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Breastfed baby won’t take a bottle? Try these tips

Does your breastfed baby refuse to take a bottle? You’re not alone. Babies can have VERY strong preferences when it comes to feeding. It’s common for breastfed babies to initially refuse a bottle once Mom is ready to return to work, school, or simply take a break! Thankfully, there are several strategies that can help your baby learn to accept a bottle of expressed breastmilk or formula (and prevent a battle in the first place!). If your breastfed baby won’t take a bottle, read on for our best tips.

Timing is Key

Timing is everything with introducing a bottle. If you know that you’d like your baby to be able to take a bottle, it’s important to introduce it when they’re young enough to accept it and “old” enough that it won’t interfere with breastfeeding. The ideal time to introduce a bottle is around 2-4 weeks, once breastfeeding is established. It’s important to consistently offer a bottle at least every other day, so they don’t lose the skill. 

Beyond age, time your baby’s first bottle when they are relaxed and comfortable. They’ll need to be moderately hungry, but don’t wait until they’re frantic and starving. Think of this first bottle as a practice run, not a full meal. 

Mom Out of the House

Babies are super smart, and they know that different people care for them in different ways. The best person to give your baby her first bottle is usually any primary caregiver except their nursing parent. In fact, lots of babies will refuse a bottle until Mom is completely out of the house! As hard as it may be to miss this first milestone, take some time for yourself while your partner or another trusted caregiver offers your baby their first bottle. 

Try Different Bottles

Babies are just like adults: some have strong preferences, others are more flexible. Until you know your baby well, your best bet is to have several different bottle options on hand. Some of our favorites are:

  • Dr. Brown’s Wide Mouth Glass Bottle
  • Life Factory Standard Size Glass Bottle
  • MaM Bottle
  • Comotomo Bottle

We love the Bottle Box from Jules + Anya, which provides 6 different bottle combinations for parents to have on hand. No need to dash to the store with a screaming baby for different bottle options!

When looking for a bottle for your breastfed baby, there’s a couple things to keep in mind:

  • Slow flow: Make sure you use a slow flow nipple designed for newborns or even preemies. A faster-slow nipple can discourage your baby if they gag and splutter on milk, or alternatively it can cause them to later refuse the breast if they don’t have to work as hard to remove milk. 
  • Shape: Many breastfed babies prefer a wider nipple like Dr. Brown’s Wide Mouth or Comotomo, which more closely resembles the breast than standard bottles. 

Try Different Positions

If your breastfed baby refuses the bottle, try different positions. Some babies will take a bottle if they’re in their favorite breastfeeding position, likely skin-to-skin in a laid back position. Others need to use a totally different position than one they nurse in, to get used to a bottle. Try:

  • Sitting your baby up on your knees, supporting the back of their head with your hand (this position is great for paced feeding)
  • Supported on knees: Try sitting on a bed or on a couch sideways, with your feet flat and knees up toward the ceiling. Lean your baby on your slanted legs for a nice face-to-face bottle feeding position.
  • Seat: try feeding your baby in a lounger or bouncy seat while you in front of or next to them
  • Facing out: if your baby is old enough to have good head control and decent vision, try sitting them in your lap facing out toward something interesting – like squirrels playing outside the window! Some babies will take a bottle this way when distracted.
  • Horizontal: the instinct to nuzzle in and feed is strong when a baby is cuddled close in the horizontal position. Make sure they’re laying on their side, not flat on their back, so any excess milk can easily spill out of the corner of their mouth.

Play with Variables

After trying the options above and your breastfed baby still refuses a bottle, try gently changing up different variables:

  • Time of day: if daytime bottles aren’t working, offer a bottle first thing in the morning or during a late-night dream feed
  • Temperature: try running warm water over the teat of the nipple, or if your baby is teething try popping it in the refrigerator. Experiment with temperature of the milk itself, like body-temperature, lukewarm, or even straight out of the fridge. Always test the milk on the inside of your wrist first to make sure it’s not too hot!
  • Caregiver: while the Mom out of the house trick works most often, occasionally babies will first only accept bottle from Mom or one specific caregiver! Let any experienced bottle feeder like a Newborn Care Specialist try to offer your baby a bottle.
  • Movement: If your baby won’t take a bottle while you’re sitting down, try gently rocking them or walking while you offer the bottle.

Breastfed Baby Bottle Feeding Tips

It can be tough to convince a breastfed baby to take a bottle. If your breastfed baby refuses the bottle, try not to stress. Try different bottle brands, caregivers, and positions first. If that low hanging fruit still doesn’t do the trick, mix up other variables like temperature of the milk or bottle nipple, time of day or movement while feeding. Remember, to prevent bottle feeding struggles with a breastfed baby, bottle feed as soon as their latch is well-established (2-4 weeks). Keep consistently offering the bottle at least every other day once they get going, so they don’t forget how to bottle feed. But if they’re struggling to accept a bottle, go as slowly as you can. Don’t force it – you want your baby to learn that bottle feeding is relaxing and satisfying, not stressful! In time, most breastfed babies can learn to take a bottle with these tips.