Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is breastfeeding but we’d like for me to be able to feed our 2-month old daughter as well. Can I give her a bottle without interfering with breastfeeding? If so, how is this done?

A: Getting a chance to feed your daughter is wonderful on several counts. First, it’s a great way for you to get some one-on-one bonding time with your baby. Second, it gives your wife a well-deserved break.

With two months of sucking under her belt, your daughter is a breastfeeding pro, so you can safely introduce a bottle at pretty much any time. The biggest obstacle you could potentially run into is “nipple confusion,” which, in this case, is when the baby has gotten so used to the breast that she refuses to take a bottle. (There’s another kind of nipple confusion, where the baby has gotten used to a bottle and refuses the breast). Fortunately, with the right preparation and approach, your baby will quickly become proficient in both methods. That said, it may take a few days for your baby to get comfortable with the bottle. Here’s how ease the transition.

  • Look for bottles with nipples designed to mimic a breast. That’ll make it easier to go back and forth. Bottles generally have different “stage” nipples. For a 2-month old, start with stage 1 nipples (the higher the number, the faster the flow. But experiment a little to find the one that works best for your baby. If she seems to be taking a really long time to eat, you may want to try a slightly faster option. If she’s gagging or can’t seem to swallow fast enough, drop back a stage or two.
  • Invest in a breast pump. Unless your pediatrician has told you to supplement with formula, have your partner pump an extra bottle or two with every feeding. That way, even if the bottle and nipple aren’t mom, at least the milk will be. If you don’t use it all, you can freeze the leftovers for 4 to 6 months.
  • Someone other than mom should do the bottle feeding. Babies have a keen sense of smell and if she smells mom’s milk but get a mouthful of bottle, she might refuse to take it.
  • Don’t wait until she’s starving. Offer the first bottle when your daughter is hungry, but not starving or crying. If she doesn’t immediately take it, don’t push the issue, just try again another time. Forcing a bottle on her will make her miserable and will make her hate bottles even more.
  • Keep your expectations reasonable and stay patient. The first few times she may not drink as much as you think she should. She may need to augment the bottle with some straight-from-mom milk. While drinking from a breast and bottle seem similar, they actually require completely different sucking motions, so it could take a few (or more) feedings for your baby to master the whole bottle thing.
  • Plan ahead. Don’t wait until your wife has left for the day to break out the first bottle. It could be a couple of days before she’ll eat an entire meal from the bottle.
  • Get some help. If you’ve followed all these steps and your baby refuses the bottle and continues to insist on nursing, stay in there and keep trying. Feeding your baby is about more than just providing nourishment. It can also make you feel more involved as a dad and, as mentioned above, it’s great for a little daddy-daughter bonding.