If you breastfeed your baby, the chances are at some point you are going to try introducing a bottle so that you can entrust someone else to care for them and feed them giving you a much-needed break. Introducing a bottle to a breastfed baby is not something that sounds particularly complicated – and for some babies it is not – but sometimes they need a bit of persuading.
Babyzang 1 took a bottle of expressed milk at 4 weeks old with no problem. Every night thereafter Daddyzang would give him the bedtime feed, giving me a bit of a rest, but also creating some valuable bonding time for dad and baby.
Babyzang 2 had different ideas! She took a bottle at around 4-5 weeks no problem but I had a bee in my bonnet about only giving her expressed milk. The thing is the charging unit on my breast pump was knackered and so I had to use the battery pack. Co-ordinating (a) time to express, (b) having all the pieces recently sterilised, (c) Babyzang 1 being pre-occupied and (c) the bloody batteries being charged meant that there wasn’t much expressed milk in the bank (as it were).
After a lovely holiday when Babyzang 2 was 6 weeks, and I used up my entire stash of frozen milk, finding time to express got harder and harder. It was some weeks before I got round introducing a bottle, it and by about 10 weeks she was point blank refusing the bottle. And continued to do so until she was 5.5 months old!
Believe me, I tried lots of tricks and some were more successful than others. Of course, every baby is different and these things may not work for you but it can’t hurt to give it a try!
Birthzang’s guide to introducing a bottle to your baby
1) Get the timing right
Knowing the best time to start introducing a bottle is under some debate but there does seem to be some consensus that somewhere between 4-8 weeks is good, although I would say you could stretch that to about 12 weeks.
Not too early, in case there is breast/bottle confusion (it is mush easier for baby to suck form a bottle than from a teat), but also if you leave it too late then there is a chance your baby will just refuse the bottle completely – this is what happened with Babyzang 2!
2) Get a good electric breast pump
Many mums want to express if they can when giving their baby a bottle, especially in the early days. Manual pumps are hard work and not very effective and you will not regret spending the money on an electric pump. Models that have silicone pads around the breast/nipple work best as they stimulate the action of sucking. I loved the Phillips Avent, but the Medela Swing also comes highly recommended.
You can also get double pumps, although I found the best way to express was actually whilst feeding the baby with the other breast as the oxytocin let down was already in full flow.
You can freeze milk in small quantities using little sealy bags made for the purpose. Make sure you defrost it using warm water rather than in the microwave.
3) Make time to express or get over using formula
If expressing is turning into a stressful, painful, frustrating nightmare then just get over yourself and use formula. You can always try expressing at any point and the more relaxed you are the more successful you will be. If you just can’t express enough milk then try at different times of the day and try different pumps.
But getting your baby used to drinking something from a bottle every day will not hurt them and in the long run will be worth it. Babies drink tiny quantities anyway so 1oz a day really isn’t going to make any difference!
4) Try cartons of formula before buying a tub
Formula all tastes different and it is useful to buy the little cartons of pre-mixed formula to start with. This is quick and convenient, albeit a bit wasteful as most babies under 3 months won’t drink even half the quantity. But you can try different brands to see which one your baby likes.
I also tasted them myself and chose a brand based on which one I felt tasted nicest.
5) Try lots of different bottles and teats
And I mean lots. They are all different and all babies mouths are different. Yes it costs money and you can get second hand ones off ebay (just buy new teats), or borrow from friends. Some bottles are anti-colic, fast-flow; I don’t know all sorts of crazy special skills (super-bottles?) but bottom line is babies can be choosy.
6) Leave the room (and get someone else to do it)
Not just being lazy but actually many babies just refuse to take a bottle if boob is an option. Getting daddy to do it is a great way to help him bond with baby but quire practically he doesn’t have boobs and doesn’t smell of milk.
If this doesn’t work leave the house. Perhaps don’t try this for midnight feeds so you don’t have to pace the street in the dark!
If you are in the house you will fret and worry and the people feeding baby will perceive your presence and that the bottle really is the ONLY way they are going to get fed. If they are crying it is also hard-wired into you to respond to them so saves you crawling the walls.
If this doesn’t work get granny/auntie/someone close to try introducing the bottle. If baby is really hungry they might just take it.
7) Wait until they are hungry
Well this does make sense: a baby won;t eat if they are not hungry. But there is a balance to be made here as babies get very cranky when they have low blood sugar, so you need to feed them at the very first signs they are hungry – not when they are already crying.
Good luck with that one!
8) Have a feeding song or sound
Whenever you breastfeed make a noise at the start, or sing or hum a particular song so baby gets used to the idea it is feeding time. The idea is that you can do this while introducing a bottle and get them used to the idea that this is actually dinner.
Make sure you use a simple song that you can sing/hum without thinking, endlessly over and over again. Row, row row your boat is a great one!
Well, if it worked for Pavlov…?
9) Use a dummy
I hate dummies and Babyzang 1 never had one – although he sucked the life out of his soother toy instead! Babyzang 2 refused a bottle point blank until suddenly at around 5 months I gave her a dummy out of desperation to get her to stop crying (yes, it happens to the best of us) and the peace that ensued meant that I was converted in about 15 seconds.
I did realise though that the dummy was a commitment and so went to Boots to find one I liked the look of. I was delighted to find one that has a bottle the exact same size and shape teat (Nuk again), which has some weird flat and elongated shape. So I bought that dummy and bottle, tried introducing a bottle to baby, and she drank 4oz in the first sitting! (Formula of course, I had given up pumping and chucking out unwanted bottles weeks back). She took this bottle and never looked back, although it was many months before she’d drink from another type of bottle.
10) Don’t give up!!!
Perseverance. Perseverance. Perseverance.
You really have to keep trying. You have to try every single day. Not just once every few months. You have to be prepared to try infinite variations of time and position and person and just keep at it.
And if they point blank refuse a bottle THE END, then you can also try using a sippy cup, bottle with a straw or even just a plain cup. They sip very tiny amounts but sometimes they just need to understand that food can come from more than one place.
The good news is that once they start weaning (but not before 6 months or so) they will quickly learn lots of new flavours and textures and so taking a bottle won’t become such an important thing as they will be able to survive on other food.
So go forth, try the bottle and bloody good luck!