How to bottle-train your baby during deployment
(Photo: Pixabay)

This post is sponsored by The Breastfeeding Shop.

How to bottle-train your baby during deployment

In theory, teaching a baby to use a bottle is easy:

Step 1: Fill a bottle with breastmilk or formula.

Step 2: Hold the bottle for the baby.

Step 3. They drink. Hurrah!

In reality, though, any new mom can tell you that the process is much more complicated, especially if you are a military spouse who had a baby during a deployment. You are busy enough taking care of the house, your job or school, and possibly your other children—all on your own, while living thousands of miles from family. Do you really have time to teach a newborn how to use a bottle?

Yes, you do. You have to make the time. And here’s why: Without bottle training, your baby will need to be with you every moment of every day for the next nine months until they learn to drink from a cup. You will not be able to drop them at daycare, leave them with a friend while you go out one evening, or even let them stay with Grandma while you go to a doctor’s appointment.

Does that sound fun? Trust me, it’s not.

I’m a mom who breastfed all four of my babies. Two of them were deployment babies. During the first deployment, I had a toddler and a newborn, and I didn’t get around to introducing a bottle until it was too late. I couldn’t leave my baby with anyone for more than an hour at a time. It was exhausting and caused several problems, especially in unexpected emergencies. I vowed not to make the same mistake again.

When the next baby was born during a deployment, I had learned my lesson. Even though I planned to breastfeed for the first year, I knew that bottle-training had to be a priority. With a toddler and a preschooler, training the newborn would be a challenge. I planned out a strategy that can work for any nursing mom during a deployment.

Step 1: Gather supplies.

Whether you plan to fill bottles with breastmilk or formula, you need a breastpump to relieve swelling when you give the baby a bottle. TRICARE covers breastpumps for pregnant moms, so you can get one at no cost before you have the baby. Talk to your OB-GYN to get a prescription. You will also need bottles and nipples. There are many brands to choose, but make sure to begin with slow-flow nipples. These simulate the natural flow of milk from mom. The fast-slow nipples are for older babies.

Step 2: Introduce the bottle early.

If the bottle is introduced early, when the baby is only two weeks, then they are much more likely to accept the bottle. If you wait until the baby is older—around three or four months—then they have already learned their preference for breasts and they will scream or reject a bottle. I know you will be exhausted and be in a haze for the first few weeks after giving birth. I understand that pumping and then bottle-feeding is a lot more time and work for you when you already feel overwhelmed. It may feel easy to skip now, but in the long run, it will be more convenient and easier to have the option of bottle-feeding.

Step 3: Convince a breastfed baby to take a bottle.

Teaching the baby to bottle-feed is a gradual process. Begin by offering a bottle once a day, at a time when the baby is relaxed and pleasant (a.k.a. not in the middle of the night when they are already crying). It is easiest to fill the initial bottles with pumped breastmilk so the taste is familiar to the baby. You can switch to formula later if you wish. Pump on one side and fill the bottle with a few ounces of breastmilk. Try to have the bottle ready when the baby is napping so you can offer it when they first begin to stir. Hold them in the usual nursing position, then position the bottle near your chest. Squeeze a few drops of milk from the nipple and hold it on the baby’s lips. Once they get a taste, they may naturally begin to suck on the bottle! If not, try for a few more minutes adjusting positions to find one that works. If they begin to fuss and cry, allow them to nurse from the side where you didn’t pump. Keep trying regularly.

Step 4: Invite friends and family to help.

Often, a breastfed baby doesn’t like to take a bottle from mom because they prefer to nurse from her. When you are alone during deployment, you don’t have the option of letting your partner give the baby a bottle. But don’t despair! Have a friend come over and try to offer the baby a bottle. Or bring a bottle with you to a playdate and see if another mom will try. Is Grandma planning to visit shortly after the baby is born? Then let her have a turn with the bottle. Once bottle-feeding is established, it is good to keep practicing at least once a week so the baby doesn’t forget.

Bottle-training can be frustrating, but it is an important step for a new mom. You can teach your baby to drink from a bottle even if you are a solo parent during deployment.

The Breastfeeding Shop provides name-brand, high-quality breast pumps and breastfeeding supplies. Catering to the military community, the Breastfeeding Shop’s quick and easy service ensures that TRICARE beneficiaries can receive breast pumps and supplies at no-cost to them.

By Lizann Lightfoot