Do I need to offer a bottle?
Taking a bottle is not a skill that a baby needs to master in their development. However, in our culture a bottle can be necessary or helpful for families.
When should a bottle be offered?
Babies have a sucking reflex that can begin to integrate around 8 weeks of life. Some babies will easily take a bottle after this point while others have difficulty if a bottle has not already been introduced. Offer a bottle once breastfeeding is well established and before this sucking reflex integrates. Generally between 4-6 weeks of life is an ideal time.
How should a bottle be offered?
Begin with a slow flow nipple for babies 0-3 months. Offer 1-1.5oz per hour. For example, if it has been 3 hours since the last feeding, offer 3-4oz. If it has been 2 hours since last feeding, offer 2-3oz. Use similar latching techniques to breastfeeding. Wait for baby’s wide gape, allowing them to latch onto the bottle nipple. Pace the feeding by keeping baby upright and bottle horizontal. This allows baby to control the flow. A bottle feeding should mimic breastfeeding and take around 10-20 minutes.
Help! My baby refuses a bottle…
Baby is 10 weeks old, you’re heading back to work and (yikes!) baby wants absolutely nothing to do with a bottle. First things first, take a deep breath. While this situation is understandably stressful, there are techniques and options to ensure baby is fed while you are away. Although it may be important for baby to take a bottle, we also want to ensure baby has a positive association with the bottle. Offer the bottle during non-stressful times, and calm baby if they are upset at any point in the process. Allow baby time to adjust to the bottle. Try dipping the nipple in milk and running it over their lips and gums to help them get used to the new shape/texture. Sometimes gentle bouncing while or slowly walking around can be helpful while offering a bottle. Another option is to sit in a dark, quiet room while to help minimize distraction. Only try one new thing at a time, so baby does not become overwhelmed. Be consistent and keep attempting with the bottle each day in a non-stressful way. If baby needs to take a bottle immediately and is still refusing, you can explore cup feeding as a back up option (Click here for instructions and videos on cup feeding).
If you would like additional support and a care plan for bottle feeding or bottle refusal, you can schedule an in-person or virutal appointment with our International Board Certfied Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) at Nurture – We specialize in all things infant feeding.
About the author: Julie Oberholzer is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) with Nurture Columbus, in Columbus, Ohio. With her background in Public Health and Lactation, she enjoys meeting with parents and new babies, helping them on their feeding journey and supporting them as they find their new normal.