Whether you are trying to transition your breastfed baby to a bottle or your longtime bottle-fed baby is suddenly turning away, when your baby is refusing the bottle it can be a very trying time. There are a few reasons why your little one may be refusing to take the bottle and thankfully there are a few things you can try to end the strike.
Why is My Baby Refusing the Bottle?
What Does It Mean When My Baby is Refusing the Bottle?
Bottle refusal can be a relatively common occurrence. It happens with babies who are transitioning from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding, with those who have always been bottle-fed, and even with babies who regularly seamlessly switch between nursing and bottle feeding.
Turning away from the bottle, refusing to suck, pushing the bottle away, and even screaming when a bottle comes near are all signs of bottle refusal. It is characterized by your baby staunchly refusing to take milk from the bottle.
It can be a very frustrating time for both you and your little one, especially when you rely on a caregiver to feed your little one while you are away. There are some key items to consider when addressing why your child is refusing the bottle.
Why Might My Baby Be Refusing the Bottle?
The comfort of nursing
If your baby has been exclusively breastfed until this point, they may not be too pleased with being offered a bottle. Some babies take to bottle-feeding quite easily while others resolutely refuse.
Your breastfed baby associates eating with being close to mom, comfort, and bonding. If you, the mother, are the one who is trying to feed them the bottle they will likely want to hold out for the breast.
Bottle and nipple type
Depending on the age and nursing ability of your child, the bottle itself may be to blame. There are many styles of bottles; some are angled, some have drop inserts, and some have vents. You won’t know which type your baby prefers until you try them out. It is possible that the bottle you are using isn’t adequate for your baby’s sucking style, pace, or preferences. Check out some of our favorite bottle options here!
Similarly, there are different flow rates of nipples. Nipples range from a preemie flow to an all-stage or “fast” flow. A slow flow nipple may be best to start with or when your little one is preferring a bottle over breastfeeding. But as your baby grows and becomes more adept at sucking they will want a faster flow.
Growth and development can also play a role when it comes to distractions. As your baby’s vision improves they will begin to recognize objects and sounds; additionally as they grow they become increasingly mobile. Both of these milestones lead to distractibility.
Your little one may be refusing the bottle because there is too much going on. He might feel that he simply doesn’t have the time or the desire to take a break from exploring in order to eat! There are a few times between birth and one year when distractibility may be the culprit, specifically when your baby makes big advancements in their mobility.
Illnesses that may cause your baby to refuse the bottle
An ear infection, a sore throat, a stuffy nose…any or all of these symptoms may lead to bottle refusal. The sucking motion of the tongue and jaw can be painful on infected ears or raw throats. A stuffy nose might make it difficult for the baby to breathe, suck, and swallow with any rhythm.
Positioning and people
At first, your baby may be sensitive to who is giving them the bottle and how it is being given. Many little ones do not like to be laying flat when taking a bottle but instead prefer to be slightly propped up. In the beginning, it may also help to mimic the position used when nursing by cradling the baby in your arms close to your chest.
When starting to bottle feed in the nursing position, some infants may respond better to being bottle-fed by someone other than the mother. Alternatively, some may prefer to take a bottle from their mom or primary caregiver and refuse to take it from anyone else.
Once you have determined the possible reasons why your little one is refusing the bottle, you can then work towards a solution.
Tips to End the Bottle Strike When Your Baby is Refusing
1. Someone other than mom
If your baby has been exclusively breastfed up until this point, they may refuse a bottle if it is being given by you. Some infants will want to hold out because they would prefer to nurse, especially if their mom is close and available. It may be helpful to have someone else take over the bottle feeding, such as a father, grandparent, or caregiver.
2. A soothing atmosphere
If your little one is at a stage where they are making leaps in their cognitive development and mobility, they may be too distracted to take a bottle. Try going into a quiet room where the lights are dimmed or the shades are drawn. You want to keep the atmosphere as soothing and calm as possible to minimize distractions that could draw them away from the bottle.
3. Try movement
Some babies may prefer to experience motion while bottle feeding. You can try slowly walking, swaying, or rocking.
4. A reminder of mom
If a breastfeeding baby either won’t take the bottle from their mom, or mom can’t be around, the scent of their mother may help to encourage suckling. A bottle can be wrapped in the mother’s shirt or even a burp cloth or washcloth that the mother has slept with.
5. Trying different positions if your baby is refusing the bottle
It is not good practice to lay an infant flat on their back while feeding, and most will not enjoy eating this way. However, there are a few different positions you can try. Try reclining the baby in your arms, propping them up with a boppy pillow, or even sitting them nearly upright on your lap.
6. Timing is everything when your baby is refusing the bottle
If the refusal seems to occur when your baby is awake and alert, it can be helpful to offer the bottle during a time when they are drowsy. In some cases, when your baby is getting ready to drift off to sleep or just waking up from a nap, they may be more likely to take a bottle without a fuss.
7. A proper introduction
Some babies do not immediately take to the bottle, especially those that have been exclusively breastfed. Consider introducing the nipple without the bottle first by placing it on the baby’s lips and encouraging them to take it in their mouth. You can also encourage sucking by placing your finger inside the nipple and gently moving it around their palette.
8. The self-latch technique
Your little one may not be too keen on the bottle being placed directly in their mouth. If this is the case, you can try to coax them to latch themselves. This can be done by rubbing the nipple around their lips and nose until they open wide and latch, much like they would when nursing.
9. Different bottles and flows
If the issue doesn’t seem to be stemming from emotional factors or the atmosphere, you may need to take a closer look at your bottle. Make sure that you fasten all parts securely and that the milk can flow freely from the nipple. If your child doesn’t respond well to one style of bottle or speed of milk flow try different bottle types and nipple flows.
10. Double-check the milk
It may be a good idea to taste and smell the milk in the bottle occasionally, especially if you pump and freeze. Some milk can have large deposits of an enzyme called lipase which might give the milk a displeasing strong or salty taste.
11. Check the temperature
Babies can be quite particular. Make sure the milk is not too cold or too hot by testing a little on the inside of your wrist. Most babies prefer milk that is around body temperature though some may prefer it lukewarm. A good bottle warmer can help with this. We happen to love the Kiinde Kozii!
12. Don’t wait until they’re starving
When you are first introducing the bottle, don’t wait until they are starving. A hungry baby will want to be fed and not have to work to learn a new system, leading to crying and frustration for everyone involved. Try offering the bottle between feedings when they aren’t quite hungry but not full either.
13. Frequent intervals
If you have been trying the tips above and your baby is still refusing don’t give up. Keep offering the bottle every half hour. Don’t force the bottle and engage in a battle of wills, but continue to offer it and eventually your little one may come around.
14. Change up the container
If you are concerned about just getting nutrition into your child, it is recommended that you contact your pediatrician. However, they may advise you to try and use alternative containers or methods to feed your child. This may be a sippy cup, a regular open cup, or even a spoon depending on the infant’s age. This is not a very practical solution but may get you through until you can see a lactation consultant or your baby ends their strike.
When Your Baby Refusing the Bottle Mean You Should See a Doctor
If you suspect the bottle refusal is due to an illness or irritation, you should see your pediatrician. They will be able to confirm or deny your suspicions and treat any conditions if necessary. Once your baby is feeling well they will likely return to the bottle without issue.
Additionally, if you have exhausted all of the methods on how to end a bottle strike and your baby is still refusing, or if you feel that it is negatively impacting their health and weight gain then it is time to see a pediatrician. They will likely check your little one out to make sure a health concern is not the culprit. They will also check their growth and development to ensure that they are making adequate gains and the refusal is not a cause for immediate concern.
If you can’t find any apparent reason for the refusal, the doctor may refer you to a lactation consultant. This expert on all things breast and bottle feeding should be able to help your little one end their bottle strike.
Having Patience and Encouragement While Your Baby is Refusing the Bottle
Bottle refusal can be a very frustrating time for both you and your baby. Remember to relax and do not make it a battle for control. Try out the various tips listed and seek help from a professional if necessary. With patience and gentle encouragement, your baby will likely come around and take a bottle without issue.
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