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From Breast to Bottle

By: Catherine Gough - Updated: 15 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Breast Feeding Bottle Feeding Formula

Mothers who breastfeed their babies may want to move on to bottle feeding at some point – for example when returning to work. Switching over doesn’t necessary spell the end of breastfeeding. It is perfectly possible to combine the two.

When to Start

There are various approaches to introducing a bottle:
  • Right from the start. Some mothers introduce a bottle in the first few weeks. This gets round the problem of babies who are so used to the breast that they’re reluctant to take a bottle at all. However, babies can get confused between the different approaches. This could mean that breastfeeding ends sooner than planned, and that the baby misses out on the benefits of breast milk.

  • After breast feeding is well established. If this method succeeds, it can be very useful for mothers who want to take a little time away from breastfeeding or to use at times of day when there are other pressures. Some mothers carry on for many months in this way, although others find that breastfeeding starts to tail off.

  • A few weeks before the ‘changeover’. In this gentle approach, breastfeeds are gradually replaced by bottle feeds – starting with one a day for a while, then two, and so on. Babies who are well established with breastfeeding may be very reluctant, but there are techniques to help (see below).

  • Simply swapping over with no gradual introduction. This ‘cold turkey’ approach can be upsetting for the baby and for the mother too if the baby becomes distressed. But sooner or later they will be hungry enough to feed. This is not for everyone, but it can work, particularly if the baby is being fed bottles by someone other than its mother.

If the Baby Refuses a Bottle

It’s not surprising that a breastfed baby may be reluctant to take a bottle. They are used to the warm comfort of their mother’s breast and the distinctive taste of her milk. A little perseverance may be needed:
  • Try putting breast milk in the bottle. The familiar taste may be enough to overcome the baby’s reluctance. If this seems to work, try expressing milk with a pump and then store it in the fridge. Breast milk also freezes well.

  • Get someone else to give the bottle. The baby associates its mother with the breast, so the idea of a bottle can be better coming from someone else.

  • Don’t make the mistake of thinking the baby needs to be really hungry. A baby who is crying for the breast may be anxious and upset when a bottle appears instead.

  • Choose a time when both mother and baby are relaxed. In the morning or after the baby’s afternoon sleep might be good, when he or she is fresh and not looking for the comfort of the breast.

  • Experiment a little. The baby may like the experience of bottle feeding to mimic the warm comfort of breastfeeding. Or it may take to the new sensation better if it feels very different. For example, the bottle could be given with the baby sitting on the adult’s knee facing outwards or being held in a sling.

  • Try different teats. The baby may dislike the taste or feel of one type, or find the flow too slow/fast.

  • If an older baby is very reluctant to take a bottle, it’s worth considering missing this stage out altogether and feeding from a cup or a spoon. Some babies take quite well to a cup with a soft spout, which is somewhere in between the feel of a teat and a feeding cup.

  • If a baby has started weaning and is getting plenty of nourishment from food, they may be able to have water from a cup while their mother is away and carry on with the breast at other times.

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