Giving Your Baby a Healthy Transition from Breastfeeding to Bottle Feeding
Breastfeeding is the best way to nourish your infant and is strongly advocated by health agencies including the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the Australian government’s health department. The “Infant Feeding Guidelines” formed by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council also highlights the importance of breastfeeding the infant exclusively for six months before introducing solid foods. Besides providing all nutrients, breast milk provides antibodies, immune protection against a host of illnesses that an infant formula lacks.
Reasons to switch over
Yet, there are many conditions or reasons that may necessitate switching over to bottle-feeding from breastfeeding. Where possible, all health agencies also advise expressing breast milk and feeding it from a bottle to ensure the baby gets natural nourishment.
Health conditions such as breast cancer surgery or treatment, HIV, active tuberculosis, mental health issues, drug or medication use are some of the many reasons to stop breastfeeding. At times, the baby may not be thriving well on the breast milk and the decision to switch over to formula may be made by the healthcare professional.
Whatever the reason, transitioning to bottle feeding should be an informed decision and a gradual process and not abrupt wherever possible and feasible.
Ways to achieve smoother transition
Here are some pointers to help you make a healthy transition to the bottle from the breast:
Be gradual: Instead of abruptly stopping breastfeeds, gradually reduce the number of feeds. Start with just one feed being substituted with a bottle. Stopping abruptly is not healthy for both you and your child. You may experience breast engorgement with excessive milk collection or infection while the child may refuse the bottle resulting in inadequate nourishment. Try using the bottle for one feed and start with a small quantity of bottle feed.
Choose the right time: It is not a great idea to start the transition process when either you or the baby is ill or not ready. Choosing the right time also relates to the “least favoured” time of the day when the baby is less interested usually in feeding.
Combine breast and bottle milk: To help with the transition, combine breast milk and formula initially. The baby may accept this better.
Don’t refuse breast milk: If the baby is younger than 12 months, do not refuse breast milk when the baby demands it. It may take several weeks to months at times to make the transition.
Maintain close contact: Continue to comfort and cuddle the baby in as many ways as possible to ensure there is no loss of the close skin to skin contact that comes with breastfeeding. Hold the baby as close to the skin as possible even when offering the bottle.
Use the same chair or location: Make sure nothing else changes even when offering the bottle and this includes the chair, bed or room that you usually breastfeed the infant in. Familiar surroundings can help reassure the infant.
Once the infant begins to accept the bottle feed, start to substitute the other feeds gradually. Introducing solid foods after six months may also help the baby get used to different tastes and textures.