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At our Healthy Horizons Breastfeeding Centers, we have parents come in and the mom plans to go back to work in a few days but baby is refusing the bottle. Sometimes baby has taken the bottle when he/she was 4 weeks old, but now at 3-4 months old they refuse the bottle and mom is in in a panic because she has to return to work on Monday. The parents and grandparents come in and ask what should they do. Unfortunately, there is no magic trick to get the baby to take the bottle, especially since babies all have different personalities, dispositions, and preferences. However, with some planning ahead, there are some things you can do to make the process of having baby take the bottle easier.
Mark the calendar for when mom is going back to work so you can plan for when the baby will be with a caregiver so they have time to adjust to a bottle. It is best to introduce the bottle after mom’s milk supply has been established, typically when the baby is 3-4 weeks old. This is a good time to introduce the bottle because babies are more open to it at this age than when they are older. Planning ahead allows you to take it slow and gives the process plenty of time if you find your baby won’t take the bottle!
Babies can’t be rushed and they may need time to get used to the bottle. You’ll need to take it slow and easy with a baby that refuses the bottle. If the baby cries and pushes the bottle away, back off, comfort them, and try again. Try a few more times and then let it go for the time being. If you plan to breastfeed, wait at least 5-10 minutes so the baby doesn’t associate refusing the bottle with the gratification of nursing. After the baby has nursed, you can try again in a hour or two when the baby is alert and receptive, and not frantic with hunger. You can also try to offer the bottle when baby is sleepy or in a mood to suck recreationally. Or start out breastfeeding, and as baby becomes sleepy, slip the bottle into their mouth.
When offering the bottle to baby, don’t be in a breastfeeding position. Hold the baby in a different position, such as semi-upright. You can try using a car seat and face the baby. Or have the baby on your lap against you so they are facing outwards. You can also try giving the bottle in a baby sling or carrier.
Try to have dad or another caregiver offer the bottle when mom is not around. Babies know when mom is around, so you may need to leave the house for several hours while dad or grandma gives the bottle!
Try offering the bottle with a half ounce in between feedings when the baby is not so hungry. Then the baby is being taught to take a bottle, and not getting angry because they are not getting the breast! You can also try offering the bottle at other times of the day or night.
Some babies are sensitive to the temperature of their milk. You may be making the milk warmer or cooler than your baby likes. Some babies like their breastmilk from a bottle room temperature, while others like it very warm. Try changing the temperature of the milk and see if your baby likes it.
To make the nipple and milk flow more like the breast, use a wide slow flow newborn nipple. Many moms desperate to get their baby to take a bottle buy one of every bottle available. You can try different bottles, but keep the nipple, bottle, and feeding technique the same for a while before trying something new. Give enough time for the baby to get used to a particular bottle. Constantly changing positions, nipples, and bottles can make it confusing and frustrating for the baby.
Babies around age 2-3 months start showing their preferences to what they like or don’t like. Even if a baby has been taking a bottle daily since the beginning, they may decide to suddenly refuse the bottle. It’s not that they have forgotten, but the baby is showing their preferences. Be persistent in offering the bottle. Typically in a few days the baby will resume taking the bottle again. At daycare, babies may take in only a few ounces during the day, but will make up for it at night with mom. What is more difficult is for mom and dad to have patience and not stress out!
If you are still having trouble getting your baby to take the bottle, especially if the baby suddenly refuses it after taking it for a while, you may want to check with your pediatrician to rule out any other issues. You can also visit a Lactation Consultant to address your concerns and get advice and a plan specific to you and your baby. Healthy Horizons offers Lactation Consultations at our Breastfeeding Centers or at your home, you can schedule appointments online. You can also drop by our Breastfeeding Centers to find out how our lactation consultants and support groups can help your baby take the bottle.