Inside you’ll find tips on how to get your breastfed baby to take a bottle.
That job interview was the first time I’d left my baby. I put on real clothes, actually did my hair, and prayed I wouldn’t leak through my nursing pads and silk dress shirt as I went off to meet my future boss.
Before I left I fed baby girl then drove off to a nearby city. I had gotten her some formula and a proper bottle and wished my husband good luck.
“It’ll be fine, she’ll be hungry so she’ll take it.”
Famous last words.
I felt my phone blowing up all during the interview, but I ignored it. The feeling of anxiety started building in my stomach and when I got to the car I saw it was, in fact, my husband. “She won’t take the bottle!” he said. “She’s crying and fussing and won’t take it.”
I cannot lie…my first thought was what a loyal baby I had.
But then I could hear her cries through the phone and then I felt anxious. Guilty. Worried. Helpless. I told him I’d be home in an hour and to do his best. The whole drive home I berated myself for being a bad mom. I thought about how she was starving and would probably be scarred in some because I left her. She’d hate me and we’d never be able to bond. Because I’d taken 3 hours to go for a job interview and was not there for her.
Hormones were high, friend.
How to get a breastfed baby to take a bottle
Here are some ways you can try separately or together to try to get your breastfed baby to take a bottle. Sometimes you need more than a 2 to 4-hour window of time away from the baby for various reasons, and just knowing your baby will take a bottle is comforting. Plus, daddy may love it too.
Psst… remember: your husband isn’t doing you a favor by watching the kids.
Start before you need baby to take it
Introduce the bottle after a few weeks postpartum to get baby used to it. If you have 3 months maternity leave don’t wait until 2 months and 3 weeks to begin. It’ll be a harder transition for baby and that’ll add mom guilt to your already overwhelmed plate.
With my third born I’d let my husband give him a bottle while I took a bath or a walk. I was nearby in case it didn’t “work” but it helped us introduce the bottle before it became necessary which was less stressful for everyone.
Start when baby isn’t starving
If you wait until your baby is starving and ready to breastfeed, this is the worst possible time. They will begin to feel frustrated, impatient, and hungry. A good time to introduce the bottle is when they are not hungry, but might be willing to try. This can happen after you give some solids (if they are that old) or even as long as 45 minutes to an hour after you’ve normally fed them. So you might nurse a little and then offer the bottle.
I’d nurse form one side, offer a few mouthfuls of food, and then offer the bottle. If baby didn’t take it, no big deal, I’d try again later. This was definitely less stressful than leaving hubby with a bottle and hoping for the best.
Get someone else to do it… (magic bullet)
Let your husband, older child, or other family member be the person who introduces the bottle. In fact, it’s even a good idea for you to be out of the house. Babies are able to smell you from a lot further away than you’d think (not to mention hear your voice) so hovering nearby while the bottle is offered may result in the baby resisting the bottle and crying for you.
Give dad (or the bottle holder) something that smells like you. He can hold the baby in a breastfeeding position while he offers the bottle then there’s a higher chance of success.
Get a breastfeeding friendly bottle
I made the mistake with my firstborn of trying to get her to take a bottle with a nipple not designed for breastfeeding babies. I’m sure this would be fine for some, but she wouldn’t have it. With my others, I found bottles that were good for breastfed babies. If you have one bottle and the baby refuses it, that’s not to say she won’t take the bottle with another nipple. It’s often not the fact that it’s a bottle the baby doesn’t like so much as the fact that the nipple isn’t comfortable.
With my last baby we just used whatever inexpensive bottle we had on hand and, voila, he took it with no issue. I think some babies will easily drink from bottles and others are simply more challenging.
Put breast milk in the bottle and on their lips
If you are planning on pumping then put breast milk in the bottle and show them that’s what’s in it. Put some on their lips or squeeze some into their mouths so they know that, though the nipple is unfamiliar, the milk is not. If you are going to use formula in the bottle it’s still a good idea to put some on baby’s lips so they understand what’s happening.
My midwives suggested doing this as a way to help improve latching on, but it works with bottle feeding as well. The first few times you introduce the bottle baby might become confused, particularly if they use pacifiers. By putting some milk on their lips or in their mouth they’ll begin to understand.
Don’t breastfeed immediately if baby has refused the bottle
If baby refuses an offered bottle and you immediately offer the breast this will send mixed signals to baby and prolong the process. Because you’re not trying this when baby is starving, you’ll feel better about waiting for 10 to 15 minutes before offering the breast. You don’t want baby to associate saying no to the bottle with nursing.
Try a few times and then, if baby still refuses, do something completely different for a bit and then offer the breast. This will give it time to create a distance, and by not continuing to try to force the bottle you set yourself up for success later.
Change the position (or mimic it)
If your husband offers the bottle then perhaps he wants to keep the baby in a similar position to when you feed him. This will help keep some continuity with feeding associations. My husband does this with great success.
That said, if baby is fighting that then try a completely different position. This way instead of trying to perfectly mimic the breastfeeding experience – which you can’t – you are creating a new feeding experience.
Try a cup then the bottle
If your baby is fighting the bottle then try giving him liquid in a cup. He may try to lap it up or suck on the edge of the cup, and will likely find this different enough that it almost resets the moment. Then afterward, since drinking from a cup does not satisfy the suckle reflex, they will often take the bottle when they wouldn’t before. Offering the cup will put them in a different frame of mind and may be just the thing.
So there we have it. You’ve got to be creative and perhaps even stubborn to make this happen, but it’ll be worth it.
So what happened with my baby while I was driving?
She took a few sips of water and waited me out with my husband. She had not taken that bottle and she never did. For nearly an entire year I could not be away from home for more than a few hours.
We tried numerous times and eventually gave up. She was cute and cuddly and it’s a short season, after all.
Whether you need to work or simply have a few hours to yourself to do life, here’s hoping you can get your little breastfed baby to take a bottle.
It’s not easy, mama.
But you’ve got this.
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