Q&A: 10-week-old taking his first bottle

(Update: This should be subtitled "In which I completely miss the boat." In my defense I was writing this post way too late at night, but that's still no excuse for missing several simple solutions to the reader's problem. If you're running short of time, just skip down to the commenters, who have much better suggestions than I did for this one.)

Juliette writes:

"I am in a complicated situation. I have a baby boy, born on February 24, who is exclusively breastfed. I live outside the US, and can't get things like fancy baby bottles or an electric breast pump, so he has only ever received milk straight from me. I tried using a hand pump once, and expressed a tiny amount that my mom tried to give him with a cup and a little spoon, and the baby wasn't interested at all. He goes to work with me right now, and I can feed him on demand at the office.

I have a job interview on Thursday, May 11, in Boston. My son will be about ten weeks old. I had thought it would be a normal type interview, so I planned on nursing my son before I went to the interview, and then immediately when I got home. I was going to pump some milk and leave it with my husband so that if it looked like the baby was starving, he's have something to give him, but that was really just to make my husband feel better.

I just discovered that the interview will take all day, and cannot be broken up into two days.

We are flying to the US just for the interview, and will get in Wednesday morning. We will have an electric breast pump waiting for us, and bottles to use for feeding and storage. I'll have Wednesday afternoon and evening to pump enough milk for all day Thursday. On Thursday, my husband will have to give the baby his first bottle and keep him fed from about eight in the morning until six or seven at night.

Help! What can I do to make this go better?

I assume I'll need to pump on Thursday; I plan to do it during my lunch break with a hand pump. I'll just dump the milk. What can my husband do to make it easier for my son to take his bottle? Also, can you recommend a good nipple choice for the bottle to help prevent nipple confusion? We could try a cup and spoon again, I guess, but a bottle would be a lot easier."

I think you're going to have to try to feed him before you go on the trip, to encourage him to take either a bottle or a cup. If you wait to try to pump and bottle-feed until you get to Boston you're going to be really worried about it (including being distracted during your interview, which won't be good), and it's going to be more stressful for all of you, including your son.

You say that you can't get "fancy baby bottles." Can you get any kind of baby bottle at all? I think your mind would be eased if you could try to get him taking even an ounce or two of pumped milk from a bottle. Some babies are very picky about the kinds of bottles they'll take, while others will eventually take whatever kind you offer. If he's 10 weeks old and has been exclusively nursing, he's not going to get nipple confusion at this point, especially if it's only one day of taking only a bottle.

You also mention that your mother tried to spoon/cup feed him once. Has anyone else tried to feed him since then? Have you tried to pump anything since then?

I'm going to recommend that you start trying to pump (or hand express if your pump is crappy) for 10-15 minutes every day to get into practice with pumping. Some women can pump easily, but others of us need to do it often before we get even decent at it. I have no supply problems, but didn't really get decent at pumping until my second child. (Who won't really take a bottle. The irony.) Even if you don't get much at the beginning, you should pick a time to pump and pump at that time every day/night to get in practice and to get your supply up at that time of day. (Right after the first feed of the day is a popular time to pump, or you could try right after your baby goes down for the first stretch at night.)

Once you're getting an ounce or two when you pump, you should have your husband start trying to feed your son. If you have a bottle of any sort, try that. Otherwise, have your husband try feeding him out of a soft-sided cup (a paper cup or disposible plastic cup will have flexible enough sides that he can squeeze them in to make it easier for your son to drink), which will be easier probably than a spoon.

Follow the same advice for getting a baby to take a bottle that everyone always gives:

  • Feed your baby a little first so he isn't too hungry when he gets the bottle.
  • Leave the house when your husband gives the bottle.
  • If the baby isn't getting it, stop for the day before the situation gets stressful.
  • If the bottle just isn't working switch your focus to trying the cup.

I think if you can try every day for the next couple of weeks, you should be able to get your son to take an ounce or so from the bottle or cup. If he'll take an ounce on a normal day, he'll take more when it's the only option for food when you're in Boston. Or he'll just go to sleep to escape until you come back and nurse him. (Make sure when you leave that morning for the interview you tell him you'll be back when it's dark out. Technically he's too young to understand, but I think babies can understand much more than we think they can, and telling them exactly what's going to happen makes it easier on them.)

If he absolutely won't eat at all while you're at the interview, it's not going to hurt him. He'll be mad (and really hungry), but he'll be with your husband so he shouldn't be afraid. In the long run that one day will be such a minor blip of his life, and what will stick with him is that you came back, not that you were gone. If he won't eat, I think your husband will suffer more than your son will, frankly.

A couple of days before you leave you might want to start eating a couple of bowls of oatmeal a day to get your supply up. It's easier to pump full breasts, so if you have a greater supply when you get to Boston it'll be easier to pump then. On Wednesday, pump after every time you feed your son, and after he goes down for naps (ha--that was a joke, since he's 10 weeks) and bedtime.

Now, about nipples: I have to confess that I'm not up on the absolute latest nipples, since my baby refuses them. The only thing mine will take (when he deigns to take a bottle) is the soft spout of the Nuby cup. (Your American source can get it at KMart and probably other big-box retailers. For some reason they're always on the bottom shelf, forgotten and unsung, and cost around $2 each. A true bargain.) Plenty of people like the Avent nipples, so it seems to be a good all-around choice. (You'll probably want the #2 size, since then he won't get really frustrated with the slow-flow #1 opening or blasted with the fast-flow #3 opening.) There's also the Breastbottle nurser, which looks like something from the movie Sleeper. It seems like it would do the trick, but I have no information on this yet. (Readers? Any reviews on whether it's worth the hefty price? And is it possible for anyone to use it without giggling like a 7th-grader the entire time?)

So if your baby won't drink out of the kind of bottle you can get where you live (if he does then bring along that kind), I'd have an Avent nipple and a Nuby cup, and one more. Readers? Which one should she have? (So far the frontrunner is the Playtex silicone nipples.)

I think if you try to get him eating from a bottle or cup now you'll have a big leg up on the trip. If it doesn't work out, then you'll just have to do what you can and hope he'll eat in Boston. The absolute worst-case scenario is that he refuses to eat all day, and then nurses all night when you're back from the interview.

Good luck. I hope he takes a bottle with no problem, and you get the job.