Catherine Completely Baby Sleep Consultant

Catherine Thompson
Baby Sleep Consultant & Owner of Completely Baby

It’s the middle of the night and after hours of struggling your baby still won’t take bottle! It can be a very stressful time if for example your milk supply has dropped, or perhaps you have had success with bottle feeding then out of nowhere your baby starts refusing the bottle all of a sudden – why oh why?!

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In this post I will cover some of the most common aspects and successful approaches I have seen families take which include: deciding if it suits them to introduce the bottle, how to introduce the bottle when breastfeeding, who should give the bottle, what to do if your baby wont finish the bottle, how to overcome challenges with bottle feeding in a childcare setting and finally my recommended approach to bottle feeding.

Wondering whether to introduce a bottle?

Deciding whether to introduce a bottle may not be a choice for some parents, or they may make the decision prior to baby’s arrival to exclusively bottle feed. If you are breastfeeding and are considering whether to express and offer this in a bottle or even top up with formula, you may be attracted by the flexibility that this may offer you. You may also think about how this will promote your partner/other family members involvement and opportunity to connect with your baby in addition to yourself.

All of these things are completely valid and ultimately come down to personal circumstances and choices. I firmly believe there is no right or wrong, so you should feel reassured that there are options for you and your family when it comes to feeding your baby similarly as to whether you might choose to use a dummy or not for settling.

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Breastfeeding & introducing a bottle

If you are breastfeeding and are considering introducing a bottle then I suggest waiting for at least 4 weeks until your baby and you get established with breastfeeding. Introducing a bottle earlier than this could lead to confusion for your baby and challenges associated with breastfeeding.

When it comes to purchasing your bottle, I recommend looking for a bottle that has a teat designed to resemble a breast. It can take a bit of trial and error to find the right teat and flow speed that suits your baby, this may mean you trying various bottles to find the one your baby takes to more naturally. At the end of the day, every breastfed baby will adapt to bottle feeding differently and take to it at their own individual pace.

Breast milk is body temperature, so your baby may be more used to drinking expressed/formula milk if it is around this temperature, not too hot or too cold! If you have some expressed milk, you could also try dipping the bottle teat into it before offering it, then gently ‘massage’ it against your baby’s top lip to encourage them to open their mouth. If your breastfed baby wont take a bottle, try not to push the teat into your baby’s mouth, but instead let them open their mouths when they are ready.

Who should give the bottle for greatest chance of success?

For most breastfeeding mothers it is often easier for another person to offer the bottle. Perhaps you can try Dad or another familiar family member as baby will most likely associate Mum with the breast resulting in your baby not wanting to take the bottle! For this reason, I suggest Mum is not present when attempting the bottle feed, ideally pop out for a bit so they can’t smell you. Then Dad or the other family member can attempt the feed without baby searching for Mum. I suggest you try and remain calm and positive about the experience then hopefully your little one will sense this and feel more relaxed as well.

Don’t be hard on yourself as the baby may not take the bottle from Dad straight away just the same as it come to settling your baby for sleep. It may take a few attempts and practice certainly makes perfect! For this reason I would suggest holding off if initially if your baby is too distressed and rather trying again a little later or even leaving it till the next day. If your baby takes a little at first from the bottle but then refuses it thereafter, don’t try and force the bottle upon them as it might put them off! Take the small win and you will be able to build upon this success with persistence!

What if your baby doesn’t finish the bottle?

It can be a little frustrating for parents when their babies don’t quite finish the bottle, particularly if you have a newborn and you are trying to make sure they gain weight. My recommendation is that despite this frustration that you try and respect this just as you would with them refusing the breast or as they would with solid food. Food intake requirements can change daily with babies, and during the day their appetite may differ for example they may want more milk in the morning than late afternoon.

I know that its “easy to say, but harder to do”, however if you try and be somewhat flexible with this it will put less pressure on you and baby and result in less stress for all. Remember also that babies can easily pick up on your mood / emotions so if they sense you are stressed it might make them feel uncertain and in a state not promoting them to calm and relax for a feed.

A Simple Hack For Timing Your Bottle Feeding

I suggest just like following ‘tired signs’ for sleep, the same applies for feeding your baby. It’s best if you can watch for signs that your baby is hungry and follow these cues, rather than offer feeds every time they are unsettled or even very irritable because they are really hungry.

Now this might not sound completely logical on the face of it butI have seen some parents find that when their baby is refusing to take a bottle, by offering it to them when they aren’t super hungry allows for a more relaxed approach and potentially a greater chance of success. I know it sounds a little backward, but this is definitely worth a try particularly if you are struggling with your baby to take the bottle when they are more hungry.

I guess the theory behind this trick is that If your baby isn’t really hungry they most likely will be in a more relaxed and calmed state and therefore more open to taking the bottle. The more they take the bottle the easier it will get all round.

Childcare & bottle feeding – how to make it work

One very common area I have seem families struggle with bottle feeding is when they introduce their little one to daycare. Naturally this is a time of significant transition as your baby will be struggling to understand why mum and or dad are not there if they have exclusively bottle fed baby etc.
So what can you do to make the bottle feeding aspect of the transition a success?

First and foremost its really important to discuss bottle feeding during your orientation – your educators should seek to understand timing, what bottle is being used and how your baby likes to be fed e.g in dimmed light, in their sleepbag, etc.

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Secondly as you will likely be having a few short ‘play visits” on the ramp to transitioning your little one properly into full days of day care, its important that your educators introduce the bottle feed during these short visits. As they feel more comfortable in this environment and more familiar with their key educators I would suggest seeing if an educator can offer your baby a bottle with you there, this will not only show your baby that you are confident/approve of their carer also providing them milk but allow for the opportunity to start forming the bond between your carer/s and your baby.

Failing that if your baby is drinking water from a sippy/feeding cup, why not try putting the milk in there too? This will not only be better for your baby’s dental health but also promote their independence whilst drinking milk.

The Benefits of the primary educator system in childcare and bottle feeding

Its also worth asking your childcare provider whether they use a ‘primary educator’ system. If they do this will mean that a designated/dedicated carer will offer your baby their bottle when they can. I believe this significantly supports the likelihood of your baby taking the bottle away from home.

Over the many years or working in early education I can reassure you that it is really normal for your baby to take time to drink their bottle and drink much slower than they would at home. It is not until they feel secure and comfortable that they will begin to relax and drink their milk comfortably so dont feel disheartened.

Therefore the more familiar they can become with their environment and the educators there, the more likely they are to drink their milk as they would do at home.

Positioning your babies bottle in daycare

This might sound a little strange but positioning of the bottle can have a big impact on your babies willingness to taking their bottle while at daycare. To be specific, I have found that babies who may feel unsettled and insecure in their space may prefer to drink their bottle facing forward rather than looking up at their carer. This as you can imagine gives them more awareness of what is going on around them, thus making them feel less vulnerable at that point in time.

What should bottle feeding ideally look like?

As a final point I would like to share my recommended approach to bottle feeding and what to do if your baby wont take bottle. To start with getting yourself and baby into a comfortable position is paramount! If you can, hold you baby in a slightly upright position with them looking up at you. This will allow for you both to engage, promote bonding and provide opportunity for interaction. By keeping your baby in an upright position this will also reduce the risk of ear infections as opposed to feeding your baby in a ‘lying down position’. I recommend that you treat bottle feeding times as the same as you would do sitting down with your baby for a meal. It’s significance and value during the day with your baby cannot be underestimated, a time to slow down and connect with each other.

Some Final Words

I hope you found the information above useful when it comes to managing challenges associated with your baby not taking the bottle. As with all my recommended approaches to baby care, I can’t stress the importance of consistency. Babies love repeatable patterns that are predictable when it comes to establishing their routines. That said, take and celebrate the small wins as you progress with your bottle feeding building upon these small successes will ensure you can keep your calm and give you and baby the confidence to establish a successful bottle feeding regime.

If your baby won’t take bottle and you feel you need hands on support then please do get in touch with me via here or call me on 0406 344 010. I would love to chat and see how I might be able to assist.

Catherine Completely Baby Sleep Consultant

Catherine Thompson
Baby Sleep Consultant & Owner of Completely Baby

Did you find this article helpful? I am a highly experienced baby sleep consultant with a unique educational and healthcare background who supports tired parents to help their babies find sleep more easily. If you want to chat about your situation please book in a free chat today by clicking the below button now! Alternatively you can text or call me on: +61 406 344 010.