Q: I’m breastfeeding my newborn but will be going back to work at 12 weeks. I've been pumping and storing milk for when I return to work. When should I introduce a bottle?
A: Returning to work after having a baby can be fraught with stress for a new mom. But knowing your baby will still be able to drink your milk while you’re away can bring peace of mind.
Timing is an important piece in this process. I find there is a window of opportunity to introduce your baby to a bottle at around 4-5 weeks of age. By then, breastfeeding and milk supply are well established. But if you wait much longer, some babies form an opinion about how they like to eat and usually they choose mom over a bottle. So avoid the unnecessary stress of waiting too late and ending up with a baby who strongly refuses a bottle. (If that should happen, I can help!)
Once you do introduce a bottle, make it a daily event. Again, if you offer a bottle only every few days, it’s likely that there will come a point when baby decides she prefers mom over the bottle. You can usually avoid that by keeping a daily bottle in your routine.
Another important piece is the type of bottle and nipple. Though there is a plethora of bottles on the market, I prefer those that use narrow-based nipples, like Dr. Brown’s or Evenflo Classic. I see better results from these type of artificial nipples than the wide-based ones that are designed to simulate feeding at the breast. The action of getting milk from a bottle is completely different than that used to feed at the breast, so it really comes down to what nipple the baby can master. Some can use all different types of nipples while others will only use one specific shape. Whichever you choose, make sure to use a slow-flow nipple to keep baby from getting too much milk too quickly. Which brings me to technique.
I recommend a method of feeding called paced bottle feeding. This technique keeps the bottle level rather than vertical. It complements breastfeeding by allowing the baby to pace the feed and requires baby to put more effort into getting the milk from the bottle. The goal is not for baby to finish the bottle in 5 minutes flat. Babies have a sucking need, and satisfying it with a slower feed allows baby to pause and take breaks instead of hastily sucking down the bottle. And just like us, if we eat too quickly, our brain doesn’t register that we’re satiated. Slowing it down will pay off!
Finally, it’s best to let someone besides the mom feed the baby. Babies are smart. They know that Mom is where their milk comes from, and having her offer it from a bottle instead can be confusing. Avoid that by letting Dad or someone else have the honors.
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Pam Diamond of Cary is a parent coach, postpartum doula, baby sleep consultant and owner of First Daze & Nightzzz, LLC. You can learn more about Pam on her website, First Daze & Nightzzz, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.