Q: Bottles are hard to choose! How do I select the “right” one?
Q: My baby won’t take a bottle! What do I do? Did I wait too long to try one out?
Bottle feeding and breastfeeding require very different skills from your baby. Learning to feed from the breast and the bottle are very different processes and both require patience. Some babies are able to switch between the two types of breast milk delivery without issue, and other babies struggle with one or the other.
We recommend waiting until breastfeeding is established in the early weeks before introducing a bottle if this is possible. “Generally, you do not want to start a bottle until breastfeeding is going well,” said Patricia Berg-Drazin. “It is a different skill set and just as you don’t want to try to learn two skills at once, neither does your baby,” Berg-Drazin said. Once baby is able to nurse without concerns, you might try a bottle once every other day if you are planning to work and breastfeed. You do not need to pump a full feeding to do so. Even half an ounce provides baby with practice.
Some people recommend that you select a bottle that has a similar shape to your own areola and nipple. Others say “a longer nipple is preferred, as it mimics the way the breast elongates in the baby’s mouth,” Berg-Drazin said. It may be best to try the same bottle type each time instead of switching between many bottles, as this can be confusing to baby while they learn. Breastfed babies may take a bottle more readily from someone who is not their usual source of breast milk, and may do better with a bottle when their mother leaves the room or even takes a walk around the block while they are bottle-fed by someone else.
There is no perfect bottle, and one bottle is not better than the other. A bottle is a delivery method, and if you find one that works, paced feeding is important to prevent overfeeding. “You also want to select a bottle with a slow flow nipple,” Berg-Drazin recommended.
Some babies are just not able to drink breast milk from a bottle, no matter how much practice they get or how hungry they become. Berg-Drazin wrote this longer resource for parents with concerns about babies who won’t take a bottle. But she also shared some insights with us about why some babies won’t take bottles: “Some babies refuse because they can, and some refuse because they don’t like the feel, taste, or smell of a bottle nipple. The reflex that causes them to suck anything in their mouth goes away as they get older and is taken over by the brain,” she said.
Many alternatives to bottles can be used, like a medicine cup, shot glass, spoon, syringe, or medicine dropper. “If your baby is not happy taking a bottle, try a cup,” Berg-Drazin said. “I use a small medicine cup. As feeds are generally one to two ounces, a medicine cup works fine. This take time and practice, but it is very doable,” she said. Sometimes, babies older than six months can also learn how to use a straw instead.
As challenging as it is, know that there is no rule that babies must take a bottle. A patient caregiver will figure out ways to get your baby to drink your liquid gold! Remember that it is very common for babies of working parents to reverse cycle to get most of their breast milk from you when you’re home. And if your baby refuses all breast milk delivery methods besides nursing, you may be able to find a caregiver who can bring your baby to your workplace during breaks and lunch so they can nurse.
Going back to work and breastfeeding? This question is part of Breastfeed Chicago’s Ultimate Back-to-Work Breastfeeding Guide. Read the full guide to help the transition go smoothly!