This is part 2 of a series on bottle-feeding breastfed babies. If you haven’t read part 1 about choosing a bottle for your breastfed baby, you should probably read that first!
Originally posted 1/11/2019; updated 5/5/2023
Y’all ready for this? Get your bottles… and also get some burp cloths and maybe an absorbent bib, because this might get messy.
Oh, but before you start… you’ve probably heard a LOT of opinions about exactly who should try feeding a breastfed baby the bottle. We used to be convinced that babies would never EVER accept a bottle from the nursing parent and in fact, that parent shouldn’t even be in the house when the bottle is given.
And if that baby won’t take the bottle… well clearly you didn’t get far enough away from them and this is all your fault and you broke the whole system.
Like you don’t have enough to feel guilty about already.
As more and more families have working parents in the USA and pumps and bottles become almost essential in order to continue breastfeeding, we’re realizing that it doesn’t usually matter who gives the bottle to baby. You can do it, if you have a spouse they can do it, grandma can do it, heck I’ll do it if you want me to.
Back-to-Work Pumping Planning Sheet
OK, let's do this.
1You’ll want to dip the outside of the bottle nipple in pumped milk before you screw it on to the bottle so it has a familiar taste. This may or may not eliminate the baby side eye when a certain tiny person realizes you’re trying to pull a fast one on them with this weird bottle contraption.
2 Sit your baby up in your arms or on your lap facing you. Because bottle nipples tend to drip when inverted, we want baby sitting up so that the bottle nipple enters their mouth horizontally or even slightly angled upwards so milk isn’t being poured down their throat. This is an important step of paced bottle feeding, which is key for bottling a breastfed baby.
You can watch my favorite video about paced bottle feeding here although I disagree with her in one aspect- I want the entire tip of the bottle nipple to be full of milk so that baby doesn’t swallow air.
Paced bottle feeding means that the baby is in more control of the flow and volume of milk. When baby sits up, they have to work a little harder to get the milk out of the bottle nipple and they are more in control of the milk flow.
3 With baby sitting up, gently vertically lay the bottle nipple against their lips. Hopefully they’ll open their mouth for you. Do NOT force the nipple into their mouth. When they open up, gently put the tip of the nipple into their mouth, and have it touch the very front of the roof of their mouth. You may have to tug on it just a bit to get them to seal their lips around it and suck.
You always want to start the bottle by sloping the nipple UP towards the roof of baby’s mouth/palate to trigger their suck reflex.
You’ll want the nipple to be deep in their mouth, with their lips flanged out (or at least not tucked in). For a narrow neck bottle this means their lips should be almost touching the nipple collar; for a wide base sloped nipple, you want to gently deepen the nipple into baby’s mouth until their lips are flared and relaxed.
4 As they begin to suck, allow them to do a few sucks with NO milk in the bottle nipple. This gets them used to the nipple and gets their suck rhythm going. Don’t worry, they won’t swallow the air!
5 Once they’ve done a few sucks, tip the bottle up horizontally so the nipple is fully or mostly full of milk. Baby should begin to swallow.
Once baby begins to eat the milk, you want to pace the feeding by occasionally tipping the bottle back down so the nipple fills with air (or you can take it out of baby’s mouth altogether). When they begin to root around like they want to eat more, or they’ve done a few sucks with no milk, tip the bottle back up so baby gets more milk. Continue this throughout the feeding.
Think of a baby who is new to the bottle as yourself sitting down to a huge family meal when you’re hungry. You can eat way too much, way too fast, because your stomach is full before your brain figures it out. For adults this causes stomach pain and napping… babies are more likely to eat too fast and just spit up what they can’t keep down.
6 Don’t force your baby to finish the bottle. It’s so hard when you know how much work went into making that milk, but one of the great things about breastfeeding is that babies learn to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re done. We have to trust them to do the same thing with the bottle, if their feeding is paced.
My favorite sweet spot for bottle feeds is that baby should take about 5 minutes to eat once ounce/30 mL. So for example, a 3 oz bottle should take a baby about 15 minutes to eat.
If they gulp the feeding down faster than 5 minutes per ounce you want to pace the feed more frequently OR go down one nipple speed.
And more importantly- if it is taking baby much MORE than 5 minutes per ounce, they need less pacing and possibly also need a faster flow nipple.
WARNING! If you are using the Avent Natural Response bottles– which I do NOT recommend for lots of reasons- their nipples have almost no flow. Levels 1-3 of the Avent Natural bottle with the Natural Response nipple have been independently lab tested and all have a flow rate of less than 1 mL/minute, which would mean it would take a baby 30 minutes to eat ONE OUNCE.
This is dangerously slow, especially for newborns who will get exhausted and fall asleep long before they eat a full feeding.
If you have the Avent Naturals bottles and are experiencing problems, as so many other parents are, please contact the company and make your concerns known.
Once you’ve successfully given baby your first bottle, congratulations! You’ll want to continue to offer one bottle every day or two (more if you’d like to, just remember to protect your milk supply with pumping) so your baby will switch willingly between nursing and bottling.
(What’s that you say? Your baby DIDN’T successfully take their first bottle, or the second you offered them, or the tenth, and you’re more than a little terrified that your baby is going to starve when you’re not with them? Fear not… there’s a blog post for that too. Read on to part 3…)
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