This article was originally published in January 2018. It has been updated.
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Breastfeeding is truly a force of nature. It can deepen the bond between baby and mama for years to come. It can cut the risk of SIDS in half. It even has its own emoji and its own Sesame Street episode.
But, mamas, listen up—we'd be lying if we told you that breastfeeding isn't also hard. It can be stressful, and when it doesn't go as planned, it can make you feel like a total failure, even though so many moms struggle with breastfeeding.
Getting a breastfed baby to take a bottle is one of the most prevalent breastfeeding issues among new moms according to Jamie Owens, RN and Board Certified Lactation Consultant. If your baby is refusing the bottle, don't panic, mamas—you're not alone. And we can help.
From breast to bottle: What's the deal?
As a breastfeeding mom, you may want to incorporate bottles for a variety of reasons. Maybe you need to be away from baby for a while, or want your partner to get more involved with feedings, or baby is struggling a bit on the breast. Whatever the reason, incorporating bottles into baby's feeding routine is totally healthy and, when done correctly, according to Owens, won't undermine your baby's ability to breastfeed effectively.
Sounds easy, right? [Insert the sound of the universe laughing here??]
Unfortunately, getting a breastfed baby to take a bottle can be one heck of a feat for lots of mamas, and it's not all that surprising as to why, says Owens. Bottle nipples are not mama's nipples, and babies can sense and feel the obvious difference.
The way a baby takes in milk also differs; in order to get milk out of a breast, a baby needs to suck in a completely different way than if she were taking milk from a bottle. And then there's flow, which, according to Owens, is the most important difference of all. Milk from a bottle flows faster and more easily than it does from a breast, and once a baby gets used to the faster flow of a bottle, it's often frustrating to then switch back and forth.
So what's a mama to do?
Timing is everything: When should you introduce a bottle?
According to many lactation consultants, timing is key when it comes to introducing a bottle to a breastfed baby. If breastfeeding is going well and baby (and mama) are thriving, Owens recommends waiting two weeks before beginning to pump. (It usually takes about this time to establish your supply and get baby back to their birth weight.)
Between two and four weeks is the ideal time to introduce a breastfed baby to a bottle.
Start too soon and it can interfere with production; but, wait too long and baby is much more likely to reject the bottle. Start with no more than a few ounces of lukewarm-to-warm breast milk—you don't want to waste that liquid gold!—and make sure baby is calm (and hungry) when you try.
Use a bottle with a slow flow nipple, and be sure to burp baby a few times throughout the feeding. And be consistent; aim for at least one bottle a week at minimum, if not more.
Sounds great, but my baby is still refusing the bottle...now what do I do?
Relax, take a few deep breaths, and try some of these tips below from our lactation consultant:
- Make sure you're using a slow flow nipple and a breastfeeding-friendly bottle. (Lots more on that below.)
- Have your partner give the bottle. Newborns may be new, but they're smarter than we think, and they're more likely to accept a bottle from your partner rather than from mom.
- Trigger the rooting reflex. Place the bottle in baby's mouth and use your finger to lightly touch their cheek; this will stimulate their rooting reflex, making it more likely that they'll latch on.
- Try a bait-and-switch. If baby likes a pacifier, let them suck for a bit then pop it out and quickly replace it with the bottle; they may be none the wiser.
- Experiment with a dream feed. Baby may be more likely to accept the bottle if they're hungry + not fully awake.
- Don't push it. A screaming baby is tough to feed whether from the breast or bottle. If everyone's getting frustrated, take a break and come back in five minutes to try again.
What are the best bottles for breastfed babies?
Decisions, decisions. Not to worry, mama—we did the research so you don't have to. There are lots of factors to consider when choosing a bottle: price, material, ease of cleaning (or lack thereof), nipple options and anti-colic features, just to name a few.
Keeping all of these in mind, here are our picks for the top eight bottles for breastfed babies. And remember, finding the right bottle for you & baby often involves a lot of trial and error, so we don't recommend buying in bulk until you learn what you like!
Jennifer LaBracio also contributed to this post.