My sister breastfed my nephew for a year prior to my daughter being born, so I felt like I was well-versed in how to get a breastfed baby to drink a bottle. We followed all the rules: I didn’t introduce the bottle until she was 5 or 6 weeks old, we used pumped breast milk, and my husband would give her a bottle every morning before going to work. Everything was going beautifully.
And then around 3 months old, it all came to a screeching halt. Our bedroom was connected to the nursery by an open doorway, and when my husband would try to give her the bottle, he said she would refuse it and then look directly towards our room, knowing I was in there. We tried to be persistent – we’re both pretty stubborn, after all – but she would not budge.
For 3 more months, we would periodically try the bottle again to see if something had magically changed, but of course, it hadn’t. I broke down when she was 6 months old and decided to let her win. “It’s fine. I’ll just never leave her side until I’m done breastfeeding.” So that’s what I did. To be fair, I work from home, so this wasn’t a huge challenge on most days. But every mom needs a break every once in awhile – a dinner out, a shopping trip with friends – and all I could get was the small window between her feedings and a frantic rush to get back home before she needed to eat again.
It’s a huge weight on your shoulders when your breastfed baby won’t take a bottle. Why does this happen so often to breastfed babies?
Reasons for Bottle Refusal from Breastfed Babies
Nipple issues. The baby either doesn’t know how to suck on a bottle nipple or has a gag reflex when he tries to. A bottle nipple is typically much longer and firmer than your nipple; come to think of it, a bottle nipple is shaped nothing like a female nipple. For this reason, when your baby takes a bottle nipple into his mouth, the feeling is completely different than what he’s used to, and this can cause him to reject it.
Change is hard. Let’s face it – why would a breastfed baby want to take a bottle when he could instead get to snuggle with his mom and drink his milk the way he’s most comfortable? Like all humans, babies are creatures of habit, and introducing any new thing into your baby’s life is always challenging.
The good news is most breastfed babies CAN successfully learn to drink from a bottle if you keep trying and follow some time-tested tips.
6 Tricks to Get Your Breastfed Baby to Take a Bottle
1. Pass the buck. Get someone other than you to feed the baby – your partner, your mom, your next-door neighbor. Anyone but you. You may even have to leave the house so the baby doesn’t smell you or sense that you’re there.
2. Time it right. Don’t wait until the baby is famished to give him a bottle. Although it might seem like this would be a good strategy (“If he’s starving, he’ll be happy to get milk any way he can get it!”), once he’s hangry, he’s only going to want his mom and the milk he’s familiar with. So, make sure to time it just right so he’s ready to eat, but still in a good mood.
3. Get in position. Try different feeding positions. Have the person feeding the baby start by holding him close against the body, similar to how you hold him while breastfeeding. If that doesn’t work, try a completely different position. Some people have success placing the baby in an outward-facing baby carrier and walking around, while others swear that putting the baby in a reclined bouncer chair is the best option.
4. Distract him. You don’t want him focusing on the fact that he isn’t getting fed by his sweet mama, so use whatever you can to distract him. You could try a Baby Einstein video, the toys attached to the bouncer chair, or just a slow stroll around the house.
5. Heat it up. Believe it or not, heating the milk to be just a touch warmer than you would normally heat it can bring you success. We’re talking “warm” as in a little bit warmer than room temperature – nothing crazy.
6. Try different bottles. If the bottle you have isn’t working, get a bottle that’s designed specifically for breastfed babies. Some bottles, like the Bare Air-Free Perfe-Latch bottle or the Lansinoh mOmma bottle, have nipples and features that mimic a real breast so your baby is less likely to reject it. You might have to try a few before you find one that your baby likes, but only purchase one at a time and give it a fair shot so you don’t break the bank.
As with most things, persistence and consistency are key. If you keep trying and finally get your baby to drink from a bottle, make sure you continue to give him a bottle 1-2 times a week so he doesn’t regress the next time you try to leave the house.
Have you had success getting your picky breastfed baby to drink from a bottle? We’d love to hear your stories about what worked for you!
About Katie Stansberry
Katie Stansberry is a work-from-home mom of two sweet girls and the creator of Breastfeeding Bliss. After struggling at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey, she wanted to create a happy place where breastfeeding moms could find practical tips, positive inspiration, and the newest and best breastfeeding products. On her "Back to Bliss" breastfeeding blog, she shares her personal stories and tips for making breastfeeding an easier and more enjoyable experience.