Help! My Breastfed Baby Refuses to Take a Bottle!

16 Apr

• It is best not to give your baby any artificial nipples (bottles/dummies) in the first 6 weeks. This period is aptly named the ‘calibration period’ – your body is still establishing your milk supply. During this critical period, you want Baby to do all his sucking at your breast. Breastfeeding requires a completely different sucking action than bottle feeding – it is much harder work! If you introduce Baby to bottles too soon, he could develop nipple confusion and flow preference and refuse the breast.

• If you are going back to work, or if you would like to leave your baby with a bottle sometimes, it is best to introduce him to it at six weeks. Don’t wait longer than 3 months. It is extremely stressful to go back to work if your baby refuses to drink from a bottle, so try your best to avoid this anxiety-provoking situation.

• Feed your baby only expressed breastmilk. Ideally he should be exclusively breastfed for about six months. Not only does he not NEED extra fluids like water or tea, these are actually harmful.

• Let someone else give Baby the bottle. This is a great time for Dad or Granny to get involved. Preferably you shouldn’t even be around. Take yourself out of the house, ideally for a special treat. Come on, think of all the money you’ve saved by breastfeeding!

• Baby doesn’t need a daily bottle. He only needs one or two a week in order to stay comfortable with them. Try not to skip a week, though.

• Don’t panic if Baby refuses the bottle. It can take a lot of patience, creative problem solving and just plain time to get him used to it.

• Experiment with different artificial nipples. Perhaps your baby prefers a different shape, or a rubber teat to a silicone one. Just remember to stick to a # 1 (0-3 months) nipple hole, no matter how old your baby. You don’t want the milk to flow too fast, you want him to work for it. Breastmilk is much thinner than formula, so if you use a bigger sized hole, it flows too fast.

• Try warming the bottle teat before feeds under warm, running water. Alternatively a teething baby might find an ice cold teat soothing to his sore gums.

• The person feeding Baby should try different positions. Let Dad hold Baby in a different position than the one in which you breastfeed. He could hold Baby upright, facing out, or even sitting in a car seat. He could also try walking around with him and rocking him rhythmically.

• Give Baby a bottle before his usual feeding time and before he is too hungry. This will make him more patient and willing to try new things.

• Feed Baby when he is sleepy. • Wrap him in Mom’s dressing gown or in something that smells of her.

• If Baby still refuses to take a bottle, don’t panic! Don’t feel guilty – you didn’t do anything wrong. Remember that even some bottle fed babies refuse to take their bottle from anyone else than their moms.

Alternatives to Bottles

• Babies can drink from a cup right from birth. Cup feeding is even used for premature babies! If your little one wants nothing to do with a bottle, he can drink enough milk from a cup while you are at work to stay healthy and happy.

• You can use any type of cup. Some moms prefer a flexible one. Others find that a small glass (like one used for shooters or sherry) works well, while others prefer a cup with a spout (a sippy cup).

• Let Baby sit upright. If he enjoys being swaddled, you can do so to prevent those little hands ‘helping’.

• Fill the cup halfway with expressed breastmilk. Tilt it so that a few drops of milk touch Baby’s lips. Keep the cup there, don’t tilt it further, so that Baby can pace his swallowing.

• Don’t underestimate your baby. Not one of my five babies ever drank from a bottle, but they happily drank from a cup – and even from a straw – from four months. In an emergency, the caregiver can even feed your Baby with a syringe.

• Babies often reverse their days and nights when their moms go back to work, sleeping more during the day and feeding very little while away from Mom. They make up for it at night, drinking more than 80% of their daily intake. This pattern might work well if you can manage to sleep while Baby feeds.

• Choose a caregiver who lives close to your workplace (instead of your home) and feed Baby at her place before going to work in the mornings and before returning home in the evenings. If it is practical, you might even slip away to feed Baby during your lunch hour. Another alternative is getting a caregiver who can look after Baby at your workplace in the first few months, so you can feed him at work. Think creatively about possible solutions.

If I can leave you with just ONE piece of advice, it is to keep calm and keep trying. Your baby won’t starve, he will get used to drinking his milk from a different container.


Posted by on April 16, 2012 in Breastfeeding


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3 responses to “Help! My Breastfed Baby Refuses to Take a Bottle!

  1. Corrie

    April 17, 2012 at 9:03 am

    I have some experience with babies who refused the bottle. When I had to return to work, they were both between 3 and 4 months and exclusively breastfed. I am working full-time (7:30-16:00) and have 2 children whom I both breastfed for two years plus. If you are planning to continue breastfeeding after going back to work, you won’t be sorry, it is the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby. That is, once you get past the initial hurdles of feeding your baby breastmilk in a bottle, expressing enough milk to keep you milk supply up (and of course for baby to have enough while you are at work), and fitting in expressing time in your work schedule.
    My first baby completely refused a bottle. We tried to get him use to one before I had to go back to work, but to no avail. This is how we got it to work:
    1. Keep calm, and never try to give him a bottle when he is upset.
    2. Never give a bottle when he is already hungry, start well before feeding time, so that he is not stressed or upset
    3. Always ask someone else to give him a bottle, you should not even be close – the baby can not understand why he has to drink from this plastic thing, if the real thing is JUST THERE!
    4. If possible, take extra leave and go back to work only half days for a the first week (I told my mom I wanted to keep my leave for emergencies, and she told me: This IS an emergency!).
    5. Take him outside or for a walk in the pram (not you, the nanny or daddy), where he can watch the leaves on the tree, sometimes when he was distracted he drank a bit of bottle.
    6. I also left him with a caregiver that was close to work, and the first few weeks I went over during tea and lunch breaks for a nursey.
    8. Use good quality bottles
    9. Make sure the milk doesn’t go off (that happened to me, while my baby’s initial rejection was the bottle, later I found that he was OK with the bottle, but sometime he rejecting the milk that tasted funny, not the bottle. Most breastmilk last long, but mine didn’t, you can easily smell if it is off)
    10. My second baby also point blank refused to take a bottle. And not having the time and energy to coach her into taking a bottle, we just let her be. The day I dropped her at school, she never had a bottle before. I only worked half day to help her ease into the new routine, but when I picked her up at noon, she was upset and crying, she had a tough day. The school told me I gave them the wrong teat (#2 in stead of #1), and the milk flowed to fast, made her gag. I bought a new teat, and the next day all was well. Wow, it took her only one day to get used to the bottle!
    11. Eventually they do learn. My first baby took a bit longer (maybe a week or two of active effort), but the second one took only one day.
    12. Only ever breastfeed at home. This helps increase your milk production, and will ensure that your baby still gets enough milk, even if the supply is a little low during the day. High milk production help with expressing as well.
    13. In the end, my biggest challenge was not my babies refusing a bottle (they really do learn quickly), but to actually express the milk. But that is another story…

    • doulapretoria

      April 17, 2012 at 9:39 am

      Wow, Corrie, thank you so much for taking the time to share these gems of information and experience with us!

  2. doulapretoria

    May 30, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    Reblogged this on birthandbreastfeeding.


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