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6 Tips for Switching from Breast to Bottle and Back
Updated on
September 11, 2023

6 Tips for Switching from Breast to Bottle and Back

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 6 Tips for Switching from Breast to Bottle and Back.
 6 Tips for Switching from Breast to Bottle and Back

If your plan is to combination breast and bottle feed—like if you have a baby in childcare but want to breastfeed at home—trying to figure out the magical mix of tactics that gets your baby to go from breast to bottle and back again can be kind of overwhelming. So we’ve teamed up with the research and development team at NUK to share a few tips to help with that transition.

Tips for Switching from Breast to Bottle (And Back)

Go For Slow: One of the biggest differences between breastfeeding and bottle feeding is how quickly and consistently milk flows (babies have to do a fair amount of work to get milk out of a breast, while it’s easier to get a faster and more consistent flow out of a bottle). To keep both feeding experiences as similar as possible, look for a slow flow or level one nipple, which is closer to the flow of breastmilk (you can tell the flow rate by looking at the side of the nipple—it usually has a number on it to indicate the speed). You may also want to consider paced feeding, which is a series of feeding tactics aimed at mimicking the speed and flow of breastfeeding.

Copycat Your Nipple: Human breasts have a couple of really cool features that you wouldn’t know about unless you look up close (or are a baby). For example, when you’re breastfeeding, milk flows out of several holes, not just one. And your nipple actually stretches and elongates pretty far into baby’s mouth.

While many bottles will come with a slow flow nipple in the box, how that nipple distributes milk can vary—from one hole to several. So look for a nipple with a breastlike shape and hole pattern if you’re planning to switch between the two feeding methods. For example, Nuk’s Simply Natural bottle is designed with multiple holes in a circular pattern to mimic the way human milk flows. And the silicone material naturally flexes and stretches like a nipple would as well.

On the other hand, your baby may prefer what’s called a variable rate nipple, like the one on Nuk’s Smooth Flow PRO bottles. Variable rate nipples respond to the amount of pressure baby applies to the nipple, so they control how much milk flows (the nipple on the Smooth Flow PRO bottle was designed to match the exact amount of pressure needed to express milk from a bottle). Both styles of nipple are designed to mimic aspects of human breasts—just with slightly different priorities.

Try Before You Buy: In case it wasn’t obvious yet, not all babies are the same. Some will take any bottle you hand them. Others are a little more particular. And unfortunately, you can’t know which kind of baby you’ve got until, well, you’ve got ‘em. So before you buy a full set of feeding supplies, know this: you can let your baby choose. Buy one or two bottles first (or a sampler like our Bottle Box and let your baby tell you which one they like best. While we can talk about nipple shapes and flow rates all day, it may just turn out that your baby actually prefers the gas-reducing features of a more advanced anti-colic system rather than a more breast-like nipple. Once you know what your baby preferes, you can go all-in.

Warm It Up: We might like a glass of cold milk, but breastfed babies are used to milk that’s been warmed up by the human body. So if your baby is fussy about a bottle that came straight from the fridge, try heating their milk up to body temperature. One pro tip: if you’re worried about overheating milk, look for a bottle that has a temperature indicator like this. It fades when milk is too hot, and reappears when it’s safe to drink.

Take It Easy: Feeding can be one of the more stressful aspects of new parenthood—hungry babies are seldom happy babies. So find ways to make it easier on both of you. For example, wait until your baby is in a good mood before offering up something new. Trying to introduce a bottle for the first time? Leave the room. (Or the neighborhood! Go to Target.) Babies can smell their mothers from feet away, so they may be resistant to bottled milk if you’re nearby.

Similarly, if you find your baby prefers their bottle but are trying to encourage breastfeeding, you can give your baby a little milk from their bottle at the beginning of a feed before going au natural to ensure they’re not trying to hangry feed.

Find Your Consistency: Grownups have opinions about things like their favorite coffee cup, so it makes sense that your baby might take a few tries to get used to a new feeding style. But aiming for some consistency can help you create a routine that sticks. That doesn’t mean you need to keep to a rigid schedule, but it can mean making sure you offer a bottle for every other feed, or simply sticking with a schedule that includes regular bottle feedings around the same time every day (like morning and night breastfeeding and midday bottle feeding if your baby is in childcare).

Or if a schedule isn’t in the cards, it could mean keeping everything else about your feeding routines consistent. For example, can you keep baby’s environment and feeding experience similar, with the same kind of holds and skin-to-skin contact? The goal is to introduce regular behaviors that work for your family so baby and you are both inclined to keep with them.

When in doubt, reach out to your medical support team or local lactation expert for support on figuring out the best way to feed your baby (for both of you). And for more info on what makes a bottle more breast-like check out NUK’s info page on their Simply Natural Bottle.

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