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Charlotte Southren Features
Photo: Charlotte Southren

Ideas for paced bottle-feeding a breastfed baby

If you and your baby don’t want to give up breastfeeding but you are going to be separated and you are worrying because you don’t want her to miss out on your milk in your absence, then this post is for you.

Drinking milk from the breast requires a baby to use a different technique than sucking it from a bottle. The mechanics are different.

As a breastfeeding mother the longer you can wait to be separated from your baby the easier it is to avoid bottles altogether. If it is practical, from as early as three months, a baby can be fed by cup instead of using a bottle.

Bottle-feeding a breastfed baby?

Bottle-feeding a breastfed baby may confuse her if she hasn’t yet learned to feed well at the breast. She may then use this different tongue and jaw action when breastfeeding, which can result in sore nipples for mother and frustration for the baby who cannot get the milk in the way she has become used to getting it from the bottle. This is less likely to be a problem once breastfeeding is well established, although some babies will always resist a bottle.


Christina Simantiri

Since your baby expects you to breastfeed her, someone other than you may have more luck introducing a bottle to your baby.

If you are going to use a bottle, the following tips may help your baby to drink from the bottle, while helping you to continue breastfeeding your baby.

  • Hold the baby snugly in a fairly upright position, similar to that she breastfeeds in, to give her control.
  • Watch for early feeding cues rather than following a rigid schedule and offer the bottle before the baby is too hungry.
  • Choose a slow-flow teat that is similar in size to your own nipples. Avoid “orthodontic” nipples—they can be detrimental to breastfeeding. (Bottle nipples that minimize nipple confusion or flow preference).
  • Don’t push the teat in. Brush it gently across her lips and wait for a wide gape just as the mother does when breastfeeding her baby. Allow the baby to take the teat into her mouth herself. If she gags, try a shorter nipple. If she purses her lips, latching only to the tip of the teat, gently insert your little finger to flange out her lips, to help encourage a deeper attachment.

  • Hold the bottle at a close to horizontal angle and tip it just enough to provide a gentle flow so the baby can stop and start sucking when she pleases and isn’t overwhelmed with milk. Bottle-fed babies can be overfed if they have no control over how much they are drinking. Being on her back forces her to swallow more than she might choose to drink in a more upright position.
  • Switch sides at least once to prevent a preference for being on one side and to mimic nursing.
  • When a baby drinks at the breast, she pauses at intervals throughout a feed, so pacing the flow makes the experience closer to a breastfeeding meal.
  • Allow the baby to decide when the feeding is ended, which isn’t always when the bottle is empty. A breastfed baby will take shorter, more frequent feeds at the breast, so paced bottle-feeding will encourage the baby to take less from the bottle and then breastfeed more actively when back with her mother again. More breastfeeding will help stimulate and maintain a mother’s milk production.
  • Wrapping the baby in something that smells of her mother, like her t-shirt, can help the baby feel happier about taking the bottle, and moving rhythmically can help her relax.
  • Burp the baby after the feed to bring up any trapped air.

It’s important to share these principles with any trusted caregiver of your baby who might feed your baby your milk from a bottle.


If you can’t be there, keep separations from your baby as short as possible, especially for a very young baby. In the early years a baby has an intense need to be with you, which is as basic as her need for food.

Breastfeed just before you leave and immediately on your return, for both your own and your baby’s physical and emotional comfort.


Christina Simantiri

For more tips and information see: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding 8th edition, Schaumburg, IL: LLLI, 2010, pages 425–426 and Mohrbacher, N. Working and Breastfeeding Made Simple.

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