The Transition from Breast to Bottle

baby with a bottle, bottle-fed baby

So for whatever the reason – you’ve decided to stop breastfeeding (NO JUDGEMENT!!) or perhaps you are going back to work soon, and have decided to put baby onto formula.  But for some reason, your precious bundle of sleepless joy is refusing to take a bottle.  It can be hugely frustrating as both of cry together, hoping for an impasse!

Perhaps as you chat with other mommies, you hear of babies taking to the bottle without any fuss.  But don’t despair.  There’s nothing wrong with your child if they are resisting. Some babies take to it, and some put up quite a fierce struggle.

Making the Transition from Breast to Bottle a bit Smoother

  • To begin with, express some breast milk and put that in the bottle.  If your baby has only ever had breastmilk from your breasts, at least the smell and taste of the milk is familiar, even though the “container" has changed.
  • Make the milk/formula the same temperature as mother’s milk.  
  • Try some distraction tactics:  take the baby out for a walk, perhaps using a carrier such as a Kanga or Baby Bjorn. Put the baby into the carrier so that they are facing outwards.  Hopefully baby will be nicely distracted as you stroll about.  Sing and chat to your baby so that both of you are calm and relaxed. This is probably not the best tactic to try if your baby is crying or beyond hungry. While strolling around, put the bottle into your baby’s mouth and perhaps pat their bottom with your other free hand to keep them moving up and down.  The idea is that even though they are not thinking about feeding, the fresh air and the bouncing motion will intrinsically get the sucking reflex going, and they will begin to bottle feed.  If your baby doesn’t drink right away or pushes the bottle away, don’t fret.  Just take the bottle away from her line of sight and carry on with the walk.  Try again after a few minutes.  The main thing is not to get frustrated or angry.  Just try again on another day if it doesn’t go according to plan.
  • Perhaps have someone else give the bottle. Your baby knows your smell. Even though they are so tiny, they know your smell better than anyone. Maybe they associate your scent with feeding time at the breast. Let your partner give the bottle and see if that doesn’t kick start the whole process. Try to stay out of view while this is going on. Seeing you may sabotage the plan. 
  • Try giving them the bottle in the same position as you breastfeed them in.  Some babies associate feeding, with the position they are in.  
  • Try different breastfeeding positions – think out the box.  Lots of babies take the bottle while facing away from the giver.  I think it’s those curious ones that like it that way!
  • Put some breast milk onto the teat of the bottle.  That may encourage the baby to start sucking initially. Try stick to the same bottle, bottle teat, and feeding technique for a while before changing things up.  If you keep changing the bottle or swopping teats around, it may just end up confusing and frustrating your baby (and you).
  • Make sure that the bottle's nipple you are using has a milk flow of about one drop per second.  This is easy for a baby to handle.  Your baby may be struggling with a faster flow nipple. A slower nipple flow will give your baby more sucking time and will prevent nipple confusion if you plan to continue to breastfeed. The best bottles to use while breastfeeding.
  • Warm the bottle nipple under running water before offering the bottle to the baby.  A cold, rubbery nipple does not feel the same as your nipple.  
  • Try doing a quick check of your baby’s mouth just to ensure that there is no oral thrush, blisters or any sores present. If there are any of these conditions present – please see your clinic sister or doctor for further advice.

Keep in mind that ultimately, because most bottles dispense milk quicker than a breast – most babies prefer them. These obstacles are all part of the wonder of motherhood.  Have a little cry.  Dry your face.  And keep going.

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