As both a nursing mom and a childcare provider, I’ve had a bit of experience with breastfed babies who won’t take a bottle. I’ve been on both sides of it, too: I’ve had the guilt and worry of leaving my daughter who flat-out refused bottles until she was 8 months old, and I’ve been the sitter who has held and comforted and tried to feed babies who are hungry but just won’t take their bottles. Some babies do well when bottle-feeding is as close to nursing as possible, but some actually prefer when bottle-feeding is a completely different experience so they aren’t reminded of nursing. Here are seven things to try when your baby won’t take a bottle:
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1. Leave something that smells like you behind
When I knew I had to leave my daughter with my husband for a few hours, I would pull out one of his shirts and wear it for a day or so. When I left, he would change into his shirt that had my scent on it, and often it would be just enough familiarity for my daughter to take an ounce or two of the bottle to tide her over until I got home. You can leave a shirt, a blanket, or a stuffed animal that you’ve slept with for your baby to cuddle when they eat while you’re away.
The closeness of being worn is a big comfort to babies. The skin-to-skin contact can help babies relax and make bottle-feeding easier. My husband had some success getting our daughter to eat while wearing her when I was out. If nothing else, the close contact of an adult can help to comfort babies
3. Try different positions
Some babies are just reminded too much of nursing when being held in the crosswise feeding position. One little boy I watched would only take his bottle while laying down on a play mat, with me sitting next to him and holding the bottle in his mouth. Another baby, who was a couple of months older, did well sitting face-out on my lap so she could watch the other children playing while she ate.
4. Try a different bottle
I don’t recommend breaking the bank and buying every bottle on the market, but there are bottles in every shape and size out there now. Experiment with a few different brands to see if your baby has a preference. You can always sell the bottles your baby didn’t take to when you’re done. For babies who have a hard time latching on to traditional bottles, I’ve had success using a bottle like the comotomo and squeezing the silicone base so the milk can spray into their mouth.
5. Go straight to a cup
If your baby is about six months or older, it might be worthwhile to give up on the idea of bottles and move straight to a sippy or open-top cup. I’ve had success with this sippy cup. We’ve also offered milk in a shot glass.
6. Make boobsicles
My daughter loved it when I would give her some frozen breastmilk in a mesh feeder. We used this ice cube tray to make boobsicles that fit perfectly into our mesh feeder. She wasn’t able to get a whole feeding out of it, but many times it would take the edge off of her hunger and keep her occupied until I could get home to nurse her.
7. Give it time
For most moms, the breastfeeding relationship and mother-child bonding takes some time to get established. This is true for any relationship in your baby’s life. Give your baby and their caregiver time to build up trust, experiment, problem solve, and figure out what works best for them. If you’ve chosen a patient, loving caregiver to take care of your baby in your absence, trust that they will figure it out together.