When your baby has been exclusively breastfed, it can be difficult for you and your baby to make a transition to formula. You have to make a physical and emotional adjustment away from the time you spent nursing, and your baby needs to learn a new set of feeding skills. However, even though babies love their routines, they are amazingly adaptable. You can teach a baby just about anything with a little time and patience.
To begin, you need to consider each of the following:
First you need to figure out who is going to do the feeding, and how and where they are going to do it. It’s best to have someone else do it for at least the first few times so that your baby isn’t rooting around for your breastmilk instead. Your partner or helper may need to do some experimenting with your baby to see if he prefers drinking from a bottle in the chair that he regularly sits in while nursing, or if he prefers to do it somewhere else entirely. Similarly, he may like to lie down while nursing but prefers to sit up with a bottle. However he is positioned, make sure that he has the opportunity for plenty of eye contact and communication with the person who is feeding him. After a few practice feedings, you should be able to determine how he is most comfortable.
When he is ready to start feeding, you may need to put a dab of breastmilk on the bottle nipple to help him make the connection between sucking the nipple and feeding. Also, some babies don’t like the sensation of cold latex nipples, so you may want to warm the nipple with warm water first.
Most experts advise not to introduce a bottle to a breastfed baby until the baby is at least three or four weeks old, and breastfeeding is well-established. When you are ready to begin, try to offer the bottle when your baby is hungry but generally happy and not overly tired. If your child is screaming, wait until another time to introduce the bottle. Also, some babies are more easygoing about change than others. If your little one won’t take the bottle the first few times, be patient, and continue offering it, especially when he is hungry.
Take the time to introduce formula slowly, both to give your baby a taste for it and to give his little tummy a chance to adjust. You can start with bottles of pumped breastmilk, if you haven’t already. When you are ready to introduce the formula, add just a small amount to the breastmilk and keep adding more formula to the mix each time so that soon your baby is drinking entire bottles of formula.
If your baby has never used a bottle before, and if he is at least six months old, you might want to try going straight to a sippy cup. Some little ones are perfectly content to use a sippy cup rather than a bottle, and it may save you the trouble of weaning from a bottle later on. Additionally, if your baby absolutely refuses to try a bottle, you might need to help him take little sips of milk directly from a small cup or spoon. Whatever you do, don’t make feeding time into a battle. If your baby is absolutely not interested in a bottle, try again another time.
Now what about you? You may feel some sadness about beginning the process of weaning, but remember that you have done (and will continue to do) the very best that you can for your baby. Make sure you keep yourself physically comfortable with all of the recommended comfort measures while weaning. And remember, if you need more support or ideas, you can always go to the JustMommies Feeding and Nutrition discussion boards.