Let’s set the scene: you have made it through the first two months of having a newborn. You are a little (or a lot) sleep derived. Your nipples are finally starting to heal after being shred to bits from breastfeeding. You are so utterly, joyfully and vulnerably in love with your precious baby. Even though you can’t imagine leaving her, you know maternity leave will not last forever. You offer her one of the brand new bottles that you spent hours researching. Your baby refuses the bottle. No big deal. You would rather breastfeed her anyway so, you will try again tomorrow. The next day your baby, again, is refusing the bottle. You begin to worry, but figure you will try again in a few days. You repeat this cycle over and over again, and before you know it maternity leave is over and your baby is still refusing her bottle. Cue panic on top of anxiety on top of sadness. But stop and breathe! We have been there countless times. Read on for our tips on what to do when baby is refusing the bottle.
When you are first introducing a bottle to your baby, there are a few “rules” that will make the introduction easier:
- If you are able, offer a bottle for the first time around 4-6 weeks. This will allow your breastfeeding relationship and milk supply to establish without having to worry about pumping and/or bottles. Those first few weeks are exhausting. Do not worry about introducing a bottle prior to 4-6 weeks. If your baby is older than 6 weeks and you haven’t yet offered her a bottle, don’t panic! It’s ok. Our tips below will still work.
- Make sure baby is not starving. Offer a bottle an hour after you breastfeed either in the morning or afternoon—whatever is most convenient for your schedule.
- Use less than 1 ounce of breast milk. Trying starting with ¼-1/2 ounce of breast milk so that you do not waste any milk if baby refuses the bottle.
- Stay calm. We know how frustrating and worrisome it is whenever baby refuses the bottle. But, stay calm. Your baby can and will pick up on your anxiety and stress which will only contribute to her confused feelings. Your baby will take the bottle eventually, we promise!
- Never force the bottle nipple into your baby’s mouth. Always put it on her lips and let her draw it into her mouth. If she wants to chew and suck on it, that’s great! She’s becoming used to it. If she gets frustrated, pull it out and wait a minute or two before offering again. If she (and you) becomes incredibly frustrated, stop and try again later.
Related article: The 5 Best Nursing Bras According to Real Breastfeeding Moms
Here are the solutions that have worked for us when baby is refusing the bottle:
1. Make sure you are using the slowest flow nipple when baby is refusing the bottle.
Drinking milk from a bottle is a completely different experience than sucking milk from a breast. Not only is the feel of a silicone or latex nipple different from their mother’s nipple, but the rate that milk comes out of the nipple is different. When baby is refusing a bottle it may be because the milk is flowing too fast out of the bottle compared to out of the breast. This may overwhelm and even cause a baby to gag on milk from a bottle due to the faster flow. Due to this, make sure to use the slowest flow nipple available for your baby’s bottle.
Different brands of bottles have different names for their slowest flow nipples. Find the slowest flow nipples for your baby bottle here:
- Comotomo Slow Flow
- Philips Avent First Flow Nipple
- Dr. Brown’s Original Nipple, Preemie
- Tommee Tippee Extra Slow Flow
- MAM Level 1 Slow Flow Nipple
- Lansinoh NaturalWave Slow-Flow Nipple
- NUK Simply Natural Nipple, Slow Flow
- Munchkin Latch Stage 1 Nipple
- Joovy Boob Naturally Nood Nipple, Stage 0
- Medela Slow Flow Nipple
- Kiinde Active Latch Nipple – Slow Flow
- Boon NURSH Nipple, Stage 1 Slow Flow
- Playtex NaturaLatch Nipple, Slow Flow
Using a slow flow nipple will more closely mimic breastfeeding than a faster flow nipple. A slower flow nipple will also help to ensure that your baby does not develop a bottle preference over breastfeeding.
Related article: How Long Can I Legally Pump at Work?
2. Pick ONE bottle and offer it repeatedly. Do not constantly change bottles.
This bit of advice is contrary to what you may read elsewhere, but we believe in selecting ONE bottle (two if you must) to offer to your baby at each feed. We do not believe in purchasing multiple different types of bottles. We believe practice makes perfect. As mentioned above, drinking milk from a bottle is a very different experience than nursing at the breast. Constantly changing bottles and nipples will not allow your baby to become used to one bottle and nipple. Instead, the constant switching of bottles may cause her even greater distress than becoming acclimated to the shape and texture of one bottle. Just because your baby refuses the bottle each time you place it in her mouth does not mean she hates the bottle. It means she is not used to the bottle yet and still needs more practice with it.
Related article: Best Bottles for Breastfed Babies: Our Top 5 Picks
What does your baby do with the bottle when you place it in her mouth? Does she play with and chew on the nipple? This is a good thing! She is getting used to the feel, taste, and consistency of this new object. She will grow accustomed to it over time and eventually drink from it—even if she protests constantly at first. Our favorite picks for the best bottles for breastfed babies:
And remember to make sure you are using slow flow nipples from #1 with your bottles.
Related article: How to Scald Breast Milk Quickly & Properly
3. Make sure the breast milk temperature and nipple are very warm.
Your body temperature averages around 98.6°F. This is the same temperature of your breast milk when your baby nurses. Because your baby is used to warm milk, make sure you are emulating that with the temperature of the bottle she is refusing. Some babies are very sensitive to the temperature of milk and prefer breast milk to be warmer than 98.6°F when taking a bottle. If your baby is refusing the bottle, try warming up the bottle longer in order to raise the breast milk temperature. You can also run the bottle under warm water, if necessary, to further heat up the bottle nipple. Test the milk on your wrist to make sure it is not too hot for your baby’s mouth. Do not heat your breast milk beyond 104F as this will affect the nutritional and immunological value of the milk.
Related article: How to Make Baby Bottles Clear Again – Crystal CLEAR Help!
For a little perspective, room temperature milk is around 78°F. If you are pumping milk and then leaving it on the counter until you have time to offer your baby a bottle, then your breast milk is likely too cold compared to what your baby is used to receiving from the breast.
Our favorite bottle warmer for breast milk is the Kiinde Kozii Baby Bottle Warmer. Kiinde Kozii uses convective heating instead of steam to heat breast milk which provides consistent and uniform heating. This prevents hot spots from forming in your baby’s bottle. It also fits all sizes of bottles and can thaw frozen breast milk.
Related article: Breast Milk Lipase: Why Your Breast Milk Tastes Metallic
4. Have someone else offer the bottle.
If you are doing all of the above and your baby is still refusing the bottle, have your husband or another family member do it. Your baby is used to receiving milk by breastfeeding from you. Accordingly, your baby may be confused or even mad at you, her mom, for trying to feed her with a fake nipple instead of the real one! She may take a bottle from someone else with little to no protest. This will be good training for when you go back to work since you will not be the one giving her bottles during the day. This will also allow your husband or another family member to have bonding time with the baby.
Some moms find that they need to leave the room or even walk outside so that their baby cannot see, hear, or smell them when they are first learning how to take a bottle. Distract yourself by playing with your other kids or simply take a breather for a second. Also, remind yourself that your baby isn’t the first baby to go through this. Many moms and babies experience bottle refusal every day!
Related article: Working Mom Guilt & Encouragement
5. Distract baby when she is refusing the bottle.
Another tactic to try is to distract your baby as you offer her the bottle. Try walking around outside with her or standing next to a window so she can look at the sky. Try turning on the vent over your stove and let the loud sound lull her as you offer the bottle. If you have an older child, let your baby watch her sibling play as you give her a bottle. You can also try bouncing, playing music, singing or humming to her like you do when trying to calm her down. You can even turn on the TV and let her watch the colors dance across the screen—a few minutes won’t ruin her brain! Try multiple ways to distract her as you continue to gently put the bottle nipple on her lips.
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6. Offer baby a bottle when she is sleepy.
The last tactic you can try is to offer baby the bottle as she is approaching nap time. Don’t wait until baby is overtired because she may be cranky and refuse the bottle. Instead, give baby the bottle about 15-30 minutes before nap time. She may be more willing to try the bottle and not put up as much of a fight. Having something to suck on may also calm her down. Remember to not force the bottle into her mouth, especially if she is protesting. However, offering a bottle to sleepy babies has worked for some of our working moms.
Related article: Top 10 Willow Breast Pump Hacks–Tips & Tricks You Need
7. Try a sippy cup.
If your baby is 6 months or older and refusing a bottle, you may want to skip bottles and go directly to sippy cups. Since it is best to introduce bottles to a baby when they are very young, you may find it much easier for everyone to go directly to cups. There is a real chance that older babies will not take a bottle despite a mom’s best efforts. On the flip side, it will be one less transition for you and baby to go through! Our favorite sippy cups to try are:
Related article: How to Transition Baby to Milk: Everything You Need to Know
8. Paced bottle feeding
We have a whole article on how to pace bottle bed a breastfed baby. Make sure to check it out Paced Feeding Explained: Who, What, Why for an explanation on what paced feeding is and why it so important for breastfed babies.
Whatever you do, try to stay as calm as possible. Many, many working moms have experienced the same exact thing and nearly all of them have babies who eventually take a bottle. There may be no rhyme or reason as to why or when your baby takes a bottle. One of our moms tried all of the above for two weeks to no avail. Two days before she was set to go back to work, her baby took a bottle like a champ! Your baby will take a bottle eventually.
Related article: Can You Refreeze Breast Milk? It Depends. Find Out How.
Your baby will not starve herself. It may take 1-3 weeks of you being back at work for your baby’s caregiver to get your baby to take a bottle, but she will not go hungry. She may end up reverse cycling (breastfeeding throughout the night when she is with you and eating less during the day) for a time, but she will not go hungry. In all likelihood, your caregiver has given babies to a bottle before. Your caregiver and baby will find their rhythm with bottles. You can also try leaving the shirt you slept in the night before with your caregiver at first so that your baby can smell you when she eats. And always remember to breathe! It will all work out and you will be able to add your own tips to an article like this soon.
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