You can make the transition in a variety of ways, depending on how old your baby is and how comfortable he or she is with a bottle. If your baby is younger than six months and has never used a bottle before, your first job is to get her introduced to the bottle and willing to use it. To start, you may have to try out several different kinds of nipples. You might have the most success with a nipple that is similar to the pacifier that she uses, if she uses one. Let her chew on it, suck on it, and generally experiment with it until she is comfortable. Start by giving her bottles with a drop of breastmilk on the nipple so that she knows there might be something good to come and she is encouraged to suck on it.
To make the first few feedings successful, you may need to remove yourself from the situation entirely. Have someone else give her the bottle while you are in another room or even out of the house. The person giving her the bottle might also want to experiment with different positions. Your little one might want to feed in the same position that she nurses, or she might insist on something else entirely; perhaps in the car seat facing the person who is giving the bottle.
If your little one refuses the bottle altogether, give it a rest and try again another day. Most experts agree that it’s not a good idea to withhold feeding until the baby is willing to drink from the bottle. You want to make sure your baby gets proper nutrition, and you don’t want to fall into an unhealthy pattern of creating battles over eating.
If your baby is younger than six months and has used a bottle before, the transition will be somewhat more straightforward. You can start by replacing the feeding he is least interested in with a bottle feeding. Then over the next week or so, start replacing another feeding with a bottle. Over the next few weeks, you can gradually replace all of the nursing sessions with a bottle. Sometimes the bedtime nursing session is the hardest one to give up, so many moms save that one for last. However, if you plan on doing this, you need to have a supporting bedtime routine so that your baby will still have a comfortable and familiar way to go to sleep once you stop nursing. Another way to do it is to eliminate all nursing sessions except the first one in the morning. That way, when it’s time to quit nursing, you can simply get up and start the day with lots of distractions to keep your little one’s mind off nursing.
If your baby is six months or older, you may want to consider going directly from breast to cup. Even babies this young can drink out of a sippy cup or a straw cup (although the first few tries may be messy). The advantage of going straight to the cup is that you never have to wean the baby off the bottle. The disadvantage is that it can be more difficult to get your baby interested in a sippy cup because the mouthpiece can be very different from a nipple. You can experiment with a variety of different cups until you find one that your baby enjoys. There are an increasing number of sippy cups out on the market that are designed to be used during this transition and have soft or chewy mouthpieces.
No matter how old your baby is, you should go forward into this transition knowing that it may take some time. Of course, your baby may make the switch happily, but if you are prepared for a longer adjustment period you will likely have more patience if it takes a while. Best of all, you’ll learn something about your baby’s personality during the process, which will help you understand your baby and support him during the other big transitions that lie ahead.