Now, let’s be honest. Parenthood is a roller coaster of emotions. When it comes to feeding your baby, there’s no predicting how it will go.
I remember proudly stating that I was going to breastfeed and get as much of that skin to skin contact going as I could. Yet, I still stocked up on bottles and everything related. Turns out I needed them earlier than I thought I would.
Feeding is a personal journey, unique to every parent and baby.
Whilst you may be painfully engorged, others might be battling a low milk supply.
Whilst some babies take on a bottle as if it’s the most natural thing to do, others resist it, preferring the direct warmth of their mom’s breast.
The length of the breastfeeding journey and how this is done is also unique. Be it for work or other reasons, the need to introduce a bottle is bound to come up at some point.
And here’s where using a bottle might suck: Baby simply refuses it.
In this article, we’ll go over the reasons why your baby won’t take a bottle to drink milk or drink water, and what you can do to get them to accept it.
Signs That Baby Hates The Bottle
The following is a list of some of the most common baby behavior which indicates a problem with bottle feeding.
- Refusing bottle by turning away
- Not closing mouth around nipple
- Holding nipple but not sucking
- Taking a small amount and then stopping
- Screaming at the sight of a bottle
- Not swallowing all milk
- Feeding too quickly or too slowly
- Falling asleep before finishing a feed
- Not drinking sufficiently, or drinking too much
- Coughing and spluttering
- Throwing up
Why Is My Baby Refusing The Bottle?
Babies know what they want, and when it’s mummy’s breast they’re after, they’ll make their wants perfectly clear.
Apart from the nourishment, breastfeeding offers babies comfort; the closeness to mom is the next best thing after the perfect services and warmth of the womb.
It’s no wonder then that most babies are not fans of the bottle! (At first, at least, until they start getting used to it).
Here are some reasons why your baby might be keeping away from the bottle.
Mommy Has Better
Many breastfed babies expect to breastfeed when hungry and are being held by mommy. This is one of the main reasons why breastfed babies stop taking bottles at times.
Try to adopt a bottle feeding position different from your normal breastfeeding one.
If your baby is still refusing the bottle from you, try to get someone else to take over the feed.
The Nipple Feels Different
Regardless of how much the bottle brand advertises their bottles and nipples as being close to the real thing, an artificial nipple can still feel foreign.
The Flow Is Wacky
Your breastfed baby will have become accustomed to a specific milk flow when breastfeeding.
It’s quite likely that you’ll have to switch a few times before finding a nipple size and flow that works for your baby.
You need to ensure that the speed of the flow is just right for your baby’s age. A fast flow can overwhelm a newborn, and a slower one might test your little one’s patience.
It can be that the temperature of the milk is not right.
Perfect milk temperature is another feature of direct breastfeeding – but when bottle feeding your baby, whether it’s expressed breastmilk or formula milk, you have to work a bit more to find the temperature they are comfortable with.
Note from Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC: “After all, it comes straight from mom at body temperature.”
Warm milk is more soothing than cold milk. With that being said, though, never warm milk in the microwave as this can create ‘hot spots’ and scald your baby.
Make sure you know everything there is to know about how to warm up a bottle of breast milk properly, and how to warm baby bottles the right and safe way.
Not Fond Of The Taste
When formula feeding your baby, it’s crucial to be aware of taste differences between that and a mother’s milk.
If you’re feeding them a bottle of formula, it’s wise to keep in mind that not all formula milk is created equal, and not all babies have the same taste buds. Nor does formula taste anything like breastmilk.
What might have worked for a sibling, might not work for this little one.
Be prepared to switch from one brand to another until you find the one that ‘works’.
Note from Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC: “If you’re using a breast pump to express milk and pour it in the bottle, be sure that the expressed milk hasn’t spoiled.
Occasionally moms have pumped milk that smell ‘soapy.’ This may be due to high lipase enzymes in the milk and does not mean the milk is bad.”
An allergy to something in the milk can also be a possibility if your baby is showing signs of discomfort, spitting up, and has diarrhea, eczema, or hives.
You can switch to a soy-based formula, or a hydrolysate formula.
If breastfeeding baby, cutting out dairy from your diet should help.
Note from Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC: “Work closely with a lactation consultant before doing this, though.”
Either way, it’s best to speak to your baby’s pediatrician about this to get everything cleared up and know what you should do if your little angel is suffering from allergies.
Babies’ feeding patterns are not set in stone. It might be that your baby is simply not that hungry today even if it’s her usual feeding time.
Teething is such a damper.
When your baby is already uncomfortable, they might not take to a new nipple that easy. Or they might just chew the nipple instead of sucking and drinking.
Sucking also places pressure on their already sore gums, so don’t be surprised if a bottle is the last thing they want to suck on.
Not The Right Environment
Babies are very sensitive to their surroundings.
Being anxious and stressed when trying to feed can lead to an agitated baby.
Try to set a peaceful environment with minimum distractions for the both of you.
Should I Postpone Bottle Feeding The Baby?
According to Dr. Sears, breastfed babies under four weeks of age shouldn’t be offered a bottle. This switch from breast to bottle shouldn’t happen at such an early age. Introducing a bottle to a breastfed baby way too early on may lead to nipple confusion or breast refusal.
If it’s possible for you to postpone bottle-feeding, then there should be no rush with introducing a bottle. But, if a bottle can no longer be avoided, read on for tips on how to make this work best.
Tips For Getting Baby To Take The Bottle
So, what do you do when dealing with a bottle refuser?
Whether the back-to-work clock is ticking, or you just want to be able to run an errand without baby in tow, knowing that your little one will take a bottle when required offers serious comfort and peace of mine.
Here are some tips to help when dealing with a baby who refuses to take a bottle:
Starting early may very well be the magic key to a positive feeding journey.
Experts suggest starting at around four to six weeks by offering an ounce from a bottle and finishing up with breastfeeding.
This calmly introduces your baby to the bottle, away from the stress of must-do-this-or-else.
It also teaches babies to suck on something that’s not their mother’s breast.
Find The Right Bottle Nipple
It’s trial and error with this one.
There’s no one size fits all when it comes to bottles and nipples – it has much to do with your little one’s preferences.
Baby bottle nipples are usually made of rubber or silicone, with many brands emphasizing their closeness to the real thing.
The flow also varies – for younger babies, nipples come with a slow flow, increasing with the baby’s age.
As noted by WebMD, the only way to find out which nipple type (and types of bottles) your baby prefers is by trying them out.
Adopt The Right Position
We should also emphasize the importance of an upright position.
Holding baby upright and pacing the feeding after a few sucks helps babies grow accustomed to the bottle.
Bottle Feed While Breastfeeding Baby
Nancy Mohrbacher, a lactation consultant, suggests combination feeding by intermittently taking baby off the breast and offering a bottle.
This helps familiarize your baby with the bottle.
Even if your baby took a bottle at some point, this does not mean it’s a set skill.
We hear it all the time with parents where their little ones take a bottle with no effort at 6 weeks but refuse to do it at 3 months of age. For example, this happened to Dad Ben at Direct Advice for Dads.
Offer a bottle often, not only when you have no other option.
Get Someone Else To Bottle Feed
Babies are pretty smart – smarter than we oftentimes think they are, at least.
They know that mom has a much better option than the bottle she’s trying to give. Getting someone else to bottle feed may be the solution to your bottle worries.
Set The Ambiance
Set the stage for a positive and calm feed by choosing a quiet, non-distracting spot.
Offering a bottle in a calm and gentle environment can make a huge difference.
Get The Timing Right
Finding the right window for bottle feeding your baby is imperative. Finding that snippet of time between being hungry but not starving is crucial for introducing the bottle.
Run An Errand
If none of the above work out, leaving the house may become a must.
Take it as an opportunity to pamper yourself for a while, even if it’s simply a break grocery shopping.
Babies can smell their moms from a mile away – being away from sight and smell, can help them eventually give in and take a bottle to drink milk or drink water.
Use The Help Of A Pacifier
Opinions on this subject are mixed, especially among the breastfeeding community.
With that being said, though, a pacifier can help baby grow accustomed to the feel of a bottle nipple.
We’ve said it a couple of times now – babies can be quite stubborn. In this case, the stubbornness may be accompanied by confusion.
Being persistent may very well be the solution. If you remain calm and follow through, you’ll likely see your baby starts taking their bottle again just fine.
Baby needs to be hungry enough to take a bottle – giving in early on will not help.
Nothing’s Worked – What Do I Do Now?
As a last resort, consider the following:
- Cup feeding – Cups aren’t only for older babies. If you’re at your wits’ end of the bottle journey, consider using a cup instead. Even young babies can learn to feed from a cup when done right.
- Syringe feeding – place the milk directly in the baby’s mouth via a syringe. Or consider using a medicine dropper, cup or spoon.
- Finger feeding – You can use a Supplemental Nursing System attached to your finger and let baby suck on a finger for milk.
Advice For Partners When Dealing With Babies That Won’t Take Their Bottle
Even if mom will be home for another three months of age or so, introduce the bottle early and, as highlighted above, remain consistent about it.
Ben from Direct Advice for Dads recounts his own experience trying to introduce baby to bottle.
In the end, what worked was a breast-shaped nipple, feeding the baby when hungry but not famished, and a special formula that the baby liked.
What To Do When Baby Suddenly Starts Refusing The Bottle
Has your breastfed baby that won’t take their bottle used it before but is now suddenly refusing it? This could either be because of the milk itself or the bottle.
Check that the bottle nipple is appropriate for your baby’s age. The flow might be too slow or too fast compared to what baby is accustomed to when breastfeeding.
Also, ensure the milk has the right temperature. Babies can indeed drink cold milk just fine from a health and safety standpoint, but very rarely will you come across one that actually enjoys drinking cold milk and doesn’t put up a fight against having it that way.
If you’ve tried everything and your baby is still refusing the bottle, this can simply be a phase your little one is going through.
Go on offering the bottle and stick to your previous routine. Chances are that your baby will resist but try not to give in by nursing.
Get someone else to bottle feed for a while and don’t let the baby see you whilst feeding.
Here are some tricks that can help:
- Ask the person feeding to first let a few drops of milk fall onto the baby’s lips and mouth
- Stroke baby’s lips with the bottle nipple until the mouth is open.
- Do not force the nipple through if baby leaves their mouth closed.
Even if refusal continues, it’s very important not to force your baby into feeding from a bottle.
Continue offering the bottle every half hour – babies can be quite stubborn so don’t expect results in only a couple of minutes.
Soon enough the baby will be hungry enough to feed from a bottle.
We know it’s hard seeing your baby start crying, even more so when you know very well what they need, but be strong – eventually your little one will realize they can still get their liquid gold from the bottle and will give in to it.
As experts in the field make clear time and time again, many babies pass through this phase. As long as the situation doesn’t develop into a control issue between you and your baby, refusing a bottle is not that big of a problem.
What To Do When A Bottle Fed Baby Won’t Take Their Bottle
Similar to what you’d do when breastfed babies won’t take their bottle, first determine whether it’s the milk or the bottle that’s a problem. Check the temperature of the milk – is it warmer / colder than usual? Take a sip yourself and see if it tastes different.
Once you’ve ensured that it’s all good with the milk, check the bottle nipple – is it blocked? Babycentre suggests turning the bottle upside down – if its dripping quickly, all’s good.
Bottle nipples also come in varying flows. Once your baby is a little older, they will require a faster flow.
If your baby isn’t accepting to take their bottle still, observe them for a while:
- Is baby showing signs of being unwell? A cold, a fever, or thrush can put baby off drinking. See your pediatrician if you think your baby is unwell.
- Are distractions keeping them away from feeding? Finding a calm place can help your baby focus on the feed.
- Is baby really hungry?
- Is baby preferring solid food?? If this is so, try to offer milk half an hour after a meal. If they still refuse, introduce milk in other foods, such as yogurt or a milky dessert. To avoid dehydration, offer baby some water after a meal (depending on their age).
Whatever you do, though, don’t force your bottle-fed baby into taking a bottle. Try again later instead.
Wrapping it Up
About to leave for work and baby is still refusing the bottle? Keep calm.
Babies are stubborn but healthy babies also know they shouldn’t starve.
Your baby might need to be away from you for a substantial time to actually accept the bottle. Others try to fit in all their feeds whilst with mommy, even if this happens to be overnight (called reverse cycling).
As a matter of fact, babies can last eight hours without any feeds during the night – so it shouldn’t be awfully worrying if they’re going without feeds for eight hours during the day. You shouldn’t strive to let it happen if you can manage, but it’s not the end of the world if it does happen.
Rest assured mama, you’re doing a great job!