Introducing your breastfed baby to the bottle or cup

Introducing your breastfed baby to the bottle or cup

What's the best way to introduce my baby to a bottle?

Most lactation experts suggest waiting until your baby is at least a month old and breastfeeding is well established before introducing a bottle. If you're returning to work, start bottle-feeding at least two weeks before your start date so you both have time to adjust. (Find more information on such topics as sterilizing bottles and how often to bottle-feed in our article on bottle-feeding basics.)

Sucking milk from a bottle requires different mouth and tongue movements than breastfeeding, so it may take your baby a little time to get used to the change. Try these tips for a smooth transition:

Offer him a bottle in the evening after his regular feeding to get him used to the nipple. Start with a small amount of breast milk – about half an ounce.

Try a slow-flow nipple. For some babies, especially infants, a regular nipple may flood them with milk. If your baby gags when using a bottle, replace his nipple with a slow-flow one to see if that helps.

Let someone else feed him the first bottle. If you try to give your baby his first bottle, he may wonder why he's not getting your breast. He may be less confused if someone else makes the introduction. Ask your mother, your partner, a childcare provider, or a friend to help.

Try to be out of the house. A baby can smell his mother, even from a distance, so he may know that you (and your breasts) are just in the next room.

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Tory Winnick introduced her son Philip to the bottle when he was 3 weeks old. "I pumped and put my breast milk in a bottle so my husband Mike could experience feeding the baby," she remembers. "We had to try a few different nipples until we found one that most closely simulated the breast. It really made Mike feel great that he could feed the baby too."

Your baby may not eat very much when you aren't home and may begin waking more frequently at night if you're apart all day. Don't be surprised if this happens, and just take advantage of these quiet and intimate times to reconnect with your baby.

What can I do if my baby resists taking a bottle?

Some babies take to the bottle without much fuss, but others struggle quite a bit with the transition. If your baby is having a hard time, try these techniques:

Use a bottle nipple similar to her pacifier. If she sucks on a latex pacifier, use a latex bottle nipple (rather than a silicone one) and vice versa. Warm the nipple with water to make it feel more appealing.

Put some breast milk on the nipple. When your baby tastes it, she may start sucking to get more. (Don't use honey, which can cause infant botulism in children younger than 12 months.)

Let your baby play with the nipple so she can familiarize herself with it. If she just chews on it, let her for now. She may actually start sucking on it soon.

Hold her in a different position: Put her in an infant or car seat so she is semi-upright, and then feed her the bottle while facing her. Or try feeding her on your lap with her back to your chest. Once she is used to taking a bottle, you can hold her as you usually would for feedings.

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Try different temperatures. It could be your baby prefers her milk slightly warmer or colder than you've been giving it to her. Experiment with different temperatures to see what she prefers. You might also see if there's a difference between giving her fresh milk or milk that's been frozen.

Offer the bottle at other times of day. If your baby won't take the bottle during the day, try offering it during a nighttime feeding or vice versa.

One resourceful father put on his wife's bathrobe and tucked the bottle under his arm while holding the baby in a breastfeeding position. That won't work for you, but it might work for Dad!

I've tried everything, but my baby is only getting more frustrated and resistant.

Your baby needs time to get used to new sensations, so stick with the same nipple, bottle, and feeding technique for a while before trying something new. Constantly changing the feeding position or switching out new nipples may just end up confusing (and frustrating) him.

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Make sure you have lots of time to take it slow during this process. If your baby starts crying and pushes the bottle away, back off, comfort him, and then try again. If you've tried offering the bottle and your baby has refused three times, let it go for now. (Wait at least five minutes before breastfeeding – that way he won’t associate refusing the bottle with immediate gratification.)

Offer the bottle again in an hour or two, when your baby is alert and receptive but not frantically hungry.

My baby took to the bottle easily at first, but now she wants only to breastfeed.

Early success isn't necessarily an ironclad guarantee that your baby will always take a bottle. Many babies who have been getting bottles all along suddenly decide they simply prefer breastfeeding and don't want a bottle anymore. And why not? Breastfeeding is warm, cozy, and involves their favorite person – Mom.

But don't worry: For most babies, this is just a short-lived developmental step. If your baby suddenly refuses to take a bottle, talk to your child's doctor to rule out a medical reason then try reintroducing it at another time.

What if I want to skip the bottle and teach my baby to drink from a cup?

In some countries, infants who can't nurse are taught to use a cup from the get-go. There are some advantages to this method: There's no chance of nipple confusion, and you won't be tempted to prop up your baby with a bottle at nap time or bedtime (which can lead to tooth decay). You'll also never have to break a bottle habit.

Of course, helping your baby drink from a cup is time-consuming. Unless you use a sippy cup or a cup with a built-in straw, you'll have to help her drink – and be prepared for the inevitable mess. Daycare providers may not be able to accommodate this arrangement.

Many of the same principles of introducing your baby to a bottle hold true for using a cup. Have her get used to a cup at an early age (but not until breastfeeding is well established), and introduce it gradually – one feeding a day. If you're going back to work, start a few weeks before so your child has time to get used to this new feeding method.

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My baby absolutely refuses to take a bottle. What should I do?

When this happens, it's not uncommon to blame yourself, saying, "If only I had given him a bottle a day from the beginning, this wouldn't be happening." But this just isn't true. Some babies never take a bottle.

Others may tell you that if you just wait him out, he'll eventually be hungry enough to take a bottle. That's not necessarily true, and making a baby go for long stretches without eating isn't a good idea. Don't make mealtime into a battleground.

If all attempts to bottle-feed him fail, go the cup route. Hold him upright in one arm and bring the cup to his mouth, tilting it gently until a bit of milk or formula drips in. He'll lap it up at first and then figure out to drink it. You can also use a hollow-handled medicine spoon to do the same thing.

What if I decide to wean my baby from the breast?

If you've decided to wean your baby, or to nurse only before and after work, you deserve congratulations and support for having given your baby weeks or months of breast milk. Just be sure that your baby gets the same one-on-one, physically nurturing and affectionate time with you during bottle-feeding that she did with breastfeeding. 

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