My breastfed baby won’t take a bottle!

Congratulations!  You have been successful at getting nursing established with your baby.  This is no easy task.  I tell women all the time that even though nursing is the most natural and healthy way to feed your baby, it is not necessarily the easiest.  Now that your baby is nursing well and your supply is well established, you have begun to realize that unless you baby learns to take a bottle, you are essentially tied to him or her for every feeding until you or your child decide to end your nursing relationship.  Some babies switch between the bottle and the boob with ease.  Others, my son included, at some point decide that they would prefer the warm, snuggly nursing experience for all their feedings.  Can you blame them, really?  This often happens when a baby’s parents have introduced a bottle early on (around one or two weeks old) but haven’t been really consistently bottle feeding at least once a day on a daily basis.  With my daughter, we were very diligent about this because we knew she would be going to daycare when I returned to work at 3 months and would need to be able to take a bottle.  With my son, we were more lackadaisical about the bottle, and my husband wasn’t around at feeding times as much as he had been with my daughter.  Then at about 3 months old, my son went on a bottle strike. He would rather cry and scream for hours than take a bottle. I went into panic mode.  What was I going to do?  I needed to be away from my baby for various commitments, not to mention the possibility of  someday enjoying a night out for dinner with my husband or the girls.  I then emailed everyone I knew who had breastfed their babies.  What did I learn?  That this was very common.  Many of my friends and acquaintances told me that their baby had always refused the bottle.  This was not an acceptable answer for me.  I called my pediatrician (which I rarely do unless my child has had a fever for days on end).  Her response was “Babies can be VERY stubborn.”  We proceeded to stage an “intervention” of sorts.  The following is my advice to you on how to get your baby to take a bottle.  This worked for us, and it has worked for many others that I have advised on this matter.

My best advice is to start giving your baby a bottle when he/she is about 3-4 weeks old just to start getting everyone used to the process. Once your milk supply is well established and any of the early nursing challenges have worked themselves out, you should attempt to give one bottle every day to every other day so that your baby doesn’t get “out of the habit.”  Ideally, the person who gives the bottle should not be the nursing mom but if this is not possible, its better if mom gives the bottle than then baby does not get one at all for several days in a row. If you have fallen behind on this “schedule” as we did (because let’s face it, it’s not like when you have a newborn, you have nothing else to be doing during the day other than pumping) and your baby goes on a bottle strike, you can try these steps below.  I have found this to be successful around 3-4 months old.  I can’t say whether or not it will work later than that.  It’s worth a shot though.

  • Find someone other than yourself (the nursing mom) who can be around consistently for at least a day, maybe two and who can be the one to bottle feed the baby.  Ideally, this should be a very patient person, someone who is not going to take it personally when the baby refuses a bottle from them.  Sometimes this can be the baby’s father, sometimes he gets too frustrated.  I find that grandparents who are happy to spend time with their grandchild, no matter how cranky the baby may be, make excellent candidates.
  • Make yourself scarce and pump.  Starting from the first feeding in the morning, your designated bottle feeder should be the first person to go in to your baby in the morning and should try giving the bottle.
  • Your baby may fight it.  The bottle feeder should try giving the bottle for about 5 minutes or so.  If it is not working, take a short break and try again in about 10 minutes.
  • The bottle feeder should not sit where you normally nurse the baby.  This is a NURSING spot and your baby may become very angry that he/she is not nursing there.
  • The bottle feeder should use a shirt of yours that you wore the day before as a sort of blanket/burp cloth (let’s face it, most of our clothing doubles as a burp cloth when we are nursing anyway, right?).  Having this near the baby will be comforting and help him/her recognize your scent when its time to eat.
  • Do your very best not to give in and nurse.  In fact, go shopping.  Do something for yourself.  Just don’t forget to bring your pump.  Your baby will likely give up their boycott when they realize how hungry he/she is and decide that a bottle with your milk in it is better than no milk at all.
  • Continue this for a day or two if you have the time and assistance.
  • If you are successful at getting your baby to take bottles after this intervention, don’t lose the skill!  I recommend that someone continue to give your baby a bottle daily for at least a couple of months.  Although it is not ideal for the mom to give a bottle (and it really is twice as much work since you have to pump and feed rather than just feeding), if no one else is going to be available that day, you will have to do it yourself.
Good Luck!

2 responses

  1. All good tips, but most folks in the BF business think waiting until baby is about 4-6 weeks old, when breastfeeding is well established and trouble-free and mom’s milk production has balanced might be a better decision. The first 40 days of BFing are considered a ‘babymoon’ when all that is happening. Don’t throw a bottle in there too early and jinx a good thing up. More nursing early equals more milk production later on!

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