Breastfed babies are notoriously picky about the bottle they take if they drink from one at all! Some parents no trouble convincing their baby to drink a bottle of formula or expressed breast milk. Other parents, such as myself, struggle to get their baby to take a bottle.
My third child was the pickiest. He didn’t take a bottle well until he was eight months old! There were days I would leave, and he would refuse to drink for hours. It is a difficult thing for parents and babies to experience.
Breastfed babies are used to their mother’s breast. They prefer the shape, texture and overall feel of their mother rather than a bottle. It is hard to blame them; babies have a natural instinct to breastfeed. A bottle doesn’t feel natural to them. They prefer to get their milk from the tap.
However, there are plenty of times when a mom will have to leave her baby. She may work outside of the home. Parents need to take dates away to keep a secure and stable marriage. Or, she may want to take a hot shower and baby gets hungry. Whatever the reason is, children need to learn to take a bottle.
Here are some tips to get your baby to take a bottle.
1. Find the Right Bottle for Your Baby
Your child is picky, and he probably won’t like just any old bottle you purchase from the store. I tried over six different kinds before my baby finally decided one was acceptable enough for him to drink sometimes.
The first thing you should look at is the shape of the nipple. A narrow, long nipple may not be what your baby likes. Think about the shape of your breast. Most breastfed babies need a wider nipple that reminds them of the areola. Babies are used to latching onto an entire area surrounding it rather than just the nipple. Find a bottle that they can do this with as well.
Second, the texture of the nipple will matter as well. Your flesh is soft. A harder nipple may not be acceptable for your baby. Soft silicone is typically the best recommendation. You also want to consider the flow of the nipple. Bottles can allow milk out at very fast rate. Breastfed babies aren’t used to this! Always start off with a slow nipple, even for older kids.
A great tip for mothers is to learn about paced feedings. It is a way to help your baby drink slowly from the bottle. The practice lets your baby rest briefly while bottle feeding, mimicking the natural feel of being at the breast. Mothers have several let-downs, and the baby can slow down in between them.
Third, you will need vents in the bottle. Breastfed babies take in less air than bottle feeding babies. They are more likely to gulp in air, creating tummy aches and extra gas. To prevent this for your child, check out their anti-colic or anti-gas features. You don’t want to create an association of a tummy ache with the bottle, further driving your baby away from taking it.
Fourth, search for no-drip bottles. Your child isn’t used to getting milk out unless he is drinking at the breast. Many bottles will continue to drip even if the baby isn’t sucking at the nipple. Your child is likely to gag or choke, pulling away from the bottle if he experiences too much dripping.
Yes, you may need to purchase three or four to see if there is one that your baby prefers over the others. Once you find it, get a bunch!
2. Don’t Offer Formula at First
You may plan to switch to formula entirely or not at all. However, formula does have a different taste and texture than the breast milk your child is used to drinking. He is likely to turn his nose up at the bottle and the formula if both are unknown to him.
Instead, plan to pump each day to get your baby used to taking the bottle. There are plenty of great breast pumps on the market. If your child takes breast milk from the bottle successfully, you may want to try mixing formula and breast milk, just as you would if you were transitioning to cow’s milk.
Doctors recommend that mothers breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months of their life. If you pass this age, you are free to introduce solids or supplement with formula. Breastfeeding until 12 months old or beyond is ideal; it provides your baby with all of the essential nutrients.
3. Breastfeed and Then Offer the Bottle
When children are hungry, they want to drink right away. A breastfed baby has a strong rooting reflex. Don’t stand in their way! They want to nurse immediately. A hungry baby is a cranky baby, and you don’t want to try to introduce anything new to an unhappy child. Your chances of success go down the drain.
Instead, let your baby nurse! If he typically breastfeeds for 15 minutes, let him drink for 10. Then, burp him and calmly offer him a bottle of breast milk. He may fuss at first. Don’t shove the bottle into his mouth! He is likely to gag. Try spraying some milk onto his lips and let him latch. Remember, your milk is body temperature so don’t offer him cold milk!
4. Enlist a Helper
Breastfed babies expect mom to put them on the breast and let them nurse. They get highly agitated and frustrated when their beloved boob doesn’t show up. Instead, mom is trying to shove this disgusting bottle into their mouth. Your baby might be rather upset with you and the entire process.
You are more likely to have success if someone other than you gives the baby a bottle. Ask your spouse, your parents, a friend or even a sibling to try to offer baby his bottle. Ideally, the person has bottle fed a baby before, so they know the ins and outs. You will want to leave the area. Take a walk, sit outside on the swing or take a hot shower. If your baby thinks you are around, he probably will just protest until he gets the breast.
5. Hold Your Baby a Different Way
My baby knows that when he is laid down in the typical “cradle” hold, he is going to get to nurse. He gets so excited that he starts to kick and, sometimes, he claps his hands. If I were to lay him in this position and offer a bottle, he would more than likely through a baby tantrum.
Children are great with associations. They associate positions and places with breastfeeding (my baby thinks that nursing should only happen in the recliner. They may associate story time with naps. He may associate baths and lotion time with bedtime. It is in their nature to get used to routines and associations.
However, if you are trying to offer a bottle, you don’t want to use anything that he would think is an association with breastfeeding. Sit in a different chair. Hold him in various position. Don’t give him his typical stuffed animal. Eliminating these items may help him not think about nursing and focus on the bottle full of delicious breast milk.
6. Try a Spoon or Medicine Dropper
There are some babies who flat out refuse to take a bottle. They would rather starve forever (or until mama comes home) than take that disgusting bottle that dad is waving at them. What else is there to try?
It is time to think outside of the box. You could try to offer a sippy cup early. There are a lot of soft spout cups recommended for babies four months old and up. You could try to get your child, even if they are younger, to drink out of it. Sometimes, if you convince your baby to drink out of something, it opens up the door to taking a bottle. Ultimately, my son didn’t start taking a bottle well until he was used to a sippy cup at lunch time.
Another last resort is a spoon. If your baby is calm, try offering spoons full of breast milk. They can suck or lap at it. Once your child is used to the spoon, take the time to re-introduce bottles of milk.
Plenty of mothers have had success with medicine droppers! Fill it up with breastmilk and squirt it into his mouth. He might eventually suck on the dropper himself. The purpose of these attempts isn’t to depend on them forever. No one wants to feed a baby five ounces of breast milk from a medicine dropper!
Trying other methods helps your baby understand there are other ways he can get milk rather than just from mom. Many moms who can use these methods can eventually get their baby to take a bottle without a fuss.
7. Avoid Offering Bottles Too Soon
Even though you want your baby to take a bottle, it is important to wait for the right time to offer the first one. When parents introduce artificial nipples to their child too soon, they run the risk of creating “nipple confusion.”
Nipple confusion, either from a bottle or a pacifier, is most common in the first days and weeks of life. The longer you wait to introduce a bottle, the less likely you are to have nipple confusion issues. It is harder to fix nipple confusion than it is to get an older baby to take a bottle.
Bottle feeding and breastfeeding are different. Breastfeeding requires your baby to use his tongue and jaw together rhythmically. He has to curve his tongue under the areola, flattening and elongating the nipple. The back of his tongue forms a groove for milk to flow down his throat.
You will want to offer a bottle between two and four weeks old. Sometimes, waiting TOO long, after six weeks old, can result in a baby who hates the bottle. Once you have established breastfeeding and have a great latch, it is okay to offer a bottle a few times a week, but no more than once per day. This method allows your baby to stay familiar with the bottle, without getting too confused.
8. Be Patient
Mothers easily get frustrated and worried when your baby won’t take a bottle if you work tomorrow. Mothers should start the process of introducing a bottle two to three weeks before returning. If you don’t have to go back to work, you have plenty of time to get your baby used to a bottle.
Try every day one or two of the methods listed above. Your baby may take a bottle with ease. If so, just offer one a few times per week to keep them familiar.
If your baby doesn’t take it quickly, keep continuing to offer it. Try to give them a bottle while you walk around the room. Look out to the window together. They may be so interested in the colors that they latch on and drink without a fuss. Wear your baby in a carrier and offer a bottle.
Even though most babies prefer warm milk, experiment with temperatures. Since it isn’t from the breast, your baby may be okay drinking cold milk. He may like it only lukewarm.
Older babies sometimes like to hold the bottle by himself. However, it is not recommended to bottle prop. It can lead to choking, so avoid it!
Getting your breastfed baby to take a bottle can be frustrating. Many babies will adamantly refuse to drink out of it no matter what you try. Some parents have to let their kids drink out of a cup if mom is gone.
Luckily, most babies will eventually take it. The most important thing is to find the right bottle. Using a bottle that your baby hates is a surefire way to guarantee he won’t take it. Find a bottle that your baby loves and start introducing him to it as soon as he is accustomed to breastfeeding.