How to get a breastfed baby to take a bottle

how to get breastfed baby to take a bottle, how to get baby to take a bottle, how to introduce a bottle to a breastfed baby
There are many reasons why we might want or need to introduce a bottle to a breastfed baby. Perhaps it is a return to work, sharing feeding duties with a partner, or simply because you want to. 

Transitioning a breastfed baby to a bottle can sometimes be challenging, but with patience and the right approach, it can work! Bottle refusal in breastfed babies is very common, so you are not alone if you are struggling with this. 
 
Remember – how a baby feeds is quite complex – the mechanics of a bottle are quite different, so they need to learn a new way of feeding. The milk flows differently – and feeding is not solely about nutrition – there is comfort too, and that is a valid reason for a baby to feed. 
 

When to introduce a bottle to a breastfed baby?

First and foremost, timing is crucial. Experts recommend waiting until breastfeeding is well established, typically around 4-6 weeks, before introducing a bottle. Starting too early may lead to nipple confusion and impact on your milk supply.
 
Once you’ve decided it’s time to introduce the bottle, choose a slow-flow nipple to mimic the natural flow of breast milk, preventing your baby from becoming overwhelmed or frustrated.
 
Don’t get tempted to buy and try lots of different bottles, it can be even more confusing for babies. Despite some clever marketing, there is no one bottle that is the ‘best’ for breastfed babies. 
 
If you want to feed your baby expressed breastmilk you can first of all try pumping a little after a feed. It may only be a small amount so you can freeze this, and save it up each time you pump to be enough for a full feed.
 

How to introduce a bottle?

One strategy for getting a breastfed baby to take a bottle is to have someone other than the breastfeeding parent offer it.
 
Babies are incredibly perceptive and may associate the breastfeeding parent with nursing, making it more challenging for them to accept a bottle.
 
Enlist the help of a partner, family member, or caregiver to introduce the bottle during a calm and relaxed feeding time.
 
Find a quiet space free from distractions where you and your baby can focus on the bottle feeding experience. Hold your baby close and maintain eye contact to foster a sense of security and connection during the feed.
 
Additionally, experimenting with different feeding positions, such as holding them upright, can help find what works best for them.

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This guide is to support families who want to feel confident formula feeding their baby.

10 tips for introducing a bottle to a breastfed baby

  • Choose a time when they are happy and relaxed, not desperate for a feed as it can become very stressful.

  • Try running the bottle teat under warm water, or dip it into breastmilk or formula before offering it to your baby. This helps them know what is going on!

  • Tickle the baby’s mouth with the teat to encourage them to open it.

  • Have a used muslin or item of your clothing close by so they can smell your scent. You could even wrap the bottle in a muslin.

  • You can try both taking your clothes off – skin to skin can help them relax.

  • Sometimes putting the baby on a pillow in front of you so they are supported and sat up to feed can help (if they are too reclined they can take too much milk too quickly).

  • Rocking, walking or swaying with a baby can help them to relax to accept the bottle.

  • You can experiment with the temperature of the milk – some babies *especially if teething* may prefer the milk to be cooler.

  • You can start off breastfeeding, and then switch out to the bottle. This can sometimes help with acceptance.

  • You can try giving the bottle just as the baby is waking up from a nap – they are often more willing to try if they are a bit sleepy.

Persistence and patience are key throughout this process. It’s normal for babies to resist change initially, so don’t be discouraged if your baby doesn’t take to the bottle right away.

Offer the bottle during different times of the day when your baby is calm and content, and keep practising. If your baby is over 6 months you can try an open cup instead.

Consistency is vital once your baby begins to accept the bottle. Aim to offer it regularly, even if it’s just a small amount of expressed breast milk, to help your baby become accustomed to the experience.

Remember to pace the feeding to mimic the natural rhythm of breastfeeding, allowing your baby to pause and swallow as needed. We call this Paced Bottle Feeding.

If you need help with feeding, always speak to a skilled expert, and remember, you do not need to stop breastfeeding or feed from a bottle to improve sleep.

We recommend the following websites to access support:

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