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How to Give a Bottle to a Breastfed Baby (Introducing a Bottle, Part 2)

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!

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. 

anyone can give a breastfed baby their bottles

There is no hard and fast rule about WHO should give a breastfed baby bottle. Some babies are particular about it, but most babies don't care.

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 and 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.

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. 

Babies can't swallow and breathe at the same time (and neither can you, you just don't think about it) and they can't catch their breath when milk is pouring down their throats.

picture-perfect deep latch on a narrow nipple, with flared lips while baby sits upright

3 With baby sitting up, gently touch the bottle nipple to 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 roof of their mouth.  You may have to tickle it back and forth a bit to get them to suck.

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.  

When eating, your baby's lips should be smooth and relaxed, not pursed (like they're sucking on a straw).

Good bottle latch on a narrow nipple- lips are flanged and the nipple is deep in baby's mouth
bad latch on the narrow tip of a wide base bottle nipple- "sucking on a straw"

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! 

good, wide latch on a wide base nipple with lips flared and baby sitting up
bad, narrow latch on a wide base nipple (babies can't breastfeed like this!)
deep but still bad latch on a wide base nipple- baby's lips are rolled in and they're chomping the milk out

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.

Pacing the feeding slows your baby down so they can figure out “hey, I’m full.”

Demonstrating exactly what I do on Thanksgiving...

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.  Expect them to eat for 15ish minutes.  If they gulp the feeding down in five minutes or less, you need a slower flow nipple.

Burping your baby becomes slightly more important with bottle feeding than with breastfeeding. They’re more likely to swallow air with a bottle, so you may want to stop every half ounce to ounce and give your baby couple of minutes of burping.

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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