Offering Your Baby a Bottle

on April 08, 2014 in Breastfeeding, Offering Your Baby a Bottle

For any number of reasons, you may want to offer a bottle to your breastfed baby.  Perhaps you will be going back to work or school, or there will be times that you will  apart from your baby for a short while.  You may have heard about breastfed babies who refuse bottles.  That can be a big problem and upsetting for you and the person who is left with your baby.

The best way to prevent bottle refusal is to offer small amounts of breastmilk early and often.  I have spoken with countless mothers who have babies who struggle with this problem.  Often, I hear this;  “My baby took a bottle fine at one month of age and now she simply screams at even the site of the bottle!”

Yes, young babies, less that a month old will usually accept a bottle well.  When that happens, parents then assume that the baby will continue drinking well from one.  But this is often not be the case.  Parents may be told to wait 4 to 6 weeks before offering a bottle in order to prevent “nipple confusion”.  If your baby is a couple of weeks old and is latching well, there is no reason to avoid offering a bottle.

I recommend offering a bottle between 3-4 weeks of age.  You don’t need to offer very much milk at all; just an ounce or two will suffice.  Feeding a bottle every few days will usually keep your baby accepting of a bottle.

In order to do this, you may want to express extra milk on a daily or near daily basis.  A good time to pump or hand express milk, is right after one or more of your early or mid-morning nursings, when your supply is high.  You shouldn’t expect to get much milk, maybe an ounce or two.  You can keep an ounce or so in the refrigerator and feed it to your baby after an evening nursing. Expressing milk in-between feedings may take some of her next nursings; so doing it right after nursing will usually work best.

On the days you do not offer the small bottle, you can express and store that milk in your freezer.  This is a great way to “feed the freezer” to stockpile milk for time apart or a “rainy day”.  Milk can safely be stored in the freezer section of the refrigerator for up to 3 months if the freezer section is 5-15 degrees Fahrenheit.  You can freeze milk in a deep freezer for 12 months in a 0 degree freezer.

Should you find yourself with a baby who is now refusing to drink from a bottle, I offer the following suggestions. Some babies do better when they are very hungry and others  just when they are wakeful and not ravenous for food.  Some babies do best with a warm bottle. I don’t recommend using infant formula for these small feedings as the taste can certainly be unpleasant compared to what your baby is used to.

While you can try every nipple available, I suggest not sitting with the baby cradled in your or another adult’s arms.  Instead, hold your baby facing outward, maybe in a forward facing carrier of you have one.  Walk with the baby slightly bouncing her or patting her bottom. Place the nipple far back in her mouth and walk.  Weather permitting, walk outside!  Have your partner or another adult try feeding the baby with you out of sight.  Offer the bottle often, but know when to stop if the baby becomes overly upset.  You can try again later.  If there is milk in the bottle after a feeding trial, you can return the bottle to the refrigerator and try again at the next feeding without having to throw the milk out.

Once your baby is accepting the bottle, you will want to continue offering an ounce or two for a few days in a row, then cutting back to every other day until things are going well.

If your baby is close to six months old and is refusing a bottle, you may surprised at how well she does with a sippy cup, although for some infants this too can be refused as the spout may be too similar to a bottle.  You can try a sippy cup with a straw or just an ordinary unlidded cup.  Of course, she will need some help to keep from spilling your precious milk!