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Health Information | 02/19/2014

Getting Baby from Breast to Bottle

By  Dr. Brenda Anders Pring

One of the challenges that breastfeeding moms face is getting their babies to accept a bottle. No matter that there’s breast milk in there, many babies don’t take kindly to this change and may need a bit of coaxing.

Especially for those women who work away from the home, getting your baby to take a bottle is pretty important, so you should know that it may take a little time and start early. To make this transition back to work a little easier on you and your baby, here are some tips to introduce a bottle to your baby.

First of all, you really cannot start the process of introducing a bottle until breastfeeding is well-established for both mom and baby. This means that the baby has regained his or her birth weight, which you’ll know from those first few visits to your pediatrician. As a general rule, that usually happens around 3 weeks.

Once breastfeeding is established, you should add in a pumping session at the time of day when your milk is most productive, which is usually first thing in the morning but can be at any time, really, based on when a woman feels most full in her breasts.

You should feed your baby first and then pump for 10 minutes on each side. You may have very little milk left, but don’t be discouraged, as pumping triggers your body to believe the baby needs more, and your volume will increase in a few days if you are consistent.

Once you have some milk stored, you can introduce that bottle. Timing is important to increase your baby’s acceptance of this new experience. You should first introduce a bottle to your baby when he or she is a little bit hungry but not starving. For example, if your baby usually feeds every 3 hours, try to give the bottle after 2 hours. If a baby is too hungry, they’ll be too frustrated to try this strange new thing.

Some babies are also very particular about who they’ll initially accept a bottle from. Since babies associate mom with feeding from the breast, they may not be too happy to try something new and different from her. Therefore, I recommend that you should definitely not be on the same floor of the house and perhaps not even at home, as your baby might hear or smell you.

If this first bottle has been stored previously, make sure the milk is warmed slightly, which can be done by placing the bottle in warm water. Test the temperature by placing a drop on the inner skin of your forearm, which is a very sensitive area.  If it feels temperature “neutral” (neither hot nor cold), it’s ready to give to your baby.

Start with 1-2 ounces and see how your baby does; you need to continue to give your baby an ounce or two every day or every other day to make sure he or she doesn’t forget what a bottle is like when you do finally go back to work.

As feeding from the breast is different than feeding from a bottle, make sure you use/purchase a newborn or level 1 (slower-flow) nipple so that your baby doesn’t get too much at once and can better coordinate the steps of sucking in milk and swallowing without getting frustrated by it.

All levels of baby bottle nipples come in different shapes – some in different colors, too – so you may need to experiment a bit to find one that works for your baby. I know, it’s a lot of trial and error and can be hard to figure out if the baby is not interested in the bottle at all or if it’s just the nipple, but if your baby is initially accepting a bottle but rejects it before she’s done, you may want to try some different nipples.

Usually a baby, no matter how stubborn he may be about taking a bottle, will eventually have to eat when his mom is not there and will get the hang of the bottle. If you are concerned about your level of success, it’s a good idea to speak with your pediatrician before you return to work so that other ideas or solutions can be tried in advance.

For additional resources and support, try, the Nursing Mothers' Council of the Boston Association of Childbirth Education, or the American Academy of Pediatricians' website for parents. 

Content updated August 2021

About The Author

Dr. Brenda Anders Pring

Dr. Pring is a pediatrician at Harvard Vanguard Copley. Her advice comes from her experience both as a physician and as a mom. She has 2 children whom she breastfed through her medical residency, working over 80 hours a week with shifts requiring 30 hours away from her baby. Prior to her medical career, Dr. Pring worked in Washington in the federal government and continues to work as an advocate for child health policy. In addition to her pediatric practice, she is also a lecturer at the Harvard School of Medicine.

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