What if your breastfed baby won’t take a bottle? Don’t be discouraged! Learn 10 tips to help you overcome bottle refusal.
When you’re breastfeeding and planning on heading back to work soon, planning to send your baby to a daycare, or planning to be away from your baby for any other reason, baby will need to start taking a bottle of your breastmilk.
Bottle feeding might also be needed if your baby needs formula or supplements in addition to your breastmilk, or if you suddenly need a medicine that makes it unsafe to breastfeed and must switch to formula.
And being able to bottle feed baby your breastmilk for any reason gives you freedom and convenience when you need it.
Crucially, bottle feeding may also help you introduce babies to allergy-causing foods to your little one early and often. Recent landmark studies show that frequently introducing common allergy-causing foods as early as 4 months of age helps prevent future food allergies, and some new solutions let you mix powders made from these foods into baby’s bottle of breastmilk or formula.
But what if baby won’t take the bottle? Don’t be discouraged. Today, we’ve gathered 10 tips to help you overcome baby’s bottle refusal.
When can I start bottle feeding?
The timing of when you introduce a breastfed baby to a bottle may play a role in whether baby accepts or refuses it. Introducing a bottle within the first 2-4 weeks of life is ideal, and increases the chances baby will accept the bottle. But if you wait to introduce the bottle until after 6 weeks of life, there’s a greater chance that baby will refuse it. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to introduce a bottle after 6 weeks of age, though.
Why might baby refuse a bottle?
If baby refuses the bottle, the first step in getting them to accept the bottle is figuring out why they don’t want to take a bottle. Here are some reasons why a breastfed baby may refuse the bottle:
- Baby knows your breast is nearby, and won’t take the bottle because they’d prefer to nurse.
- Baby wants to be in a more comfortable position to take the bottle.
- Baby doesn’t like how the bottle nipple feels compared to your breast.
Figuring out why baby doesn’t want to take the bottle will help you adjust the bottle-feeding routine and encourage baby to take the bottle.
Now, let’s go over 10 tips that will help you modify your bottle-feeding routine, and hopefully overcome bottle refusal.
For more on bottle refusal, check out this video from What To Expect:
Tips for overcoming bottle refusal in breastfed babies
1. Let baby accept the bottle—don’t force it on them.
Don’t place the nipple into baby’s mouth when they aren’t ready. Instead, encourage baby to latch onto the bottle like they latch onto your breast.
Touch the bottle nipple to baby’s lips and nose (or brush it against baby’s lips and nose), and wait for baby to open their mouth wide to accept the bottle. This opening of the mouth is called the rooting reflex, and it’s the same behavior baby uses for latching at the breast.
2. Try a slow intro to the bottle.
Instead of offering the bottle all at once, try bringing the detached bottle nipple to baby’s mouth first.
- Touch the nipple to baby’s mouth to encourage rooting (encourage baby to open their mouth to prepare to suck).
- Then, rub the bottle nipple along baby’s gums and inner cheeks. This will help baby get accustomed to the feeling and texture of the nipple.
- If baby accepts the nipple, move to the next step, but if baby doesn’t like the nipple, try again later or on the next day.
The next step is to encourage baby to suck the nipple, but without milk.
- Place your finger in the inside of the detached bottle nipple, touch the nipple to their mouth to encourage rooting, and wait for baby to open their mouth.
- Then, gently rub the nipple on baby’s tongue.
Once baby is used to the nipple, pour a few drops of milk into the detached nipple and see if baby will suck.
- Offer the milk a few drops at a time, and stop if baby shows they aren’t interested.
- If baby wants to keep drinking, it’s time to offer the whole bottle with milk.
3. Leave the room (or house) and have someone else feed baby.
Your baby may not want the bottle when they see you in the room, because they associate you with the comfort of nursing. They may even be reluctant to take the bottle when they smell you nearby. So, try leaving the room, and have your partner or another caregiver offer the bottle.
Or, have someone else offer the bottle when you’re outside the house. (Sometimes you’ll need to be outside the house completely for baby to take the bottle).
4. Associate bottle feeding with breastfeeding by using the same “cues.”
Try these ways to associate the bottle with breastfeeding:
- Try holding and cuddling baby in the same way you usually do during breastfeeding.
- Keep the same skin-to-skin contact when bottle-feeding to ease your child.
- If you sing a certain song during breastfeeding, use that same song when you offer the bottle.
- You could also hold a stuffed animal, blanket, or other comfort object during breastfeeding, then have a caregiver offer that same comfort object during a bottle feed.
- Or, you could sleep with a burp cloth or blanket so it smells like you, then wrap it around the bottle when your partner or a caregiver offers it to baby.
5. Try a different feeding position.
Baby might want to be positioned more comfortably to take the bottle.
The position baby finds most comfortable for bottle feeding is often different than their preferred breastfeeding position.
Every baby is different, so try several different bottle feeding positions and see if baby will accept the bottle from a new position.
(Whichever position you choose, you need to hold the bottle yourself. Never prop a bottle!)
Here are some suggestions:
- Try a more upright position, but one where baby is still somewhat reclined.
- Hold, or have your partner or a caregiver hold, baby so baby’s back is leaning on the adult’s chest and baby can look around the room.
- Sit baby in a stroller or bouncy seat.
6. Distract baby during feeding.
Take baby outside, walk around as you hold them, gently bounce or sway them, or try distracting baby with a toy or mobile during the feed. You could also sing to baby as a distraction, or play music as you offer the bottle.
7. Adjust the temperature of the milk or the bottle nipple.
Body temperature milk is usually best to get baby to drink from a bottle, as it’s the same temperature they would drink while breastfeeding. But that’s not true of all babies. Some babies prefer warm milk from the bottle, and others like cold milk better.
Changing the temperature of the bottle nipple may also help baby accept the bottle. Try warming the bottle nipple under warm water. Or, if baby is teething, you could chill the bottle nipple in the fridge before a feed.
8. Offer the bottle after the breast, or as a “snack.”
Is baby frustrated when you offer the bottle because they’d rather nurse from your breast? Offer the breast first, then offer a bottle for “dessert” if they’re still hungry. Or, offer breastfeeding “meals” with bottle feeding “snacks” in between. Offering the bottle when baby is not at their hungriest helps curb frustration and make it a better experience for you both.
9. Try a different bottle.
You may have to try different bottles and nipples before you find the one baby prefers. This is because a bottle nipple and a breast nipple are very different, and usually require baby’s mouth muscles to work differently to suck the milk.
To encourage baby to accept the bottle, choosing a bottle made for breastfed babies should help. A breastfeeding bottle will mimic the feel, nipple shape, and milk flow of your own breast. This type of bottle will have a slower milk flow and a nipple that allows for a deep latch. It will also require baby to use the same muscles and movements as they use for nursing.
Baby may also prefer a different nipple mouthfeel. So, if the original bottle nipple is rigid, try a softer one (and vice versa).
Before trying different bottle options, though, make sure you try several other techniques to overcome bottle refusal. Modify your feeding technique first—don’t immediately rush to buy new bottles.
10. Stay persistent, and be patient!
If baby still won’t take the bottle, don’t fret. Just keep exposing them to the bottle once every day or once every few days. (This should be enough to keep the bottle in the picture, but not so frequently that you appear to be pressuring them). With the help of the other techniques we’ve mentioned, chances are they’ll warm up to the bottle eventually.
All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.