What to Do When a Breast-Fed Baby Won't Take the Bottle

Medically reviewed by Karen Richardson Gill, MD on March 3, 2016Written by Tanya Snyder on March 3, 2016
Baby Won't Take the Bottle

When your breast is the source of all comfort, nutrition, and closeness for your baby, it can make you feel like the best mom in the world. But when you need someone else to take over, it can feel like a trap.

Maybe you’re going back to work, or maybe you’re just going stir-crazy and need to get out of the house for a few hours. Your baby is going to need to learn to drink from a bottle so someone else can feed them. This is going to be easy, right? Babies love bottles!

Your hungry, screaming baby begs to differ. They’ve got “accept no substitutions” written all over their red, scrunched-up little face.

This doesn’t mean you need to quit your job and stay chained to your child 24/7. Coaxing a baby to take a bottle can take some time and trial and error, but it can be done. Here are some tips.

Remember: Timing Is Everything

Lactation consultants advise parents not to introduce the bottle until 4 weeks, for fear of “nipple confusion.” But don’t wait too long, either. Your baby could get so used to the breast that they reject the bottle.

Four to 6 weeks is a good window of opportunity. If you’ve missed it, all is not lost, though. You might just need to try a few more of the tricks on this list.  

Start a bottle-feeding session when your baby is calm and happy. It’s important that they’re not too hungry. If they’re starving, upset about something else, or desperate to nurse for comfort, they’ll have little patience for the change.

Step Back, Mama

Babies can get frustrated when the breast is so close and yet, so far. If your baby is resisting taking a bottle from you, it might be that your presence is reminding them of the first choice option they’re not getting.

Leave the room, or better yet, get out of the house altogether. Let daddy, grandpa, or the nanny try giving them the bottle without the temptation of your boobs in the vicinity.

Experiment with Bottles

This part can be time-consuming and expensive, but many moms can attest that trial and error to find the right bottle is essential.

Some babies will only take a bottle and nipple that closely resemble a breast. But finding the exact configuration for your baby can still take some work. The bottle that proved miraculous for your friend’s baby might not be the golden ticket for yours.

If you’re having trouble, look beyond the popular silicone nipples and try latex. Some babies prefer those.

Go with the Flow

It’s not just the shape that matters. A fast flow could cause your baby to choke. Try a slow-flow, or even a no-drip bottle that only releases liquid when the baby is actively sucking.

Warm It Up

You probably already tried this, but you warmed up the bottle, right? To body temperature?

Don't Think You're Fooling Anyone

Some babies might get irritated if you try to replicate the breast-feeding experience in hopes that they won’t notice they’re not getting a real breast.

If you’re getting pushback, experts suggest changing up as many aspects of the feeding ritual as possible. That way, your baby won’t compare the two.

Instead of cradling your baby like you would to nurse, hold them facing away from you. Turn on the light if you normally breast-feed in the dark. Try putting them in their bouncy seat, or even walking them around in a sling if they fuss when offered a bottle in your lap.

Give Them a Sample

Squeeze out a drop of milk onto the surface of the bottle nipple so your baby will taste it immediately. They’ll know that it’s the same milk as always.

Taste It

There is speculation that breast milk that has been stored can sometimes have too much of an enzyme called lipase. Lipase breaks down fats that help your baby digest the milk. If this is the case, the milk will taste soapy or metallic. It’s still safe to drink, but your baby might reject it. If milk that has been stored tastes rancid or spoiled, though, it is better not to use it.

Luckily, there’s a solution: Scald the milk before storing it. Yes, it will lose some of its nutritional and immunity benefits, but not all of them. Heat the milk before the lipase makes it taste bad.

You can’t salvage your freezer stash, unfortunately, but you can still donate your off-taste milk if it is not spoiled.

Abandon the Bottle

Try a spoon, a medicine dropper, or a finger feeder. This is a device where the baby receives milk via a thin tube you hold against your finger.

The Takeaway

Sometimes, a baby will reject practice bottles with mom and dad. This can leave the parents terrified that their child will starve on the first day of day care. But then the provider reports that they happily drank 6 ounces without a peep.

When push comes to shove, babies won’t starve themselves. They’ll take milk from the bottle when they’re ready. 

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