How to Introduce a Bottle to your Breastfed Baby

There are many reasons a breastfeeding mum may want or need to give a bottle feed of expressed breast milk to her baby, but it is important to do this at the right time to ensure your body’s milk making cells are established and switched on correctly and that your baby and you are feeling confident and settled with breastfeeding as well.

Often partners want to help out and give a bottle of expressed breast milk in the very early days to help the new mum get more sleep….does not sound like a bad plan at all…in theory.

In the beginning your milk cells are laying down all the foundations to create a good sufficient milk supply. This takes around one month for the breasts to finalise. They initiate and build your milk supply by your baby frequently draining milk from the breast at every feed.

Babies are designed to feed frequently, between 8-12 times in 24 hours to help this process. In the first week some babies may even feed a little more frequently than this!

So understandably mums are exhausted and partners want to help out and give her a break. But sleeping through a feed doesn’t always help in the early stages, as mum often finds that the fullness in her breasts wakes them up and they need to express anyway whilst their partner feeds the baby. Not really giving you any more sleep!

The other issue is that if mums regularly sleep longer than 5 hours straight or feed less than 8 times in the first month when the breasts are building supply, it may interrupt and impact the future milk supply.

It is best to allow the body to establish your milk supply through frequent feeds as nature intended and lay down the patterns of breastfeeding first.

Once baby is around 6 weeks it is a good time to introduce an expressed milk feed. This way you and your baby are well established and confident with breastfeeding and settling into a good pattern.

The big thing here is your body needs to lay down the foundations so that breastfeeding can be easy and mean that life is much more flexible, but it has to do this in the first month. There is nothing we can do to really change this, apart from accepting and letting it happen. We need to forget all the other day to day stuff and concentrate on feeding and loving our baby, resting, and sleeping when we can. That is it. That is full time 24 hour “work” for the first 4 weeks after birth!

But…. Once you start to get in the groove of things and feel human again! you may want to go out and leave baby with your partner or their grandparent. This is OK and can really help some mums to feel better and help them to cope.

By the time baby is 6-8 weeks old and your body is maintaining a good milk supply. This is a good time to introduce a bottle to a breastfed baby. It can be difficult to get a fully breastfed baby to accept a bottle and teat if it is not introduced by 3 months of age, so offering baby an occasional bottle feed from around 6-8 weeks of age can help.

Why have you heard some people say you can’t bottle feed and breastfeed babies?

Some teats require a baby to suck very differently than how they would at the breast. Let’s just have a quick look at how a baby actually breastfeeds, the science bit. At the beginning of a breast feed you have probably noticed that your baby sucks really fast at first. These quick sucks trigger a hormone in the brain to be released. This hormone is really clever and makes the tiny muscles surrounding the milk cells squeeze the milk out and down the ducts towards the nipple. In order to get the milk out the baby has to create a vacuum (suction) on the breast. This vacuum draws out the milk from the breast.

Some, but not all, bottle teats allow milk to drip straight out from the teat. They do not require baby to “work” for the milk. Also the flow of milk can often be much faster or more instant than baby is used to at the breast. For these reasons some babies get used to, or end up preferring the bottle teat to the breast and then struggle to feed at the breast again. A mum may see this by the baby fussing and pulling off the breast during feeds. Eventually if a baby is very fussy and keeps reducing their feeds down in length, the mum will notice her milk supply drop. So it can seem tricky when deciding to introduce a bottle feed. This is why it is important to make sure breastfeeding is established first.

Is there a good way to feed from a bottle?

Pacing bottle-feeds is a way of giving a bottle feed so your baby can decide the flow of the milk and have an enjoyable feed. .

How to pace feeds:

  • Hold your baby in a more upright position. This stops bub taking too much milk at the start of the feed. Support the baby’s head and neck with your hand rather than with your arm.
  • Use a slow-flow teat.
  • Touch the tip of the teat to baby’s top and bottom lips. Gently stroking the lips with the teat and wait for your baby to open their mouth wide before you give them the teat, just like when breastfeeding. Do not push the teat into your baby’s mouth, always let a baby take it themselves.
  • Tip the bottle up just enough for the expressed breast milk to fill the teat, the bottle may look horizontal at first, this is normal as long as the milk is in the teat this is perfect. As the feed goes on, you will gradually lean your baby back so that the teat stays filled with milk.
  • In order to make it more like a breastfeed allow bub to have rests every few minutes. This will help your bub to not drink too much and too fast!
  • Your baby will tell you when they have finished the feed. Do not force them to finish the milk in the bottle. Just like with breastfeeding babies will take a different amount at each feed, but we cannot make them take more. By mimicking this with bottle feeding as well it helps to make going from breast to bottle and back to breast easier.

Hopefully this has given you lots of information to help you feel confident if you choose to breast and bottle feed your baby.

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