Why Won’t My Baby Take a Bottle?

What do you do if you are a breastfeeding mom and your baby won’t take a bottle?

So many of us have been there. You are a new mom and breastfeeding is going beautifully. You think “Breastfeeding is amazing and wonderful. I love gazing down at my little beauty’s face while she is nursing…. Hmm, I wish I could get away for a few hours. It would be so nice to go out to dinner with my friends. It would even be nice to run to the gym for an hour. I love that my baby breastfeeds like a champ, but if only he’d take a bottle for dad while I am gone…”

Some babies go back and forth between breastfeeding and bottle feeding with no issues. Other babies decide that only mom will do. For those of you wondering how you are every going to leave the house again sans baby, here are some tips:

  • practice leaving your baby for short periods of time and allowing someone else to give your baby a bottle in your absence. Some babies will refuse a bottle when in mom’s presence, but will accept a bottle when mom disappears.
  • If you are using your freezer stash from when your baby was 2 weeks old when you could pump 8 oz AFTER nursing, try giving your baby freshly expressed milk. Frozen milk is great, but sometimes it can smell or taste different than fresh from the tap.
  • If your baby is an infant, try swaddling the baby with his hands near his face. Swaddling can provide sensory input that an infant needs to get organized for bottle drinking.
  • Get creative. Can your nanny bring the baby to you at work to breastfeed once during the day? Can you visit your baby at his daycare to nurse him on your lunch break.

If your baby still won’t take a bottle and you have to go back to work, don’t panic yet. Many moms and babies do just fine with reverse cycling. Reverse cycling is when a baby breastfeeds more often in the evening and through the night and goes longer periods of time between feeds during the day while away from mom. When a baby nurses more frequently during mom’s non-working hours, the less she will need to eat while mom is away.

Still worried? These tips didn’t work and your baby still won’t take a bottle? You’ve tried reverse cycling, but your baby is cranky and hungry all day while you are away? You can’t spend your nights nursing? Consider seeing a feeding therapist who specializes in infants. A speech-language pathologist who has the knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the infant suck can help you choose a bottle and nipple that is appropriate for your baby and help your baby accept the bottle. The therapist can evaluate whether your baby is just preferring the breast or if there is something more going on.

The advice I hear given most often is ” She won’t starve herself.” “When he gets hungry enough, he’ll eat.” “You just have to let him cry until he gives up and takes the bottle.” This kind of advice (often very well-meaning) just breaks my heart. Often, there is an underlying reason why a baby will not accept a bottle and waiting an infant out doesn’t have to be the answer. A feeding specialist can help.

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