When babies refuse a bottle, whether they are unfamiliar or just unwilling to try feeding on one, there are some tricks and tips that might help.
The majority of babies will receive a bottle, whether formula or breast milk, sometime during their first year. For some, it’s a necessity because Mom goes back to work, while other mothers just want a break from breastfeeding or would like Dad to offer the occasional meal.
While many babies latch right on, some have difficulties making the transition back and forth, and others are downright stubborn about taking a bottle. Some babies drink from a bottle at first but later decide to refuse the bottle, which can be extremely frustrating for parents. There are several things that can help a baby accept a bottle as part of her routine.
Have someone other than Mom offer the bottle
If the mother, who has been the source of food, tries to give the baby a bottle, he might be more apt to refuse that bottle when he knows the “usual” source of food is nearby. Ideally, at first, the father, grandparent, sitter, or another familiar person might have better luck offering the bottle, making sure that Mom is not nearby. She should leave the room, or even the house, in hopes that the baby will take to the bottle.
Try a bottle when the baby is really hungry.
Babies may refuse a bottle if they’re not very hungry.
Many times, when the child is very hungry, she will latch onto the bottle and begin sucking. Fill the bottle with breast milk – the familiar – and slightly warmed, so it seems much the same.
Try a bottle in between regular feedings.
For some babies, being offered a bottle when they’re really hungry will only make them angrier and even less likely to accept. This is something parents find out by trial and error! If that seems like your child, try offering a bottle in between feedings, when he might be hungry enough to try it but not so hungry that he becomes agitated.
Try giving a bottle in the middle of the night.
If the baby wakes to eat in the middle of the night and is always breastfed, the father can try offering a bottle of warm expressed milk for the nighttime feeding. A drowsy baby sometimes accepts the bottle before realizing it is not the breast.
Include skin-to-skin contact
For some babies, the skin-to-skin contact while breastfeeding is important, and not receiving that with a bottle can be a turn-off. Whoever is giving the bottle can try exposing his or her belly and/or chest while keeping the baby close, so he receives skin-to-skin contact while the bottle is offered.
Try a variety of bottles or nipples.
Some babies are picky. She might not like the first bottle type purchased, or she might prefer a different nipple shape or speed. If the child uses a pacifier, see if the manufacturer also makes bottles and choose a nipple with the same shape. Experiment with different brands, shapes, and types to see if your baby is just choosy.
Location, location, location
If Mom has a usual location for breastfeeding, the bottle giver should try to vacate that seat or area. Try a different chair, a different part of the house, or a different way of holding a baby and bottle. Sometimes a baby might feel “set up” if the surroundings are much like normal, but the offering (i.e., the bottle) is not. Try holding the baby and walking the halls or even going outside if it’s nice weather – for some, the change of scenery is enough of a distraction, and the bottle might be accepted.
Give the bottle a rest.
If the baby has refused a bottle for several days in a row, take a break. Put the bottles away for several days or even a week. Some babies get worked up when they feel the bottle being forced upon them day after day. Taking a break allows them to relax, so when a bottle is reintroduced again, they might be more willing to accept.
Try a sippy, straw, or small open cup.
If the baby is big enough to sit in a bouncy seat or reclining high chair, try a variety of cups. Some babies don’t like bottles, but quickly learn how to use a sippy cup (held by the giver) or even a closed-top cup with a straw. If neither of these work, try putting a small amount of breast milk or formula in a small open-topped cup and tipping it to her lips – she’ll likely taste it and open her mouth for you to tip more in small amounts. This is time-consuming and requires careful attention, but often works if needed.