If you're considering giving your breastfed baby formula (either exclusively or as a supplement), you're not alone.

Many moms use formula for a variety of reasons. They may be returning to work, they may want to include dad during feedings, or they may need a more flexible feeding schedule. Whatever your reason, know that formula gives your baby all the nutrition he needs to thrive and that you can still maintain a close bond with him. If you're feeling emotional about your decision, rest assured that this is a normal reaction. You may want to seek out other moms who understand how you're feeling and can offer support. A smooth transition can also ease your mind—here are ways to encourage a successful move from breast to bottle.

When to Introduce Formula

To make it easier for both you and your baby, it's best to transition gradually. So if you need baby to be fully bottle-fed by a certain time, you'll want to start about a month beforehand. This lets your baby gradually adjust to bottle-feeding, and it helps prevent engorgement for you, which can happen if you stop breastfeeding too quickly. Note: If you plan to continue nursing while supplementing with formula, you'll want to wait until your baby is at least 3 to 4 weeks old before introducing a bottle. By then, you'll likely have set up a good feeding pattern and solid milk supply.

How to Introduce Formula

To begin, skip one breastfeeding—the one baby's least interested in, or the one that's most inconvenient for you—and replace it with a bottle. As he adjusts to the change, gradually drop additional breastfeedings, one at a time, until you've reached your desired schedule. For example, you may want to nurse baby in the morning and at bedtime and give him formula in between, or you may want to formula-feed exclusively. 

If Baby Refuses the Bottle

Some babies are more accepting of the bottle than others. If yours rejects one at first, try experimenting with different brands of bottles and nipples until he finds one he likes. You can also try having someone else (dad or a caregiver) offer the bottle, since your baby may associate you with breastfeeding. Another idea: Give him a bottle at a feeding when he's not overly tired or hungry; he may be more accepting then.

Continue the Bond

For many moms, the idea of transitioning to formula means a loss of the intimacy they share with their baby. But this doesn't have to be the case. As you offer a bottle, you can hold baby close, gaze into his eyes, and talk or sing softly to him. You can also create other moments to bond with baby. You might try skin-on-skin contact (hold baby close without clothing or blankets in between you), give him a soothing massage before bedtime, or cuddle together while reading him a book. There are endless possibilities for one-on-one time, and as you start to bottle-feed, you can take advantage of a more flexible schedule to create special moments with your baby.

From the Publishers of Parents and American Baby. All rights reserved.