By three weeks of age, most babies have their sucking, swallowing and breathing coordinated and are gaining weight. If this is true and you would like them to be able to take a bottle too, this is the time to help them learn.
If you are going to use a bottle with your baby, we encourage you to provide breastmilk in it. If you are not able to do this or not able to provide breastmilk exclusively, check with your healthcare provider about what and how much artificial baby milk (formula) to give your baby.
The first time you offer a bottle, it can help if someone besides their mother offers it to them. Your baby associates breastfeeding with you and they may refuse to take a bottle, even with breastmilk in it, if they know you are there. If at all possible, have someone who is comfortable offering a bottle doing it. Try to have mom where baby can’t see, smell or hear them. Otherwise again, they may not be willing to try something new when they know their mother is around. At least try to work it so baby is not aware of their mother’s presence. You can try when baby is somewhat hungry or practice after a breastfeeding.
Remember this is practice. Baby is getting used to sucking from a bottle–very different than sucking at the breast. Be patient with them. They are learning–it may not happen the first time you try.
Sucking from a bottle requires the baby to push their tongue to the roof of their mouth and control the flow of milk in that manner. With breastfeeding the tongue is on the floor of their mouth and makes a wave or “s”-like motion to extract the milk. For some it will take some practice–others have no trouble and take breast or bottle, whatever goes by.
If your baby won’t take a bottle nipple:
These are things to try if your baby is reluctant to take a bottle or refuses to take one at all and you need this option to work.
- Hold baby in a different position than what their mother does when she is breastfeeding.
- Even though it is usually better to try feeding your baby without them being aware of their mother, you can try wearing something that their mother has worn. Sometimes this helps them decide to take the bottle–their mother’s scent is familiar.
- Try a different style of bottle nipple, the shank of the nipple may be too long or too short for where in the mouth it triggers your baby’s sucking response or gag reflex. Newborn’s gag reflex is located in the middle of their tongue, versus as we mature it is located farther back on the tongue. (1)
- A nipple that is too long may gag the baby and prevent them from sucking.
- Try to give the bottle when your baby is not really hungry, your baby may be more patient with learning something new, than when they are really hungry.
- Realize that you don’t have to give them their feeding in a bottle. It is usually the easiest, but you can also try a clean/sterilized eye dropper, spoon, sipper cup or even a flexible medicine cup (the disposable kind that comes on top of liquid medicine–or you can get from the pharmacy).
- Mannel, R, Marten, PJ, Walker, M, Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice, 3rd edition, Burlington, MA, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2013, p 285.