If breastfeeding, the ideal time to introduce a bottle (if you will need to) is before 10 weeks of age. The key is to introduce early and be consistent. What some moms don’t expect is that not all babies will immediately take a bottle when it is eventually introduced. It is important to note that this is normal and there is nothing wrong with you or your baby if they refuse a bottle. Try to remind yourself that this won’t last forever!
You want to introduce the bottle when your baby still has their primitive suck reflex, otherwise introducing the bottle when they are only used to the breast can be more difficult. When introducing a bottle after 10 weeks, your baby may not be used to this new way of feeding and can experience more difficulty taking the bottle. My ideal recommendation if a breastfeeding mom is going back to work (or wants to use a bottle) would be to introduce a bottle around 4-6 weeks.
If formula feeding, introduce bottles whenever you start introducing formula. For some, that might be on day one.
Keep in mind, I do not routinely see bottle refusal for formula-fed babies are they are used to it early on. However, some breastfed babies have trouble adapting to the bottle. That’s why the timing of introduction is important. Here are some tips for introducing a breastfed baby to the bottle:
- Breastfeeding moms can be the person to introduce the bottle, however, sometimes baby will associate you with feeding at the breast and have trouble taking to the bottle. Consider having a partner or another caregiver introduce the bottle for the first few feedings.
- Sometimes it can help to have the breastfeeding parent leave the home or room. Either way, make sure that the caregiver understands that baby may refuse the bottle and to be patient and consistent with baby. If that caregiver is stressed or tense, baby may also be stressed or tense during the experience.
- Try having the caregiver wear something that smells like the breastfeeding parent to help baby associate with their usual feeding routine.
- Feed baby in different locations around the house or in different positions. Sometimes babies don’t want to be cradled for a bottle in the same way they are fed at the breast.
- Don’t wait until the baby is very hungry (and angry). Try to offer a bottle around normal feeding times or just before. If a baby is very hungry and is used to being placed on the breast during these moments, they may not enjoy having to figure out feeding from something they’re not used to (the bottle).
- Dream feedings may be helpful here: offer the bottle when they are drowsy to get them used to the feel of the nipple in their mouth. I don’t normally advise dream feedings, but in this situation, it can help them get used to the bottle.
- Be patient and consistent: many times, our stress and fear of bottle refusal is a vicious cycle that leads to more stress around feeding times. Understand that an adjustment period is normal. Be patient with baby and yourself. Your baby WILL take a bottle, but if you are tense or stressed about the experience, they may be too.
About the author:
Dr. Mona Amin, Pediatrician.
Dr. Mona Amin is a Board Certified General Pediatrician, Parenting expert, and mother.
She has been featured on Parents.com, Romper, CondeNast Traveler, VeryWell Family, NBC News, and was named one of Insider’s Top Pediatricians to follow on social media for 2020. She works in private practice and her passions include: early childhood development, focusing on the impact of healthy sleep, a healthy relationship with food, and healthy coping skills in the first five years of a child’s life.
On her Instagram account (@pedsdoctalk), her podcast (The Pedsdoctalk Podcast), and YouTube channel (Pedsdoctalk TV), she shares educational information on parent’s most common concerns (i.e. fevers, rashes, viruses, behavioral issues, etc.) including current events. Her brand, Pedsdoctalk, has a goal to provide relatable and easy-to-digest education for the modern parent regarding the health and wellness of their child.
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