Bottle Refusal Tips

Ten Tips to Help Your Breastfed Baby Take a Bottle

Bottle refusal is STRESSFUL, to say the least.  I have talked with countless moms who are in an absolute panic about going back to work and their 3 or 4 month old is out-right refusing to take a bottle.

One assumes that since you are reading this, you are already in the weeds with a bottle refusing babe.  If, by some lucky chance, you are happening upon this article as the new mom or dad of a newborn who is under 4 weeks old, lean in and listen closely: INTRODUCE A BOTTLE NOW!!!  4-6 weeks is a magic spot where babies are not likely to be confused by an artificial nipple and also not likely to prefer the bottle.  Once you introduce it, give ONE BOTTLE EVERY DAY so your baby has a chance to practice the skill (and you get a break!!)

It’s more likely though, that you, dear reader, are the panicking mom whose baby would rather starve than take anything other than your breast for sustenance.  I have seen some stubborn babes in my time, but *MOST* of them eventually relent. The ones that don’t relent do NOT starve themselves, they learn other ways to get milk.  It’s just a little more complex for the caregivers.

Assume that your baby is one of the majority who will relent.  Here are the things to try:

  1. Have someone other than mom give the bottle. Mom smells like nursing and feels like nursing and babies just want to nurse when they’re on mom.  Sometimes it’s even hard for babies to take a bottle if mom is anywhere in the vicinity.  Some people wrap the bottle in moms pillowcase so it smells like her.  Some desperate dads wear moms bathrobe (if you try this, take pictures PLEASE). Try skin to skin, which will elicit newborn instincts to suck.  Sit where mom sits to nurse.

  2. Have MOM give the bottle.  Yes, dear reader, that is a DIRECT contradiction to suggestion #1.  You see, babies are not robots.  There is NEVER one right answer to anything.  Some of them decide that ONLY mom can feed them and they don’t care how.  If they’ll take a bottle from mom, rest assured, they know how to do it and will eventually take it from someone else.

  3. Bait and switch.  Start by nursing and deftly do a quick switcheroo for the bottle.

  4. Try different bottles.  Now I firmly believe that it’s insane to take out a second mortgage to support the industry that is capitalizing on breastfeeding mothers and marketing “the perfect bottle for breastfed babies”.  There is no such thing. Don’t go crazy.  Don’t spend a fortune.  But try out some different shape nipples.  Common wisdom is to find a nipple that is shaped like mom’s.  The problem with that is that no human nipple in it’s normal relaxed state remotely resembles a bottle nipple.  Ask around and see if friends have tried different bottles- even borrow one or two to try them out (sterilize thoroughly, of course). For what it’s worth, one bottle that I have seen some people have success with is the Playtex Nurser.

  5. Play with the bottle temperature.  Some babies (mine, for example) are just particular about the temperature.   Aim for body temperature.  Adjust up and down and see if it makes a difference.

  6. Change the scene.  A strong association between the spot where mom usually feeds can work for you or against you.  Baby A may ONLY take a bottle in that glider.  Baby B may REFUSE to take anything other than the breast there.  Try different rooms.  Go outside.

  7. Try movement.  Walk around and hold the baby while offering the bottle.  Sometimes the distraction of being soothed by movement makes them forget their mission of refusal.

  8. Try the car seat, the swing, the bouncy seat- any place that’s different.

  9. Consider the positioning.  Baby A may only take a bottle in a snuggled-in nursing position.  Baby B may need to sit upright.

  10. Combine variables.  One of my moms joked that she needed an Excel chart to keep track of what combinations she had tried.  But seriously- it could be the magic combination of dad, wearing moms bathrobe feeding his sitting upright baby with a Playtex nurser in which the milk is EXACLTY 98 degrees.  Stranger things have happened.

Most importantly, JUST KEEP TRYING.  Try EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  More likely than not, one day, that baby will surprise you and will suck away as if they’ve been doing it forever.  If your baby is among the few who are just stubborn enough to wait to eat until you come home, caregivers can feed with a cup or a syringe.  Your baby will not starve without a bottle.  And someday you’ll be proud of that sense of commitment to a cause.