Like many mothers, I didn’t attempt to introduce a bottle until my son was almost six months old. I had seen babies happily clasping bottles and assumed the transition would be an easy one — I assumed wrong. My son absolutely refused to take one. At the one-year mark, desperate for a little “me time,” I decided to get help. What I found was that I had waited too long to introduce the bottle — but I still had some options.
Introducing a bottle at less than one month of age can confuse a newborn’s latch and cause difficulties with breastfeeding. But wait too long, and that same baby may turn his head from liquids in a bottle. Toronto’s Dr. Shari Caplan, a family doctor who specializes in the reproductive life cycle at Women’s College Hospital, recommends introducing a bottle with expressed breast milk or formula at around six weeks, when breastfeeding is well established. “We are taught it’s breast or bottle, but it doesn’t have to be one or the other,” she says. “If you introduce the bottle early in a breastfed baby, he won’t refuse it, but if you wait longer he may.” Once you’ve introduced the bottle, you should continue to bottle-feed at least once or twice a week. Keep in mind that all bottle nipples are not the same, says Dr. Caplan. “So if your baby refuses the bottle, try different types to find the right one for your child.”
For mothers like myself, who could have started sooner, there are other solutions. “You don’t have to wean from breast to bottle,” says Dr. Jack Newman, co-author of Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding (Harper Collins). A baby can be weaned directly to a regular cup, ideally filled with breast milk or even water, he says, at six months or even earlier. “Some take longer, but on average, most babies are good at taking an open cup by seven to eight months of age.”
You can also try a sippy cup, suggests Dr. Caplan. Your baby may prefer a hard or soft spout; however, spill-proof sippies may be harder to master because he’ll have to suck much harder to get the liquid. To make it easier, “you may need to take out the spill-proof latch to the sippy cup, so expect a mess to start,” she says.
You don’t have to wean your baby from your breast just because she is taking a bottle or cup. But, if you have decided to wean completely, you should do it slowly to reduce engorgement and discomfort in your breasts. “There are times when it’s really uncomfortable,” says Toronto-based mom Michelle Ledic, who recently made the decision to feed her daughter from a bottle after reaching her six-month breastfeeding goal. “And I’m still leaking after three weeks.” Dr. Caplan recommends replacing one feeding at the breast every three days with iron-enriched formula or stored breast milk, for babies under a year. Dropping a feed more quickly may lead to mastitis (a bacterial infection of the breast tissue). If your breasts still become engorged, you can try applying cold compresses to your breasts or placing chilled green cabbage leaves in your bra. Over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can also provide pain relief. If you become really uncomfortable, use a breast pump to express a small amount of milk until your production starts to diminish.
This gradual approach also works best for baby, allowing her time to adjust to this new way of feeding. To ease her daughter’s transition, Ledic planned extra cuddle time throughout the day. “Emily nuzzles into me and we have a great emotional connection.”
If your baby still won’t take a cup, bottle or sippy, try having someone she doesn’t associate with breastfeeding give one to her. “Go away for a weekend with the girls and leave baby with dad,” suggests Dr. Caplan. A short getaway? That just might work.
Nancy Ripton is a freelance writer, specializing in parenting.
This story is part of our New Baby Guide. Check it out for more info on bringing home, planning for and surviving having a new baby.