This month my husband and I will take a trip across the country, leaving our two little ones at home with my in-laws. I know our two-year-old will be just fine. We first left her overnight when she was one and I was no longer breastfeeding. These days she is Little Miss Independent and doesn’t physically need me. On the other hand, our youngest daughter will be just six months old and has been almost exclusively breastfed. While she’s taken bottles before, it has been extremely inconsistent and suffice it to say she has not loved it. As she has grown older, she has also grown more stubborn and trying to give her a bottle became more and more of a struggle.
Truth be told, until recently, I never understood when people (even close friends) told me their infant did not take a bottle. Just try harder, I would think to myself. My first child never had an issue, probably because we started young, were consistent, and by the time she was eleven weeks old, I was back to work and she got bottles several times a day.
But now I get it. My foot is in my mouth, so to speak. I’m one of those moms who can say my infant did not take a bottle!
Deep down I know this trip will be good for all of us. My husband and I will have quality time together to re-connect without distraction, and our children will have quality time with their grandparents. But I’ve also struggled to not feel like I am neglecting my baby who has almost solely relied on my milk for nourishment and is instantly soothed when breastfeeding. My baby who has never been apart from me for more than a few hours. Is this too soon to be leaving her? How can I put this burden on my in-laws? Endless questions and doubts filled my mind.
So about a month ago, “Bottle Boot Camp” began in our house. It was time to get serious about this bottle thing so I could leave my baby without being a total emotional wreck worrying about her eating while we are gone. I recognize part of the problem is/was me and my own attachment to my baby. I could feel the pain of missing her weeks before we were even leaving. I let fear get in the way of being excited for our upcoming adventure. I was distrusting that God would work everything for the good.
It’s been a long road, but now I am thrilled to say our baby WILL take a bottle!
So how did we do it?
The first several days were R-O-U-G-H. I told my husband many times, “I think she is going to have to come with us. There is no way we can leave her like this.” There were many fights and tears (not just on the baby’s part, but mine too) and many extra hours between feedings just hoping, “if she just gets hungry enough, she will eat.”
Early on in this bottle training endeavor, the sight of the bottle alone would make my baby cry. When I put the bottle nipple to her mouth, screaming ensued. Her head would turn on a swivel so quickly when that bottle got close. It was frustrating, exhausting, and heart-wrenching to see her get so upset. The pressure of it all will drive a mother borderline crazy – as if we aren’t all going a little bit crazy as it is.
I could tell you about the advice I read and heard everywhere else: try different bottles and different nipple sizes, try different temperatures when heating the milk, try having someone else other than you (as the nursing mother) do it, when she gets hungry enough she will eat.
We tried all of those things, but no two feedings looked the same. A trick that worked at one feeding didn’t work the next time, so we were back to square one. And that whole thing about having someone else besides the mother try giving the bottle? My husband and our babysitter certainly tried, but the responsibility ultimately fell on me. After all, I am the one home with her all day long. If she was going to consistently take a bottle, I had to be consistent with offering the bottle in the first place.
While the advice mentioned above can be helpful to an extent, there is more to it than those seemingly practical feeding techniques. A unique bond is formed between a mother and her breastfed baby that is comforting and therapeutic for both. Breaking a routine that has been in place for a few months or more of exclusive breastfeeding is not only difficult for a baby, but also for the mother. Honestly, I liked being needed so much and part of me didn’t want to lose that. But one of the most unexpected outcomes of this whole experience is how proud I am every time my little one finishes her bottle without a fuss. I joke with my husband that her taking a bottle is the biggest accomplishment of her life! I still celebrate every time. And guess what? I still feel just as bonded to her than ever.
So, without further ado, here are my five tried-and-true tips for bottle training your infant:
- Take it day by day, bottle by bottle. Just because something works once, does not necessarily mean it will work every time. Remind yourself to take it one bottle at a time, because you never know how each feeding will go. Babies have minds of their own and they certainly like to keep us on our toes.
- Be patient and be flexible. Expect it to take time for your baby to adjust to the bottle and allow for plenty of time to practice if you are on a deadline. It might take a few days or weeks for the baby to come around. But just when you think it’s never going to happen, it can! Take a deep breath and say a prayer before each feeding. If you are impatient or get too aggressive trying to force the bottle, the baby will only get more upset. Which leads me to…
- Don’t let the baby get too upset. If the baby starts getting upset, stop. Try a different position, re-heat the milk, or give your baby a loving squeeze and step outside for a breather – fresh air can do wonders for both of you. Once the baby is calm, try again.
- Do what feels right. Depending in your mood, you will react differently if the baby starts putting up a fight to the bottle. If I was feeling positive and up for the challenge, I would hold out on nursing and make her go hungry until she gave in to the bottle even if that meant a lot of tears were shed. If I was having a hard day and I was too exhausted to force it anymore, I would be the one to give in and nurse her instead. It might have been a slight setback for her bottle training, but for my emotional sanity, it was necessary. And that’s okay.
- Try and try again. Be consistent, not necessarily in the way you try to feed since you may need to try many different strategies, but be consistent in offering the bottle as much as possible. In the beginning, I aimed for three out of five feedings each day to be from a bottle.
Ultimately some of the specific things that worked well for us were making sure the milk was warm enough, and not holding the baby at all (at least for the first couple of weeks). Interestingly enough, she took the bottle best while laying down on the changing table or on the floor.