By Wendy Eson, IBCLC, CEIM
While babies are born to breastfeed, breastfeeding is a skill that for most families, often takes some time to learn. Bottle feeding also takes practice, as it’s a completely different mode of food delivery for the breastfed baby.
We suggest introducing practice bottles around 3 to 4 weeks of age. This will give the family plenty of time to hone breastfeeding skills and establish a good milk supply. Some families may choose to wait longer to introduce that first bottle, but if returning to work is anticipated, practice bottles should begin well before heading back to work. There are many approaches to bottle introduction, but staying consistent with practice is often the best way to help baby accept a bottle.
Ideally, expressed milk should be offered in the bottle. This helps keep the taste familiar, and baby continues to receive the benefits of human milk. A strategy that’s often recommended is to have the parent pump after the morning breastfeed and use this milk for later in the day/evening for the practice bottle. Keep in mind that a practice bottle does not need to be a full feed of 3 or 4 oz. Baby can be given a small amount of pumped milk, about ½ to 1 oz., by bottle and can return to the breast to finish feeding.
A slow-flow nipple is a good way to begin with young babies, however all slow flow nipples are not the same. Signs your baby may be having a hard time with the flow include leaking around the mouth and possibly choking, if too fast. If flow is too slow, baby may become frustrated, with feeds taking a long time. A nipple that is tapered or graduated, somewhat narrow at the tip, gradually widening at the base, can help promote responsive feeding or paced bottle feeing. Here’s an excellent video on paced bottle feeding.
Offer the bottle in a relaxed environment and when baby is not overly hungry. Baby should be calm when drinking from the bottle. They shouldn’t guzzle, nor should they take an excessively long time to drink. Keep baby upright, chin off their chest. Never prop a bottle or leave baby unattended while feeding.
Keeping the bottle feeding attempts low stress and relaxing. Provide baby lots of positive feedback and most importantly, enjoy this time with your baby as you learn something new together!