Breast may be best, but it’s nice (and necessary) to have options, too. When it comes time to introduce your baby to the bottle, there are a few ways to make weaning easier. Lindsey Shipley, RN, IBCLC is a mom of two, Registered Nurse, Childbirth Educator and Board Certified Lactation Coach. She owns Lactation Link, which offers lactation support services before and after baby is born through video classes and video chat consultations. Here, Lindsey answers our top questions about how to make the transition as seamless as possible.
What’s the recommended age to first introduce the bottle?
If a mother knows that she will want her baby to take a bottle at some point (returning to work or mother/baby separation time), it’s a good idea to start introducing it around four weeks. The general recommendation is to avoid bottles early on as babies are learning to breastfeed and establishing that relationship. When you do introduce them, start practicing with once a day and just be consistent. Some babies catch right on, others take several tries. Got it. How about nipples? Do babies require different flows at different ages/stages? Breastfed babies can stay with a slow flow or zero size nipple until they graduate to a cup. There’s no need to increase the pace of milk being delivered with a bottle, because the pace stays the same with breastfeeding. If you’d like to go back and forth from bottle to breast, stick with a slow flow nipple and also remember to use “paced feeding” techniques. If you’re using formula, you can increase the nipple size as baby gets older, but it’s also a good idea to pace feed formula-fed babies to avoid over-feeding. Is it easier for someone other than mom to introduce the bottle for the first time? Yes! Try to have your partner or a caregiver be the one to introduce the bottle. When mom is the one giving the bottle, the baby is confused because he/she can smell the breastmilk and automatically turn their head toward the breast. The caregiver could use one of mom’s t-shirts and wrap it around the infant so they can sense mom’s comforting and familiar scent. That’s smart. How about “nipple confusion”—real thing, or myth? The texture of a baby’s bottle is undoubtedly different than the mother’s bare skin. Introducing a bottle early on may delay the establishment of the breastfeeding relationship. It’s asking the baby to master two very different skills from the beginning when they are just trying to transition to life outside the womb! In my experience, there are less issues with if the mom and baby can wait to introduce the bottle until the time is right. If the baby doesn’t take to the bottle right away, should we try a different nipple/bottle, or stick with the first attempt? From my experience, it’s more about finding a bottle that has a nice wide-base, a slow-flow nipple, and giving baby consistent practice. Babies master skills at different times. There’s nothing wrong with trying a few different kinds, but you don’t need to spend a fortune on 20 different bottles. And finally, will introducing the bottle interfere w breastfeeding, or should it be possible to do alternate the two? I would say that some moms have a great deal of difficulty getting the baby to take the bottle if they wait until they are 3-4 months old. Here are 5 basic tips to remember when introducing the bottle to your baby—1) Introduce around one month old 2) Use a bottle with a wide base and slow-flow nipple 3) Learn how to do “paced feeding” and teach your caregiver 4) Be consistent in offering it once a day while baby is learning 5) Breastfeed frequently when you are reunited with baby to keep that connection.
Awesome advice. Thank you, Lindsey!