When should I introduce bottle to breastfed baby?

Introducing a bottle to a breastfed baby can be stressful. Not only does it require time, energy and patience, but the process can also leave you riddled with guilt. Questions like, “Am I doing the right thing for my baby?” and “When should I introduce bottle to breastfed baby?” might arise, causing you confusion and even to question if you’re doing the right thing.

Thankfully, there are answers to these common questions.

Though the process may feel uncomfortable, the truth is that many mothers may find themselves needing to bottle feed their breastfed babies for one reason or another.

These reasons often include, but are not limited to:

  • Needing to Go Back to Work
  • Low Milk Supply
  • Pain When Breastfeeding
  • Wanting to Bottle Feed at Night
  • Wanting Dad or a Caregiver to Participate in Feedings
  • Putting Baby in Daycare
  • Underlying Health Issues for Baby or Mom
  • Wanting to Keep Options Open

No matter what your reasoning for wanting to transition to a bottle, we at Yellodoor have you covered with practical tips and information about how soon to introduce bottle to breastfed baby and how to transition from breast to bottle.

Introducing Bottle to Breastfed Baby

“When should I introduce bottle to breastfed baby?” can be a tricky question, especially since there is a window of time where the baby might actually reject the bottle, or even begin to reject the breast, depending on how long you wait.

Generally speaking, it is best to introduce a bottle to your breastfed baby anywhere between 4-8 weeks, or 6 weeks, to be exact. At around 6 weeks of age, your baby should be getting the hang of nursing, but also won’t be too thrown off by the introduction of a new “nipple” via the bottle.

If, however, you introduce the bottle too early, your baby may learn to prefer it and reject the breast. The reason? Some babies prefer the faster flow of the bottle over the drip-drop effect of the milk that secretes from your breast. In essence, they aren’t having to work as hard for the milk that comes from the bottle.

Want to introduce a bottle past 8 weeks? Just know that it may be tough. At that point, your baby is likely very well acclimated to your breast, and as such, may want nothing to do with his or her bottle. For tips on how to potentially push past this hurdle, check out Nurse Zabe’s video on how to get a breastfed baby to take a bottle.

Introducing a Bottle

When it comes to how to transition from breast to bottle, there are a couple of things you’ll want to remember:

Prepare the Bottle Properly

When preparing your little one’s first bottle, try to make sure that it is breast milk only, and not formula. Even if you want to eventually introduce formula, the very first bottle feeding probably isn’t the time to do it. Too many changes for the baby at once isn’t good.

To prepare the bottle, start with clean hands by using a baby-safe sanitiser. Then, you can opt to pump fresh breast milk immediately prior to your baby’s feeding or you can pump earlier in the day and freeze or refrigerate it.

If using frozen breast milk, allow the milk to thaw in the fridge overnight before use. If using refrigerated or recently thawed breast milk, gently warm the milk in a mug filled with hot tap water. This can take anywhere from 2-10 minutes. Remember, you should never thaw or warm breast milk in the microwave. This can change the molecular makeup of the breast milk, and can even create scorching hot pockets within the milk that could potentially scald your baby.

Prior to giving your baby his or her bottle, be sure to shake the bottle to rid it of any bubbles, and swirl the bottle around to mix any separated fat that may be sitting on top of your milk.

A Quick Note: Bear in mind that warming your breast milk isn’t actually necessary. Having said that, many babies will often prefer gently warmed milk over ice cold milk. Some mums and dads even have success running the nipple under warm water before giving it to their baby.

Ensure You That You Aren’t the One Doing the Feeding

Okay, we understand that this one could get a little dicey, especially if dad is at work, or no one is around to help you. But ideally, you should have someone else introduce the bottle to your baby, rather than doing it yourself.

If you are the one to introduce the bottle to your baby, he or she is likely to reject it. The baby can smell you and is used to feeding from your breast, which is what he or she prefers. You may even find that simply being in the room with your little one is distraction enough to keep them from trying the bottle.

The best thing you can do is to exit the room and allow another trusted adult to do the initial feeding for you for at least the first 3-5 feedings. After your baby has grown accustomed to the bottle, you may give your baby the bottle on your own.

But what if you are the only person available to give the bottle at the time?

If you must be the one to give your baby his or her first bottle, try not to position the baby in such a way that signals breastfeeding. Rather, try turning the baby away from your body, while still on your lap, and lean back slightly, so that he or she is still inclined. As awkward as it may feel, this may be one of the few ways in which you may be able to feed your baby a bottle on your own without making him or her too frustrated.

Use the Correct Feeding Methods

Once you have figured out who will feed the baby the bottle and how, you’ll want to ensure that you are using the correct methods in doing so.

If you are having someone else feed the baby, have that person cradle the baby, holding him or her at a slight incline. Make sure the head is slightly elevated, as well.

Next, gently squeeze a few drops of the breast milk into the baby’s mouth so that he or she can taste the familiar flavour of breast milk on his or her tongue.

From there, hopefully, the baby will do the rest, happily sucking away at his or her first bottle. Once the baby has successfully ingested a third of the bottle, you may burp the baby and continue on. Continue burping the baby after every third of the bottle has been taken.

Remember, if this doesn’t work the first time, try and try again. Make sure the bottle is the right temperature, and also, that the baby is hungry enough to begin eating. As a rule of thumb, don’t wait too long, until the baby is starving to feed them, but also don’t do it when the baby is full. If you typically feed your baby every 3 hours, you may wish to try bottle feeding between 1.5 and 2 hours, instead.

There are also other methods of bottle feeding breastfed babies that parents often find success with. Tune in to Nurse Zabe’s video about paced bottle feeding for more information.

Best Bottle for Breastfed Babies

Now that you know the steps for breastfeeding, you may wonder about the tools and supplies you need to get the job done.

If you’ve got a breast pump, it may be easiest to select the bottle that comes with your breast pump or have one on hand that is specifically made for it. There are some bottles that come with conversion kits that will make them compatible with your pump, however, this isn’t always the case.

Another option is to use bottles with nipples that are specially designed with the breastfed baby in mind. These bottles are often crafted with a nipple that closely resembles a mother’s breast so that your baby is more apt to take it. Consider checking out these affordable MAM teats or these wildly popular Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature bottles on Amazon which have both received rave reviews from nursing mums in the UK.

Some mamas even buy multiple bottles and nipple types upfront, just in case their baby prefers one over the other. No matter which you choose, just be sure to select a nipple that has a “slow-flow” to it, as this most closely matches the speed at which breast milk flows.

Introducing Formula to a Breastfed Baby

As previously mentioned, if you wish to introduce formula to your baby, the first go-round with a bottle probably isn’t the best time to do it. Once your baby has grown accustomed to the bottle, then you may introduce formula, little by little.

If you are wondering how to introduce formula, the key for breastfed babies is to do it over time, and with patience. Because your baby has grown accustomed to breast milk, he or she may have a difficult time transitioning off of one to the other. Often times, parents find great success combining breast milk and formula in the same bottle.

To do this, you can simply prepare the formula per the directions, and then, add breast milk directly to the mixture. Shake the bottle to mix. Because breast milk has natural digestive compounds in it, your baby will likely be able to better tolerate the formula than they would if there were no breast milk in it. For more details about mixing formula with breast milk, check out our article.

Bottle and Breastfeeding Together

Another option in addition to combining breast milk and formula together, is to feed your baby each of these interchangeably. Some mothers prefer to feed formula at night, whilst continuing to breastfeed throughout the day. Whatever your chosen method, many mums find success utilising both breast milk and formula to accommodate their baby’s needs.

When should i introduce bottle to breastfed baby: FAQs

How Much Breast Milk Should a Newborn Eat?

For this question, it is best to ask your paediatrician. If your paediatrician gives you a total amount of ounces your baby should consume for the entire day, divide this total by the number of times baby feeds. Plan to store this amount, with a little more just in case. There are also many online calculators that can help you out, however, it is always best to receive advice customised for you and your situation from your local healthcare provider.

When Should I Pump?

Pumping can be tricky to navigate, especially when it is your first time doing it. Many mums have varying preferences, so we will explore a few. One of the ways that you can go about pumping is to do it right before every breastfeeding session, even if you aren’t there to feed your baby at the moment.

So, if you are at work and your baby typically nurses around 1:00 pm, you’ll want to pump at around that time. If you skip this hypothetical “feeding” your breast flow will adjust, and you’ll notice a decrease in your supply.

Some, on the other hand, would rather feed their baby first, provided that they are there with their child, and pump afterwards. If you choose to go this route, just be aware that you likely won’t get much milk out because you are pumping only the leftovers of your breast milk. The benefit of this approach, however, is an increase in breast milk supply over time, as your pumping tells your body to create more milk. Moreover, you’ll be ensuring that your baby gets his or her milk first before you start pumping for your stash.

The bottom line is that the method of pumping you choose will depend largely on your needs, the baby’s needs and your lifestyle.

Timing and Pace Is Everything

All in all, be sure to go slow and take your time when introducing a bottle to your breastfed baby. This will be a change for both of you, and it will flow smoother if you practise patience towards both yourself and your little one. Just be sure to do the research concerning which bottle might work best, and be sure to get the other parent or caregiver on board with introducing the bottle the first few times, if you can, to make things easier. With time, practise, patience and technique, your little one will be gulping down milk from the bottle in no time!

If you’re still unsure or are new at the milk expressing and bottle feeding process, take a peek at this NHS article for even more details about how to go about getting your baby the nourishment that he or she needs.

Still thinking about switching to formula? Read about breastmilk vs formula auf unserem Blog.