Bottle Refusal: How to Get Baby to Take a Bottle Quickly!

How to Get Your Stubborn Breastfed Baby to Take A Bottle

Babies can develop preferences just like adults. If you have a breastfed baby that refuses to take a bottle, you know the frustration this can cause. 

You may have started out breastfeeding on demand and now it is time to go back to work. In this case, it is crucial that baby learns to take a bottle.

On the other hand, you may just want to share the baby feeding responsibilities with your partner.

Whichever scenario you resonate with, here are some actionable tips to help your baby take a bottle.

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1. Remove Yourself from the Picture

This one is for you, mom. The bond between a mother and her baby is obvious and well known to all. 

Because of this incredible bond, especially when it comes to their favorite act of comfort, removing yourself from the feeding equation can help your baby focus on the new task of accepting a bottle.

Allow your spouse or family member to take over a couple of feedings a day while you leave the house. This may cause some anxiety at first for both of you, but it is important that baby begins to understand mom is not always available.

Whoever is taking over the task of feeding baby from a bottle should remember to stay calm and patient as baby may get very upset. It may bring baby more comfort to hold them in a familiar breastfeeding position such as cradle hold.

Always introduce the bottle gently and slowly, never use force.

2. Use A Breastfeeding-Friendly Bottle

It is important to look for a bottle that will have a familiar nipple shape and feel when latched. With that said, it is not always necessary to only look for a bottle shaped like a breast.

Nipple shape is what matters most when choosing a bottle.

Baby bottles comparison for breastfed babies.

These Lansinoh Breastfeeding Bottles are shaped with a nipple that gradually gets larger at the base. This shape will encourage baby to latch more deeply and avoid undoing all of the best breastfeeding latch progress you two have made.

When choosing a bottle for your breastfed baby, you may also need to consider using an anti-colic bottle if baby regularly experiences gas after a bottle feeding.

These Dr. Brown’s Anti-Colic Baby Bottles are a consumer favorite for this purpose.

Also, ensure baby begins learning with a slow flow nipple. This way, baby will not be flooded with an abundance of milk they are not accustomed to.

3. Choose the Right Time

Try and wait until baby is at least 4 weeks old and breastfeeding has been established to avoid nipple confusion or the opposite problem, baby refusing to take the breast.

If you plan to return to work and are looking for instruction on how to protect your milk supply, the timing and practice of getting baby to take a bottle, storing milk etc. this back to work class is worth grabbing for yourself.

The first several bottle introductions should be done at a time when baby is relaxed and content. This is for the purpose of nurturing a positive experience associated with a bottle.

If baby is usually happiest after a nursing session, try having someone else in the family introduce them to the bottle at that time. 

Try adding a little bit of breast milk in the bottle (an ounce or two) and on the nipple in order to entice baby to latch.

4. Feed on Demand

You’ve heard the saying, they’ll eat when they’re hungry. Simple, yet usually true. Although, you never want to wait until a baby is starving before you offer a bottle.

Look for your baby’s subtle hunger cues and then offer them the bottle.

Baby hunger cues might look something like this:

8 circular photos of baby's displaying different hunger cues.

4. Tailor the Milk

If your baby is still refusing the bottle even after trying the recommended versions discussed earlier (and then some), the milk may need to be experimented with.

As an example, some babies might prefer cold or even room temperature breast milk from a bottle VS warm milk.

If you are using frozen breast milk, taste it to identify if there is high lipase which can cause the milk to taste metallic. Some babies don’t mind high lipase, but many will adamantly refuse to drink it.

This can be corrected sometimes by boiling the breast milk before it is frozen. Or, by adding a drop of alcohol-free vanilla flavoring.

If you are combination feeding your baby formula from a bottle in between nursing, you may need to mix breast milk and formula together at first.  

How to prepare formula in 5 steps infographic.

However, you should never re-feed a leftover bottle of formula and breast milk. This is because formula and breast milk are completely different organisms. One is living, one is not.

5. Time and Patience 

We touched on this point a little bit already, but understanding that this process might not happen in one try is imperative.

Always offer your baby a bottle when they are calm, never force a bottle on a screaming baby.

Just because their mouth is open – does not mean that is the time to shove it in.

If your baby is crying and upset at the approach, soothe and comfort them back to calm before attempting another try.

Getting your baby familiar and comfortable with taking a bottle will require repetition and patience.

6. Switch Up the Position

As suggested earlier, some babies may feel more at ease to accept their bottle in a familiar nursing position. Such as, cradle hold.

However, you may want to experiment with other feeding positions to find the best fit for the occasion.

Some babies prefer to be facing out so they can watch all the action taking place around them. In this case, a little bit of distraction may work in your favor. 

Here are some common breastfeeding positions you could try and get creative with when introducing the bottle:

Breastfeeding positions cheat sheet in colors pink and gray, labeled with each position next to the image.

7. Try Moving Around

If you have a baby who likes to be rocked or bounced, it may be worth doing some moving around while attempting to feed with the bottle.

The hope, is that baby won’t be as honed-in on the lack of breast because there’s so many other more interesting things happening around her.

8. Use Mom’s Scent

Having something smelling of mom for baby to snuggle with during a bottle feeding may help build trust and familiarity.

This could work with a t-shirt, favorite throw or even her pillow.

9. Try the Nipple Only

Instead of trying to get your baby to drink from the bottle right off the bat, try introducing her to just the nipple.

Take the nipple and rub it on baby’s mouth, gums and inside her cheeks. This will help baby get used to the feeling of it.

Once your baby is comfortable with that, see if she will suck on the nipple. You can insert your finger into the back and tickle it on her tongue to encourage her to suck.

10. Bottle-Less Feeding 

When all else fails, a spoon or small cup may also be used to feed baby. Keep baby upright and very gingerly bring the vessel with milk up to her top lip and allow her to set the pace.

Be very careful not to dump any milk down baby’s throat to avoid choking.

Related Reading:  Best Vessels to Catch Leaking Breast Milk

Breastfed Baby Bottle Refusal Summary 

There are plenty of steps you can take to encourage baby to take a bottle in order to prepare for heading back to work, daycare or even a planned baby-free trip.

Time and patience are key when it comes to getting a breastfed baby to accept a bottle, never force the process.

Choosing a baby bottle that has a natural nipple shape is more important than a bottle shaped liked a breast. Try and get baby used to the nipple before trying to feed from the bottle.

Having someone other than mom bottle feed will lead to quicker success.

Related Baby Feeding Reading:

Tips to Try for Getting Baby to Take A Bottle