If your breastfed baby won’t take a bottle, going back to work, getting out for a few hours, or just getting some feeding help can seem like an impossibility. Here are 29 solutions from real parents and parenting experts to help you transition your baby successfully from breast to bottle.
The first time I left my first-born at home with my husband and a bottle of breast milk was to make a trip to the laundromat when my son was 6 weeks old.
Our clothes-dryer had conked out that afternoon while I was laundering a small mountain of onesies, sleepers, nursing bras, burp pads, blankets and bibs (how does a such a wee human generate so much laundry?). Ugh. Someone was going to have to take it all to the laundromat to dry it.
Foolishly, I volunteered to go by myself.
I thought this would be a great chance for my husband to see that he was totally capable of looking after our newborn for a couple of hours without me.
He hadn’t stayed home alone with the baby since becoming a father, so he was a bit nervous but excited to be parenting solo for the first time.
I was a bit nervous, but excited about venturing out alone alone for the first time since becoming a mother, even if it was just to sit in the laundromat watching clothes tumble dry.
For the first 5 weeks his life, I had breastfed my son exclusively. Earlier in this particular week, we had introduced the bottle so my husband would be able to help with some feedings. It was clear that our boy preferred to breastfeed but he did “OK with the bottles.
They’d be alright, right? I mean, I’d be gone for less than two hours. Note: We did not have cell phones back then. There was a bottle of breast milk in the fridge if they needed it. Plus our son was a really content and happy baby. So easy to look after. He hardly ever cried. We figured everything would be fine.
We were wrong.
After a blissful 2 hours at the laundromat (Ok, I may have spent every moment wondering if my baby was surviving without me), I returned home to… complete pandemonium. My husband was frantically pacing the floor with my hysterical son, jiggling, rocking, swaying him, desperate to comfort him. They were both soaked in sweat, and my son’s face was covered in red splotches from screaming so hard. I panicked. My precious baby who almost never cried had obviously been crying for a LONG time.
My husband, close to tears himself, said he’d been that way for over an hour.
“Why didn’t you give him the bottle?” I shrieked, confused as to why it was sitting, still full, on the coffee table.
“He wouldn’t take the bottle! I tried and tried but he wouldn’t take it.”
Oh, the guilt. How could I have been so stupid?! Even though we’d known that my son preferred to breastfeed, I hadn’t anticipated him flat-out refusing the bottle. I’d assumed that if he was hungry enough he would drink from it, but that isn’t always the case with some babies.
Check out these questions from the HH Facebook community.
“Help! My baby won’t take a bottle. She only wants to breast-feed! How can I get her to drink from a bottle so I can get some relief?”
“My child refuses to take a bottle of breastmilk. He wants it from the source but I need a break sometimes and it would be nice if my husband could give my son a bottle.“
“Please help! I am going back to work in 2 weeks and my 3 month old daughter will not take a bottle. I don’t know what to do!”
“I am having trouble keeping up with my baby’s feeding demands, and would like to supplement with formula. How can I get him to take a bottle? He only wants to breastfeed. “
“I am trying to transition my 3 month old from breast to bottle but it’s not going well. Any suggestions?”
All of these breast-to-bottle questions landed in my inbox last week.
Questions from real parents. Parents like you.
Presumably, if you’ve read this far, you’re having difficulty getting your baby to take a bottle too. You’re probably stressed and frustrated, and possibly even panicking.
Take a deep breath. Help is on the way.
I’ve asked the HH HH Facebook community to share, from experience, what worked for them when their babies wouldn’t take a bottle.
Parents, grandparents, nurses and care-givers from all over the globe offered up their tried and true solutions.
Hopefully they’ll help you if you’re having trouble getting your baby to take a bottle.
What to do when your baby won’t take a bottle:
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- Leave the room. If someone else is giving the bottle, your baby may not take it if he can hear/see/smell you.
- Go straight to a sippy cup, and bypass the bottle altogether.This transitional learner cup is great.
- Skin-on-skin; have Dad remove his shirt when introducing your baby to the bottle.
- Introduce the bottle when baby is not fully awake: try when baby is falling asleep or just waking up, while day and disoriented. You may have to attempt this for several days.
- Offer different nipples. Your child may prefer one material (rubber, silicone etc.) over another.
- Try a different style or brand of bottle. Many have had success with the Tommee Tippee Bottle, MimiJumi and Mam Bottles.
- Don’t wait until baby is very hungry to try the bottle. Start earlier than the scheduled feeding so baby isn’t frustrated and starving when experimenting with the bottle.
- Avoid a high-pressure, stressful setting. Choose a time when you’re not hurried, upset or stressed. Babies are affected by the energy around them.
- Check the temperature of the milk. A common mistake is not warming it enough. Milk from the breast is 98.6ºF or 37ºC.
- Try different temperatures. Some babies may prefer a bottle cold or at room temperature.
- Warm the nipple. Soak the nipple of the bottle in warm water just before the feeding.
- Use a brown nipple because it looks more like the real thing.
- Try a spoon, syringe or medicine dropper or medicine cup. It may be time-consuming, but baby will get some nutrition, and it will take the edge of his hunger until he can have the breast.
- A cup with a straw may work if your baby is not an infant.
- Dim the lights. Have the person feed the baby in a darkened room, wearing one of your sweaters or scarves. The baby may be comforted by the scent of your clothing.
- Check with your doctor before trying this one: some doctors will suggest dipping the bottle nipple in sugar water each time you try the bottle. Once baby is taking it well, stop this practice.
- Dip the nipple in breast milk to give it a familiar flavour and to encourage baby to suck.
- Start out breast-feeding, and once baby is relaxed, slide the bottle into baby’s mouth while slipping your nipple out. Maintain skin-on-skin contact during the bottle feeding.
- Wear a nipple shield while breast feeding to help baby adjust to the feeling of a different nipple.
- Pierce several tiny holes in the bottle’s nipple with a sterilized needle. This will more closely imitate the breast’s nipple. Watch your baby closely to be sure that the milk doesn’t flow out too quickly.
- Change the flow speed of the nipple: slow-flow, fast-flow, etc.
- Change the scenery. Ask a family friend or relative to feed your baby in their home, instead of yours.
- Don’t hold the baby. While holding your child makes for the ultimate feeding experience, you may have success trying the bottle when your baby is in the stroller, car-seat, shopping cart etc.
- Stave off hunger with cereal. If your baby is over 6 months old, and refuses the bottle, have someone feed him some cereal thinned with breast milk until you can get home to nurse him..
- Try a new position. Instead of the traditional cradle hold that your baby associates with breast feeding, place him in your lap with his feet at your belly and head at your knees.
- Mask your scent. Face baby away from you, placing Daddy’s tee-shirt or a towel between you and baby.
- Check your baby’s health. If your baby has reflux, or thrush or is teething, may make introducing the bottle more challenging. Hold off until baby’s health or condition has returned to normal.
- Try a cheap bottle. Often we think “expensive is better”, but it all comes down to your baby’s preferences. Your baby may prefer the way an inexpensive bottle works and feels.
- Try, try and try again. Don’t expect your baby to get the hang of it the first (or even second or third time). Remember: you’re introducing a foreign object into your baby’s mouth. Her natural instinct may be to reject it. It may take many attempts over several days or even weeks before your baby recognizes and accepts the bottle as a source of food.
Getting a breast-fed baby to take a bottle, whether it’s a bottle of breast milk or a bottle of formula, can be stressful and emotionally exhausting, but with love, patience and perseverance, you’ll find a solution that works for your baby and you.
Remember my first-born?
After the laundromat fiasco, my husband committed to giving our son an evening bottle every night until he was taking it without any problem. It didn’t always go smoothy in the beginning, but being consistent with that routine helped our baby adjust to taking the bottle from his Daddy which made it possible for me to leave the two of them at home together if I had to go out.
Oh, and we also had our clothes-dryer fixed, so my subsequent trips out held a little more excitement than watching clothes tumble dry.
More solutions to common parenting challenges:
- How to Break the Pacifier Habit
- When Your Child Won’t Poop On the Potty
- How to Keep a Diaper on Your Child at Nap Time
- Bedtime Fears and Anxiety – 40+ Solutions
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Jackie is a mom, wife, home daycare provider, and the creative spirit behind Happy Hooligans. She specializes in kids’ crafts and activities, easy recipes, and parenting. She began blogging in 2011, and today, Happy Hooligans inspires more than 2 million parents, caregivers and Early Years Professionals all over the globe.