally and go to a sippy cup or straw cup. Easier, cheaper, and gives you one less thing to eventually wean from.

Jackie
Guest
Jackie

I work in a daycare with infants, and have had two babies who were exclusively breastfed until they were given to me for 8 hours a day. One was significantly younger than the other (three months and five months) and the experience for each were a bit different. With the three month old, she cried and cried and refused bottles or would only drink an ounce or so a feed. I suggested the parents try different bottles, as they all have different mouth feels/flow. The first new bottle they tried worked and they never looked back. With the OTHER one,… Read more »

Marissa
Guest
Marissa

Here’s pretty much the gold standard, from my experience, of advice about bottlefeeding a breastfed baby: http://www.isisparenting.com/page/bottlefeeding The pointers from Nancy Holtzman and the (now defunct) Isis Parenting got me through till my son was 13 months, at which point I stopped pumping at work and sent cow’s milk. (Now at 16 months, he still nurses at home when I happen to be home with him, but I don’t make enough milk to send the zillions of bottles I used to have to send. Ahh, I don’t miss those days.) Anyway, get thee to Nancy’s breastfeeding webinars.

Christina
Guest
Christina

For some babies a technique called paced feeding, done by someone who is not Mom really helps. You can learn about that here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UH4T70OSzGs

Worked like a charm for my son who is only a little older than yours. 

Eliza
Guest
Eliza

I went back to work when my first was four months old, while she was staying home with her dad.  She didn’t like the bottle — would play with it, chew on the nipple, but not really drink.  We’d fought this while I was easing back in to work, without much success, until the first day I really had to be there 8 hours.  At five hours, no luck.  At six hours, she looked at him like “really? ok.” and downed the whole thing.  Sometimes they just have to get hungry enough (no matter how much it freaks out Mom… Read more »

Tara
Guest
Tara

My advice is specific to type of bottle.  Save your pennies and try the regular old Playtex with inserts.  If that doesn’t work, try the more expensive brands.   We struggled with SEVERAL brands of bottles, nipples and even pacifiers.  Even though we introduced much younger (7 wks), our son didn’t want anything to do with anything other than the real thing.  Our last ditch effort was the basic Playtex and eureka it worked.   Granted, we were also struggling with excessive spit up/gas/reflux.  But I also noticed that bottle feeding was having an effect on his latch and mangling… Read more »

Chasity
Guest

I have a slightly related/slightly off topic question. I know that there are milk banks out there that allow breastfeeding moms to pump their milk so parents who are unable to breastfeed can still give their babies breast milk. Knowing this, I don’t understand why a hospital will have to supplement with formula until your milk comes in and not use someone else’s milk from a milk bank, thereby still allowing your baby to have the real stuff. I’m currently only 15 weeks pregnant with my first child so I am admittedly very ignorant on this topic. Anyone have more… Read more »

emby
Guest

Hey Chasity — the reason is pretty simple.  Milk from a milk bank has been carefully procured and stored, life-saving for preemies as it can help prevent necrotizing enterocolitis, and it’s enormously valuable and expensive as a result.  There’s just not much of it, and hospital reserve it for babies who really need it. In other words, it’s treated like a prescription.  A healthy full-term infant who is just a little bit hungry waiting for mom’s machinery to come online will do just fine with formula.

Athena
Guest
Athena

I can help on the doom front there… ne’er did a bottle touch my son’s lips before three months. I was with my folks at the time and OH MAH GOD THE JUDGEMENT and HE DOESN”T *NEED* A BOTTLE, SO WHY WOULD YOU DARE GIVE HIM ONE? and NIPPLE CONFUSION RAWR HE’LL TAKE IT FINE LATER. And through various circumstances *not* my husband’s fault or desire, I was dealing with this alone. So, I never got to try him with a bottle while there. I don’t remember precisely when after returning home that we started using my expressed milk to… Read more »