If you’re having trouble bottle-feeding your infant, rest assured that you are far from alone. Around
If your baby has been breastfeeding, trying to introduce a bottle can also introduce some challenges. Likewise, changes to the formula or breast milk you’re giving them or the bottle you’re using can lead to difficulties even for experienced bottle-fed babies.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends delaying the introduction of foods other than breast milk until your baby is around 6 months old, suggesting exclusive breastfeeding before that time. However that’s not always realistic and you may find yourself introducing the bottle at any time during the first year.
Additionally, formula isn’t the only reason to use a bottle. Many breastfeeding parents want to incorporate bottle-feeding of breast milk for flexibility. The breastfeeding advocacy organization La Leche League suggests waiting until your breastfeeding baby is 3 to 4 weeks old before introducing a bottle.
Whenever you begin using bottles, it can be extremely frustrating trying to feed a baby who stubbornly refuses feeds. But with dedication, experimentation, patience, and love, you can eventually acclimate your baby to bottle-feeding.
Since babies can’t communicate clearly, parents and caregivers are left wondering and guessing why their baby refuses bottle-feeding. The following reasons are some of the most common things to look out for if your baby refuses the bottle:
- Your baby was recently weaned and wants to continue breastfeeding.
- Your baby isn’t hungry enough to want feeding.
- Your baby is feeling sick, colicky, or otherwise unwell enough to feed.
- Your baby is being held in an uncomfortable position.
- Your baby doesn’t like the temperature, flavor, or texture of the milk.
- Your baby doesn’t like the texture or feel of the bottle.
Depending on your previous experience with feeding you may be able to figure out the specific reasons why they’re refusing the bottle. Many times, knowing why they refuse can give you better insight into figuring out how to fix the problem.
Some of the most common and effective things you can try to help your baby accept bottle-feeding include:
- Slowly, consistently, and gradually transition from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding.
- Wait until your baby is sufficiently hungry before feeding.
- Try changing the bottle size and shape, the nipple, or other aspects of the bottle to see what your baby responds to.
- Experiment with the temperature of the milk or formula. Breast milk is lukewarm, so make sure the bottle isn’t too warm or cool.
- If your baby is teething, try changing the temperature of the milk (teething babies sometimes prefer cold milk), massaging their gums, or otherwise helping them with the pain of new teeth poking through.
- Hold your baby in a different feeding position and see what they respond to.
- Allow someone else to handle the feeding. This can be especially helpful during a transition from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding.
Before changing the formula you’re using you may want to talk to your pediatrician. There are different types of formula customized to different needs, but too many changes or certain types of formula can cause other challenges.
More tips to try
In addition to the list of possible remedies above, it is important to try to have a calm and consistent approach to bottle-feeding. Sometimes, your own frustrations with bottle-feeding can affect the infant and make it even harder for them to change.
In general, try to follow these behavioral tips for yourself when bottle-feeding a fussy baby:
- Maintain a comforting routine around mealtime.
- Avoid distractions, such as media, music, and toys when bottle-feeding.
- Feed your child at consistent time intervals of 3 to 4 hours.
- Stay calm and consistent. Don’t become angry, anxious, or overly excited with your feeding child.
- Limit mealtimes to 30 minutes.
- Try to avoid frustration during feeds. Consider having another caregiver offer the bottle if you need a break.
While it is normal for babies to sometimes refuse a bottle, there are some instances where chronic refusal to feed can be indicative of an eating disorder or an illness that requires medical attention.
Getting enough food is absolutely essential for a growing baby. If you think your baby is experiencing a feeding disorder making it difficult for them to gain weight, you should see a doctor immediately. Feeding disorders in early childhood are an important health issue.
In the short term, babies with feeding disorders will experience nutritional deficiency and weight loss (or inadequate weight gain), but in the long term, your baby can experience growth deficits, cognitive functioning problems, stunted neurodevelopment, and behavioral or emotional impairment.
Another time to talk to your baby’s doctor is if your baby refuses to eat due to an illness or pain. Call your doctor right away if in addition to refusing the bottle your baby is showing any of the following symptoms:
- constant crying
- difficulty breathing
Consult with a doctor to determine whether there are any illnesses or physiological issues you are unaware of that might play a part in your child’s fussy eating.
Feeding difficulties are common problems in infants and toddlers. Don’t be too worried if your baby is struggling with the transition to bottle-feeding.
There are many different approaches you can take to fixing the problem, and if you are nervous or worried about any of your child’s eating habits, contact your doctor immediately.
With consistency, determination, and lots of attention paid to your baby, you can help them overcome their obstacles and anxieties around bottle-feeding.