What to do when your baby rejects bottle feeding
When babies refuse to feed from a bottle, this can create major frustration for mums who need to leave their baby with a caregiver or need to go back to work.
What is baby bottle refusal?
Some babies refuse to feed unless they're feeding directly from their mother's breast. It's important to figure out the why, so you can figure out how to solve the issue. Here are some possible reasons:
- They don't like the feeling of the artificial teat
- The temperature of the milk might not be quite right
- You may need to replace the bottle teat to have an appropriate flow
- Your baby associates time with you with breastfeeding and don't want to take a bottle if they're with you specifically
- They don't like the taste of formula milk or defrosted EBM
Steps to avoid or overcome bottle refusal:
- Introduce the bottle at the right time
You can introduce bottles gradually, every few days rather than as a daily event in the beginning. It is generally advised not to introduce a bottle before your baby is four weeks old, or your baby might end up with nipple confusion. Conversely, introducing it too late (beyond 6 weeks) will increase the risk for bottle refusal. At the minimum, your baby should have at least 2 weeks to practise bottle feeding before you go back to work.
Another aspect of timing you need to get right is the time of day to introduce the bottle. Introduce the bottle to your baby when they are hungry but not starving, or else learning how to take the bottle may be too frustrating for them at that point as it requires concentration. Don't try feeding them before they're too hungry either, or they won't have any motivation to take the bottle.
- Try out different bottle shapes and bottle teats
If your baby is steadfastly refusing a bottle, try switching to one that is designed to mimic a mothers breast. You may have to try a few brands before you succeed, but take a look at our bottle buying guide for some tips. Pay attention to the milk flow rate as well. Slow-flow teats are good for newborns, but once they are able to drink faster, you can switch to a faster flow teat. Patience is key here.
- Have someone else do the feeding
Because your baby may associate mummy-time with breastfeeding time, it may be wise to get Dad, a caregiver, or a grandparent to introduce the bottle. If they know that breastfeeding isn't an option, a baby will soon learn to take the bottle if they're hungry. You may even need to leave the room for a while so your baby doesn't sense you're around.
- Check that all other conditions are just right
All babies are different: some prefer warm milk, some prefer room temperature milk, some even like theirs a little cold. Experiment to see what your baby prefers. You may even need to warm the bottle teat under some warm water so it mimics body temperature. Aside from the condition of the milk and the bottle, babies are affected by their external environment, so make sure you go somewhere quiet and remain calm. You may even need to change the location in which they are bottle-fed from where they are regularly breastfed, or else they will be expecting a breast to feed from and refuse a bottle. For example, move to another room, or instant of holding them in your arms, use an infant pillow as they may associate cradling arms with breastfeeding.
Many parents go through the frustrations of bottle refusal, so you're not alone. This tends to happen around the 3-4 month mark, and many times, faster flow teats do the trick. Be patient as the transition may take a while, but keep trying! If you have exhausted your options, check with a doctor or lactation specialist to examine what else could be the problem.
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