When and Why to Give Your Baby a Bottle
While most new mamas love breastfeeding time with their new little one, most also look forward to the day their partner can take part in feeding the baby, too (usually late at night so mom can get a little sleep!) So naturally a burning question on many new parents’ minds is: When is it okay to give my baby a bottle?
Most experts agree that if things are going well with breastfeeding, and there is no indication or medical reason that your baby needs to be supplemented or fed with a bottle, it is in your breastfeeding and baby’s best interest to hold off for approximately 3 to 4 weeks before introducing bottle feeding. By following this general guideline, you will have well established your breastfeeding routine. After about a month, you will have let the baby dictate your milk supply before introducing something new. However, if you wait too long—usually more than 6 weeks—there is a risk that your baby may refuse the bottle.
To feed your baby via a bottle, parents can use either expressed breast milk or formula. If you plan to use expressed breast milk, you will need to start pumping. The pumping timeline usually follows the same timeline as introducing a bottle, meaning if you don’t have a medical reason to supplement the baby and breastfeeding is going well, it is a good idea to let the baby dictate your milk supply in the first few weeks and hold off on pumping. If your baby is already acting as a great pump and then you add in more pumping on top of that, you run the risk of producing an over supply of breast milk which comes with its own set of issues.
Once you get ready to introduce a bottle and you’re going to use your own breastmilk, you will need to begin pumping in order to produce milk for bottle feeding. In the place of any missed feedings where only a bottle is being used, I recommend you pump in order to protect your milk supply. Some mothers may notice that the first time they pump nothing comes out. I always warn new mamas not to panic. No results the first time out doesn’t mean you don’t have any milk. It may take a few days before your body gets used to letting your milk down for the pump. The reason is your body reacts differently to a pump than it does your own baby. Put it this way: You love your baby, you don’t necessarily love your pump.
If your baby requires supplemental feeding before the 3 to 4 week mark, it would be wise to contact an IBCLC (a lactation consultant) who can help you set up a plan to protect your milk supply, introduce a bottle and help you to continue on your breastfeeding journey.
Some mothers ask why they would want to introduce a bottle if they don’t have to go back to work and are planning to be with the baby all the time. While giving a bottle is definitely a personal choice, I usually always recommend introducing a bottle to baby and then continue to give one at least every few days so baby stays used to taking it.
In my opinion, you just never know if you’ll be separated from your little one. Consider that while you may not have to return to work, you want to go out for an appointment that lasts longer than a few hours, or a date, or even have some alone time. And while you may plan your time away to coincide with baby’s feeding times, even the best laid plans can run longer than intended. I have found that when baby doesn’t want to eat from anything other than breastfeeding, it can cause very stressful situations for mom, baby and the caregiver.
How to introduce a bottle. Unless your baby is used to a fast flow from your breast, most littles need a slow flow artificial bottle nipple to get started. Feed baby expressed breastmilk or formula in an amount appropriate for baby’s day of life. While some babies will refuse a bottle if they know mama is around, other babies may associate only feeding with mama and therefore will only take a bottle from her. It may take some experimenting to see how to get your baby started.
Using a paced bottle feeding method is a great way to follow your infant’s feeding cues. By following baby’s cues, paced bottle feeding allows for the baby to dictate when they are done rather than having baby “finish the bottle.” You’ll want to have baby in an upright position and the bottle positioned in a horizontal 90 degree angle with just the nipple filled with milk. This allows for the baby to have to work for the milk, like at the breast, rather than having gravity dumping the milk into baby’s mouth.
Encourage the baby to open wide by brushing the baby nose to chin with the nipple tip. Once baby opens wide, place the whole nipple in baby’s mouth so their lips rest on the base of the nipple. Once the baby is sucking, tip the nipple so no air is in it and milk fills the chamber. Allow the baby to pace her feeding. The baby shouldn’t looked stressed out when bottle feeding.
How long does it take? A bottle feeding session should take approximately 15 minutes. If it’s going too fast, try to slow it down by pacing the feeding and allowing the baby to take some breaks in between sucking. Your baby will show you she is finished by slowing her sucks, releasing the bottle and generally looking satisfied.
Remember, while most babies take to the bottle just fine, others may struggle. Don’t stress about it and give up right away. Seek help from a professional if your baby is refusing the bottle. Don’t try to starve baby into taking a bottle. Bottle feeding, like breastfeeding, should be an enjoyable experience for all involved.
-Jennifer Lezak, IBCLC