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Breastfeeding and Bottle Refusal: What to Do When Your Baby Won’t Take a Bottle

As new moms, we’re so focused on getting breastfeeding going – which in many cases is not easy! – that we completely forget to offer a bottle. Some of us are never even taught how to offer a bottle when breastfeeding, so we’re not inclined to incorporate it into our routine. And it comes with a lot of questions, like “Will it cause nipple confusion or discourage breastfeeding?” and “How do I start pumping?,” so it’s easy to want to delay the whole thing. If you find yourself trying to offer a bottle so you can run a solo errand or get back to work, but your baby is refusing the bottle, this article is for you!

Breastfeeding and Bottle Refusal: What to Do When Your Baby Won’t Take a Bottle

As new moms, we’re so focused on getting breastfeeding going – which in many cases is not easy! – that we completely forget to offer a bottle. Some of us are never even taught how to offer a bottle when breastfeeding, so we’re not inclined to incorporate it into our routine. And it comes with a lot of questions, like “Will it cause nipple confusion or discourage breastfeeding?” and “How do I start pumping?,” so it’s easy to want to delay the whole thing. If you find yourself trying to offer a bottle so you can run a solo errand or get back to work, but your baby is refusing the bottle, this article is for you!

If you’re in this boat, we first want to say that we know this is so stressful and can impact your whole family. It’s hard for the caregiver, partner, or spouse who wants to be able to bottle-feed, and it’s hard for the mom who is constantly thinking about how she can get home ASAP to feed her baby. While every baby and situation is different, here are our top tips to help with bottle refusal. 

First off, when your baby refuses the bottle, it seems logical to force the nipple into the baby’s mouth so they can start feeding. We’ve been there. The problem is that the more pressure and forcefulness the baby experiences, the worse the bottle refusal usually gets. So, try the strategies below and do your best to be gentle and patient. We know it’s hard, but it really helps!

  1. Start by getting your baby familiar with the bottle’s nipple. Simply detach the bottle from the nipple and with your pointer finger pointing upwards toward the roof of their mouth, gently insert the nipple into their mouth. Gently placing pressure on the roof of their mouth like this should elicit the sucking response. 
  1. As your baby gets comfortable with the nipple, add a small amount of breastmilk to just the nipple. You can do this by dipping the nipple into some breastmilk and then inserting the nipple the same way described above. Remember, this should be extremely gentle! Because your baby knows the smell and taste of your milk, they may take the nipple more willingly. 
  1. Add movement to bottle-feeding. Moving, bouncing, and walking during a bottle-feed can really help! You can also try feeding your baby with them facing forward (i.e., hold your baby in an upright position and support their head, but put their body facing outward instead of toward you). We know this feels awkward and is not at all intuitive, but it can really help because they won’t associate this position with nursing and are therefore less likely to reject the bottle.
  2. Switch up the temperature of the milk. Try some cold breastmilk straight out of the fridge as well as some warmed breastmilk. Some babies like the milk at different temperatures. (Check out our article if you’re wondering about how to store your breastmilk safely.) 

As always, if bottle refusal is impacting your baby’s health, reach out to your pediatrician for help and know you are not alone! Many, many babies go through this at some point, and exposure, patience, and practice is key.  

Looking for more? Check out our other breastfeeding resources: