Breastfeeding can be so wonderful. The bond you feel with your baby. The physical closeness and snuggling. And being able to give your baby something no one else can. But, chances are you won’t be able to be with your baby every single second. You may be returning to work or have errands or appointments that don’t include a baby. When mom is away your baby will need to take a bottle. But what if your happily breastfed baby won’t take a bottle? Check out these tips for what to do!
When My Baby Wouldn’t Take a Bottle
My oldest daughter took a bottle the first time we offered one to her. As a new mom, I was more upset by her being given a bottle than she was. I was worried at 6 weeks old she no longer needed me and cried (hormones, ya know).
My second baby was a much different experience. She had no interest in taking a bottle. When she refused to take a bottle at 6 weeks or so, I didn’t push her. I was planning to work from home and we both loved her breastfeeding. I didn’t see any reason to try very hard with the bottle. I don’t recommend this attitude or approach to others. It came back to bite me.
At around 3 to 4 months old my daughter started getting bloody diarrhea. YIKES! And she was diagnosed with a milk protein allergy, then shortly after a food protein allergy (yes, food, pretty much all of it.) And all of my elimination diets and starving myself to keep nursing were unsuccessful. I tried for weeks. According to our pediatric gastroenterologist, the best thing for my daughter would be a switch to formula.
So my much-too-old not to know how to take a bottle baby needed to learn to bottle feed in a hurry. We had to figure it out. And quickly.
Do you have a breastfed baby that won’t take a bottle? Try these ideas for successful bottle feeding!
10 Tips for Getting a Breastfed Baby to Take a Bottle
1. Identify the Problem
You may be able to skip a few steps here if you can quickly determine the reason for your baby’s refusal to take a bottle. Is it the bottle itself? The taste or texture bothers them? Is it the temperature being different than milk from the breast?
Is it just because it’s coming from mom? And they know that the boob is only inches away?
If you’re able to pin down what exactly is causing your baby to refuse a bottle, you can jump right into solving the problem.
But sometimes you don’t know. And it could be a combination of any or all of these factors causing bottle resistance. If that’s the case, you just have to try everything until something clicks.
2. Introduce the Bottle Slowly
If your reason for using a bottle is you will be spending some time away from your baby, but you have pumped breast milk, the introduction to a bottle is often easier.
Try to make the breast milk as similar to direct from the breast as possible. Warm it to about body temperature so that it tastes right.
If you’re switching to formula or supplementing, it might help to transition slowly. If you can mix a small amount of formula with mostly breastmilk the first few times your baby might more easily accept a bottle. And then slowly increase the ratio of formula to breastmilk until the bottle is only formula.
If this isn’t working, then totally ignore my advice about transitioning slowly. For some babies, breast milk comes from mom or they don’t want it. And sometimes they can be taught that breast milk comes from mom and formula comes in the bottle.
So, if the gradual transitioning isn’t getting you anywhere, then consider a cold turkey all formula and only formula in the bottle approach.
I also encourage introducing the bottle for one feeding a day at first and then building up to more. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding one day and want them to start taking all their feedings from a bottle the next, the transition might be hard for you and your baby.
3. Choose the Right Time
When you’re introducing a bottle for the first time, or after repeated unsuccessful attempts, timing is everything. If your baby is already super hungry and screaming, chances of bottle success are lower. A frustrated and starving baby isn’t going to welcome experimentation when it comes to getting some nourishment. Try giving a bottle a little earlier than when they are due for their next feeding.
Another timing tip, if your baby has been refusing a bottle, sometimes if you offer it when they first wake up, they will sleepily accept it without a struggle. And after a few successes, it gets easier to offer a bottle at other times of the day.
4. Have Someone Else Give the Bottle and LEAVE
This is the first thing I would try when a breastfed baby won’t take a bottle. In fact, I encourage trying this with the very first bottle. It should come from someone other than mom.
If daddy is around, giving a bottle is a great way for him to bond and spend some time with baby. If he’s not, a grandma or other loving friend or family member will welcome the opportunity for a snuggle while they feed your little one.
But your baby knows when mom (and breastmilk) are around. They can smell you. So, mom, you’ve got to leave.
Prepare the bottle if you need to, give some instructions, give everyone a kiss, and LEAVE THE HOUSE.
And give everyone some time before you start anxiously texting to find out how it’s going.
5. Find the Right Position
Just like with breastfeeding some babies have a strong preference for how they are held during a bottle feeding.
If your baby won’t take a bottle you may have to experiment to see if a different position helps. My daughter liked to be cradled in a similar position to how she was breastfed. She even liked to lay on my nursing pillow while drinking from a bottle.
Some babies prefer to sit up more and look around while you feed them a bottle.
Especially if they prefer to breastfeed, you may have to see if a hold either similar to how they breastfeed or something completely different makes them happier with a bottle feeding.
6. Try Different Bottles
Sometimes getting a breastfed baby to take a bottle is as simple as finding the right bottle. Although it may not be simple at all depending on how many bottles you have to try before you find the right one.
My oldest daughter happily took any bottle, so we went with the cheapest bottles at the store. But my second baby didn’t like anything at first. And the first four bottles we tried we got nowhere. We finally had success with the Munchkin Latch Bottles.
If you’re struggling to get your breastfed baby to take a bottle, try out different bottles. I suggest only buying them one at a time to try. Bottles are not usually cheap. And if you buy 6 different kinds and your baby only likes one, the rest will be wasted money.
7. Change the Nipple Flow
If switching bottles doesn’t seem to be working, another thing to switch up is the nipple flow. My girls both liked slow flow nipples best from the beginning to the end of their bottle-feeding days. I think it felt the closest to the flow of milk from breastfeeding. But your baby might be different. So do some experimentation.
Fortunately changing bottle nipples doesn’t add up as quickly cost-wise as changing bottles.
8. Offer a Pacifier
Offering a pacifier really helped my daughter adapt to bottle feeding. She was not a pacifier baby early on and she never was as attached to a binky as my older daughter. But when we were trying unsuccessfully with the bottle, offering the pacifier more often helped her get used to the feel of the nipple.
Try to offer a pacifier that is the same brand and nipple shape as the bottle you’re having the most success with. This makes it more likely to help with bottle feeding success.
9. Be Persistent
Like most difficult tasks that are part of parenting, persistence is key. When your baby won’t take a bottle it can be stressful. Especially if you’re coming up to a deadline for returning to work or need to switch to formula or a million other reasons. You worry about them starving themselves when you’re away.
You just have to keep trying. Try different bottles, nipples, locations, positions, and something will eventually click. If it’s been a struggle it’s important to try at least once every day. If you fail and then wait two weeks before trying again with the bottle you’ll lose any progress you might have made.
When your baby refuses the bottle, don’t reward them with the breast immediately after an unsuccessful bottle feeding. Wait at least fifteen minutes or so. And do a different activity in between. The reward for refusing the bottle can’t be they instantly get the breast or they will learn to wait you out. This is another reason you don’t want to wait to try the bottle until your baby is starving.
10. Offer a Cup or Spoon
If you’ve tried, and tried, and tried to get your baby to take a bottle without success, that is so hard. But there are options for the mom with a breastfed baby who absolutely refuses the bottle. If you’re at the point of last resort, there are options for feeding your baby that include offering breastmilk or formula in a cup or a spoon, even a syringe. Fortunately, I never got to this point. But if you’re there, check out this list of resources to help you find something that works.
Did your breastfed baby refuse to take a bottle? What tricks worked best for your baby to successfully bottle feed? Add your tips in the comments!
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