Thinking about introducing a bottle to your baby? Have you already incorporated a bottle into the daily routine? Whether you are alternating between breast and bottle feeding or exclusively bottle feeding, it’s important to learn the basics!
As a new mom, it takes a few weeks to learn your baby’s cues for feeding and sleep. Crying may seem like the only form of communication in the early days, but there are many other cues you can watch for to help you learn when your baby is hungry and when they are satisfied after a feeding. Learning these signs will help you know when your baby is hungry for a feeding and when they are full!
Hunger cues include:
- Licking/smacking lips
- Opening and closing the mouth
- Bringing hands to the mouth
- Rooting-moving the head from side to side as if looking for something—MILK!!
- Crying is a late sign for hunger and tiredness
Satiety cues include:
- Hands are open and relaxed
- Body is relaxed
- Baby pulls away from bottle or breast and if offered again turns head away or keeps mouth closed
- Falling asleep
I recommend introducing a bottle around 4 weeks of age. This gives you time to establish a healthy breastmilk relationship and supply before introducing another form of feeding. At 4 weeks, your baby is still young enough to accept the bottle without resistance and you have gained confidence in your breastfeeding relationship. By feeding your baby a bottle once a day or every other day, your baby will learn and maintain the skill of bottle feeding with less of a chance of bottle refusal down the road. This is important if you work outside the home or even if you plan to have an outing that lasts more than 2-3 hours!
I also recommend introducing a bottle when your baby is well-rested and not starving! The first bottle does not have to be a full feeding. It can be 1-2 ounces!
Try offering a bottle at the halfway point of awake time and have your partner offer the bottle if available. Not only will this give you a break down the road, but it will also foster a relationship with Dad! Think of how many relationships are built over a meal! This includes babies, too!
When introducing a bottle, I recommend using a method referred to as “paced bottle feeding.”
All babies who use bottles can benefit from paced bottle feeding to prevent overfeeding. It is especially helpful for mothers who combine breastfeeding and bottle feeding—whether for medical reasons, by choice, or for baby’s time at daycare. Bottle preference is a common concern for many mothers and can occur when the flow of milk from the bottle is faster than the flow of milk from the breast. Paced bottle feeding slows down the flow of milk to avoid bottle preference and weaning from the breast before mom and baby are ready. Some moms may find their baby becomes fussy when returning to the breast if offering a bottle without using this technique.
I recommend using a slow flow or Level 1 nipple for as long as possible if alternating between breast and bottle feeding. Using a Level 1 nipple mimics the flow of breastfeeding when combined with paced bottle feeding. No matter what the flow or level of the nipple, the milk will still flow freely out of the bottle if the nipple is pointed down.
As your baby gets older, you may find that you need to change the nipple to a faster flow if the following happens:
- Feedings start to take 30-45 minutes
- Your baby is frustrated during a feeding
- The nipple is collapsed
- Your baby latches and unlatches during the feeding
It’s very easy and there is no special equipment involved! Follow these steps:
- Position baby in an upright position
- Hold the bottle nearly parallel to the floor
- Allow the nipple to partially fill by tilting the bottle up just a bit, then bring the bottle position back to parallel
- Your baby will have to do the work to drink from the nipple opposed to the milk flowing freely through the nipple if the bottle was pointed up
- Your baby should take brief pauses while drinking which mimics breastfeeding
- While your baby pauses, angle the bottle down so the milk leaves then nipple
- Repeat by filling the nipple and giving short breaks until your baby decides when they are finished
If you use this method your baby will never know the difference and be more accepting of transitioning between the breast and bottle. However, if your baby is used to chugging a bottle in 5 minutes, it may take a few days to accept a new slower-paced feeding.
- Baby is less likely to overfeed
- Baby is able to monitor baby’s hunger and satiety cues during pauses
- Baby can decide when they are finished eating as opposed to trying to get your baby to finish the bottle
- Promotes a healthy breastfeeding relationship
What has worked for you and your little one? Has bottle feeding been a positive experience for you? What were your challenges? Leave your tips for other moms in the comment section below!
AUTHOR: Have more questions about breast or bottle-feeding and/or sleep? Reach out to Katy from Well Rested Wee Ones to set up a consultation. Katy works as a pediatric nurse practitioner, lactation counselor, and certified baby and toddler sleep coach in Kansas City. She works with families virtually on a variety of feeding and sleep issues.