It happened again. Another parent of an almost 4 month old called in a panic because their baby refuses to take a bottle.
These kind of calls typically come around 10 to 16 weeks when Mom is nearing her return to work. Sometimes it’s from a stay at home parent or from a mother who just wants to be able to get away for a few hours without worrying if her baby is going to be hungry.
So, what can parents do to avoid this situation?
When to introduce a bottle
Timing is an important part of this process. I find there is a window of opportunity to introduce baby to a bottle at around 4-5 weeks of age. By then, breastfeeding and milk supply are well established. But if parents wait much longer, some babies form an opinion about how they like to eat, and usually they choose Mom over a bottle. To avoid the unnecessary stress of bottle refusal, don’t wait too late to introduce bottle feeding.
Once you do introduce a bottle, make it a consistent event. This is important. Parents will tell me they introduced the bottle around 5 weeks, but they only gave a bottle on occasion. If you offer a bottle infrequently, it’s likely the time will come when baby decides she prefers Mom over the bottle.
Another important thing is the type of bottle and nipple. Though there are many 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 types of artificial nipples than the wide-based ones that are designed to simulate feeding at the breast. They are typically what feeding specialists recommend as well. 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 babies can use all different types of nipples, while others will only use one specific shape. Whichever nipple you choose, be sure to use a slow-flow style to keep baby from getting too much milk too quickly.
Technique is also very important. 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 to keep the baby from finishing the bottle too quickly and effortlessly. In addition to helping avoid digestive discomfort by pacing the feed, babies have a sucking need, and satisfying it with a slower feed allows baby to pause and take breaks instead of hastily sucking down a 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 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 can be confusing. Avoid that confusion by letting Dad or someone else have the honors.
Returning to work after maternity leave can be fraught with stress for a new parents. Knowing their baby will still be able to drink mother’s milk and be fed while they’re away can bring peace of mind.