Breast to Bottle: Tips for a Smooth Transition

You can make it easier for your breast-fed baby to accept a bottle—here’s how.

Even if your baby is breast-feeding now, at some point you may want to transition to or supplement with a bottle. The change from one feeding method to the other may not come automatically. A human nipple and a manufactured one smell and feel different, for one thing. And a slightly different type of sucking is needed. Most of all, it’s altogether different from what he’s grown used to.

The good news: These tips can help the process go more smoothly.

Pick a receptive time.

Try introducing a bottle an hour or so after a feeding, before your baby is frantically hungry for the next feeding. He may be better able to focus on the bottle and more willing to giving it a try.  It’s best not to start a bottle during the first or last feedings of the day, because babies tend to be most attached to these feedings.

Find the right equipment.

There’s a huge array of bottles and nipples available. You may need to experiment a bit to find which ones work well for your baby. There’s no “right” or “best” nipple shape. Make sure its hole isn’t too big, as this can cause your baby to gag and sputter. If it’s too small, on the other hand, he’ll have to work too hard to draw out the liquid.

Try a different messenger.

Your baby may be more open to a bottle offered by someone who isn’t you and doesn’t smell like you (or your breast milk): your partner, Grandma, a caregiver. Try keeping out of your baby’s sight while this happens.

Encourage with a sample.

If you’re pumping milk into a bottle, try putting a little of it on your baby’s lips so he can see it’s the same substance. Some Moms start by pumping breast milk to deliver via a bottle, or even mix breast milk and formula together in the bottle, thus helping the baby adjust to this new method before changing over to formula.

Look for hints of frustration.

Is a session with the bottle not going well? It’s OK to stop before the frustration point. You baby may get madder and madder and refuse to eat—and learn to associate this new feeding approach with bad feelings. It’s better to try again later.

Watch your baby.

As he drinks from a bottle, give your baby the opportunity to pause and restart, just as you did with breast-feeding.  That will help him realize that the two feeding processes are similar. Watch for signs that he’s had enough (such as turning away), since you won’t be able to tell from the feel of your breast.

Feel the love.

One way that bottle-feeding and breast-feeding are alike is that both provide an opportunity to snuggle and relax. Feed your baby just as you did from your breast—with lots of skin and eye contact and affection.