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Baby Refusing Their Bottle? 11 Tips to Help

You feel like you’re so ready for a night away, but your baby is refusing their bottle. How can you leave them for any stretch of time if they can’t eat? Are you stuck waiting for them to wean before you get some time alone?

No! There are so many things you can try.

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While there is a lot of fear over nipple confusion, there isn’t a lot of research to support it (1). Because of this fear, it’s often recommended to hold off giving bottles to help establish breastfeeding, however holding off too long can lead to babies rejecting bottles altogether. As a compromise, I recommend offering a bottle a few weeks after breastfeeding has been established. There are things you can do (like keeping the nipple flow rate slow) to help prevent nipple preference.

Introducing the bottle early can help prevent some of the bottle refusal that creeps up later. A pump should be covered by your insurance and you can use it to pump in place of a feed. This can be a great opportunity to get a little extra sleep or step away for a while.

Change Up the Bottle

There is no way to absolutely predict which bottle a baby will take. There are a lot of marketing claims out there stating that this bottle is best or that bottle prevents spit up. The claims aren’t based on anything and are usually just marketing.

When choosing a bottle for a breastfed baby, you want to look at the nipple shape. Instead of a nipple that is wide and flat like a breast, look for one that has a gradual slope. When babies take the breast into their mouth, they take a lot in and smash it down. It ends up looking more like the gradual slope nipple. There are a few different options out there, but one good example is the Lansinoh bottles (affiliate link).

That being said, if your baby ends up preferring a bottle that isn’t “the best”, it doesn’t matter. Use whatever bottle works for your family.

Try a Different Temperature

We usually offer breast milk warmed up, because that’s how its offered at the source, but when a baby is refusing the bottle, we should try a bunch of different options. Some babies prefer cold milk from bottles. It may sound odd, but it’s similar to how we drink cow’s milk.

Taste (or Smell) Old Milk

A small percentage of people may have high lipase milk. There is nothing nutritionally wrong with high lipase milk, but the taste of the milk can change over time, especially long periods of time (like when frozen). If you notice that your milk has a soapy or metallic smell or taste after being frozen or refrigerated, you may have high lipase.

There are a few things you can do. First and foremost remember that your milk is still nutritious and safe to give to your baby, it just has a different flavor.

  • Start offering early, before 3 months of age when preferences are formed. Your baby can get used to the taste and may not mind it.
  • Offer 50% old milk with 50% new milk to dilute the taste. You can play around with these percentages.
  • Serve the milk cold or room temperature, instead of warm. It will help to mask the flavor a bit.
  • Save frozen milk for mixing with solids and use only fresh milk for bottles.
  • Scald the milk before freezing. This is a last resort measure. Scalding the milk will kill off any probiotics and will lower some vitamin content.

Switch to Bottle Mid Feed

Offer the breast first and once your baby is eating and happy, switch to the bottle. Some babies will happily transition over once they are in the zone. You want your baby to be relaxed and happy when offering the bottle so that they don’t make any negative associations.

Do not wait to offer the bottle until your baby is starving.

A cranky baby will not be able to learn a new skill and a bottle is a new skill.

Offer the Bottle When Breastfeeding Parent is Away

Have a different caregiver give the bottle. Sometimes if baby knows the breast is there, they will want it no matter what. Babies rely a lot on smell. Alternatively, some babies will want the smell of the breastfeeding parent (like a worn shirt) while taking a bottle. Every baby is different.

Sway and Feed

Babies like to move. Often we are sitting completely still while feeding to get in the best position, but some babies prefer to be bounced or swayed while they are getting fed. You can try rocking or swaying to get baby calm and then offering the bottle.

Try Feeding Drowsy or Asleep

While I don’t usually recommend feeding asleep, it can be a technique to get baby to start a bottle feed. Look for any hunger cues like turning their head or licking their lips and then offer a bottle.

Try Bottle Alternatives

If your baby is refusing bottles, you can try spoon feeding where you offer milk on a spoon or syringe feeding where you offer milk in a syringe. These techniques can work really well for smaller babies who aren’t doing well with the bottle.

Skip Bottles Altogether

If your baby is older and ready or about ready to start solids, you can skip bottles altogether and go straight to cups. They will need to be taught how to use a cup, but since you will need to wean bottles soon anyway, you can just teach them to take milk from a cup.

You can use an open cup with some assistance. Make sure the cup is small and help baby bring it to their mouth. Hold it for a couple of seconds and then bring it back down. There are many baby cups available or you can use something like a small medicine cup or even a bottle cap.

Another option is to offer milk in a straw cup. The honey bear style cup (affiliate link) works well for younger babies first learning how to drink out of a straw, because you can squeeze some of the liquid into their mouth. Eventually, they will realize they need to suck on the straw to make it work.

Baby Still Refusing Bottle?

Work with an IBCLC or infant feeding therapist. While the focus is usually breastfeeding, we are also trained to help you navigate bottle feeding as well.

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