Breastfeeding isn’t an all or nothing activity. While health experts recommend exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months, there are cases where you may need to supplement your baby – and a bottle happens to be the easiest way for most parents to do so.
Breast versus bottle doesn’t need to be a dichotomy – think of it more as a continuum. You can do one or the other, or any combined percentage of them. You might predominantly breastfeed, but use a bottle occasionally. Or you might use a bottle most of the time, but nurse your baby a couple of times per day. Reasons a breastfeeding mom might use a bottle include:
- Your baby is having trouble latching.
- Your baby isn’t gaining weight and needs to be supplemented.
- Mom and baby are separated due to illness.
- You are returning to work.
- You simply choose to bottle feed.
While most babies do easily go back and forth between breast and bottle, other babies find it more challenging and prefer one feeding method to the other. The number one rule is to feed the baby. Even if that means a bottle is needed sometimes, it doesn’t mean you need to wean from the breast. But you may have some questions …
Should I wait?
Many mothers are advised to wait until after the first few weeks before introducing a bottle. It takes about four to six weeks for your milk supply to be well-established. So, waiting until this point, if possible, may help you maintain a strong supply even when you’re using bottles. Friends and family may suggest if you don’t start bottles from the beginning, baby will refuse them altogether if you wait too long. There’s no “window of opportunity” for introducing bottles, but occasionally older babies are more reluctant and take a little more coaxing.
Will my baby get nipple confusion?
The bottle nipple is a rigid stimulus that probably looks nothing like your natural nipple size or shape. A baby who often gets bottles may have problems figuring out what to do at the breast if he doesn’t have the same inducement to his suck reflex that the bottle nipple provides.
It’s more likely that your baby will develop a flow confusion – the milk from the bottle starts flowing freely as soon as it’s turned upside down. But it takes a little bit of work to get the flow started at the breast, and babies used to the bottle may give up before it starts. Massaging the breasts or pumping for a few seconds before latching can help with this.
In addition, you may be able to make bottle feeding a little more like breastfeeding by using a method called “paced bottle feeding.” This technique keeps baby more upright and the bottle less inverted, works with babies breastfeeding cues and behaviors, and keeps baby working at feeding rather than passively accepting the flow of milk. These tips make it easier for baby to go back and forth between breast and bottle.
What if my baby refuses a bottle?
Occasionally a baby will resist eating from a bottle. Try holding baby in a breastfeeding position and offering the milk at body temperature. Sometimes holding something that smells like mom may induce baby to accept the bottle. Try bouncing, rocking, swaying, walking, singing, talking – distraction and soothing may lead to a more relaxed (and accepting) baby. Try having someone other than mom feed the bottle – in fact, mom may need to leave the house altogether!
Can I exclusively bottle feed my baby expressed breastmilk?
If your baby is having problems latching, isn’t gaining weight, or is creating pain for you with feeding – even after getting help from a lactation consultant – you may decide that your breastfeeding experience will be better if you give your baby your milk in a bottle.
Breastfed baby from age one month to age six months consume about 25 to 30 ounces of breastmilk per day. Divide this by the number of times your baby eats each day to determine how many ounces you will need per bottle.
You can determine how often you will need to pump to get this much milk. Some moms need short sessions more often, while other moms can pump less often but for more minutes. If your milk supply begins to falter, you can add pumping sessions or lengthen the sessions you are already doing.
What if I don’t have enough breastmilk?
Your baby needs to eat. If you cannot produce enough breastmilk, formula is fine. It’s wonderful that we have a safe product that will keep your baby nourished.