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What to Do When Your Breastfed Baby Won’t Take a Bottle (Introducing a Bottle, Part 3)

This post is part of a 3 part series on bottle-feeding breastfed babies.  I highly suggest you read part 1 on choosing a bottle for your breastfed baby and part 2 on how to give a breastfed baby a bottle before tackling part 3!

Ah, bottle refusal.  Or as it’s also known- “my baby won’t take a bottle and I am losing my ever-loving mind.”

You’d think that once you got over the hurdle of those early fiddly tender confusing frustrating breastfeeding days, a bottle would be a piece of cake… but if you’re reading this blog post there’s a good chance your baby refuses to take a bottle.

Try not to panic- hopefully you’ve got at least a week or two until whatever event or life change is coming up that the bottles are required for.  This often FEELS like an emergency, but you have time.  

If someone tells you to just send baby to the sitter with a bottle and “if he/she is hungry enough, he/she will figure it out” or “daycare workers are really good at bottles so don’t bother trying at home first”, give that person your sternest angry eyes and walk away from them. 

Bottle refusal can be incredibly stressful. It's going to be okay. You’re not going to let your baby starve.

(Now, if your baby really does need to eat from something other than you RIGHT NOW and won’t take a bottle, I suggest you put some pumped milk in a medicine cup or shot glass as shown in this video.  It can be a bit messy, but baby will be fed and give you a back-up plan until you get this whole bottle SNAFU figured out.  Sometimes a sippy cup with a straw works, too.)

The goal here is to make slow and steady progress while keeping bottle feeding HAPPY and CALM. Screaming, crying babies aren’t going to eat no matter how many brands of bottles you try. 

I’m here to help!

We'll start with a dry, clean, empty bottle.

1 Let your baby play with/suck/chew on the bottle nipple with NO food in it first. That’s right, just the nipple and the bottle collar. If your baby is old enough to put things in their mouth, hand them the nipple and let them explore it.  If baby isn’t quite that old then try gently introducing the nipple to their mouth like a pacifier.  We want this to be non-threatening and low pressure.

2 Once your baby is comfortable with the nipple being in their mouth you’ll want to try dipping the nipple in expressed milk and letting them suck on it; again, this is WITHOUT it being full of milk. We’re just making friends with the nipple, not eating.

3 If your baby won’t suck on the nipple no matter what you do, get them to play tug-of-war while sucking your clean finger or a pacifier (if they’ll take one). They will need to cup your finger with their tongue, extend it over their gums, and keep it there while they suck.  When they’re sucking you’ll tug your finger/pacifier a bit to encourage them to suck it back in. 

4 If you can’t get your baby to suck on a bottle nipple, pacifier, OR your finger and you’ve tried this over and over for at least 3 days, you need one-on-one help with a skilled IBCLC to figure out what’s going on.  There’s always a reason babies aren’t sucking, and the reason is never “because he wants to make my life harder.”)

5 Once you’ve got baby used to sucking on the bottle nipple, hand them an empty bottle to play with/get used to. Again, keep it low pressure and fun. 

You're ready to move on to a bottle with something IN it!

Once they’re convinced that the bottle isn’t going to do them grave bodily harm you can fill it with about one ounce of pumped milk.  Warm?  Cold? Doesn’t really matter.  Try one, try both.  Most babies don’t have any problem drinking cold breastmilk straight from the fridge.

You’ll want to start with baby sitting up, and you want to slowly touch the nipple tip to their lips so they’ll open their mouth, and then to the roof of their mouth right behind the gumline, allowing them to suck it in. 

No shoving, no forcing, no screwing the bottle into baby's mouth. Keep your tone light and fun. Don't let them see you sweat!

Once you get your baby to allow the bottle nipple into their mouth, you may need to trick them into sucking on it and drinking.  There are lots of ways of doing this.  

I’m going to give you a boatload of ideas- but it’s very important that you DO NOT TRY THEM ALL AT ONCE.  Try a few of these in one session if your baby is calm and happy.  If your baby gets upset, STOP!

  • Hold baby facing out and walk around
  • Wear baby in a baby carrier or sling (and move!)
  • Go outside and show baby distracting, colorful things
  • Bounce on a yoga ball or... well probably not a trampoline, but, you know, whatever way you bounce your baby, do that
  • Distract baby with a shiny loud obnoxious light-up moving toy
  • Call in a pet or an older sibling and bribe them into being extra fascinating
  • Turn on the TV or iPad (I won't tell anyone)
  • White noise is your BFF; try it (and then try it even louder)
  • Hold baby as if they are nursing (snuggle them up close to you, belly to belly)
  • Offer the bottle when baby is juuuust waking up and hungry but still sleepy, like a dream feed
  • Try laying baby on their side (in your lap, or in the colic hold in your arms)

If you DO get baby to suck and swallow, even once or twice, be super sweet and happy about it in a calming way.  They have to learn that this is okay and not threatening and that sometimes even when we’re loudly celebrating, it confuses them.  

Keep it happy and soothing!  And if they only do one or two sucks and swallows and then stop, don’t force it. Count it as a win and try again later.

Because here’s the thing I’ve found in every single bottle refusal (and also, breast refusal) consult I’ve done- if baby isn’t taking the bottle (or breast) THERE IS A REASON.  Babies don’t refuse bottles just to be jerks and show us who’s boss. 

If you’ve tried all these things- the suggested bottles and nipples, the distraction, the slow and steady, and NOTHING is working, you need to call in an expert.

There are a decent number of IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants) like me who do a lot of bottle refusal consults.  They can help you.

Find a local IBCLC who specializes in bottle refusals below (currently this list is USA only)… For more info about this list or to be added, please read this note.

Trine Bradshaw, Gilbert 

breastforbaby.com

Jennie Bever, Tempe 

azbreastfeeds.com

Tatiana Daughtrey Coffman, Gilbert 

northstarwellnessaz.com

Cara Peterson Riek, Scottsdale/Phoenix 

bfmedaz.com

Tanya Smith, Little Rock 

serenitybreastfeedingsupport.com

Carly Marks, San Diego 

markslactationsupport.com

Evonne Smith, Los Angeles 

newnorthbaby.com

Ellen Schwerin, San Francisco 

happymilk.us

Heather Shabestari, San Diego

 bfcofsd.com

Chrisie Rosenthal, Los Angeles 

landofmilkandmommy.com

Rachelle Markham, San Diego 

RachelleMarkham.com 

Molly Brannigan, San Francisco Bay 

Eastbaylactationassociates.com

Michelle Kunschke, Sacramento 

simplymothernurture.com

Jewel Mohr, Sacramento 

MohrLactation.com

Debra Bender, Silicon Valley 

losgatoslactation.com

Tali Ganir, San Francisco Bay www.taliganir.com

Katie Howser, San Francisco

http://www.katiehowser.com

Lori Atkins, Central & Eastern CT

ohbabylactation.com

Beth Brownstein, Stratford bethbrownstein.com

Patrice Jones, Southington 

lactationservicesofsouthington.com

Andrea Blanco, Miami-Dade and Broward Counties 

themilkcollective.co

Chrissy Bodin, Jacksonville

breastfeedingandlactation.com

Brooke Simmons, Orlando area 

brookeibclc.com

Kendal Vaughn, Pensacola 

yourpensacoladoula.com/

Mary Unangst, Tampa 

breastfeedtampa.com

Katherine Morrisson, Atlanta 

atlantalactation.com

Helen Pastures, Savannah 

latchsav.com

Melissa Donovan, North Atlanta 

melissadonovanibclc.com

Dee Kassing, Southern Illinois 

bfsupportservices.com

Lisa Milano Zimmerman, Chicago 

maternalchildconnect.com

Patricia Berg-Drazin, Chicagoland 

800lactate.com

Lisa Lahey, Indianapolis 

advancedbreastfeedingcare.com

Bonnie Holt Logsdon, Louisville 

thebabysvoice.com

Elizabeth Stapleton, Lexington 

lactationcarewithelizabeth.com

Nancy Brown, Monroe 

MilkAndHoneyLC.com

Katy Linda, central MD 

katylinda.com

Cynthia Bischoff, central MD  

lactationlife.com

Melanie Tarr, Eastern Shore  successfullybreastfed.com

Ann Faust, Howard County

http://Babyandmelc.com

Rachel O’Brien (that’s me, the one who wrote this article) MetroWest/Worcester to Waltham: see my services here

 

Shelly Taft, Central MA

shellytaftibclc.com

 

Michelle Stolow, Maynard

frombirth.com

 

Maire MacLean, Boston’s North Shore 

newfamilynurture.com

 

Heather Bingham, Arlington 

Bostonlactation.com

 

Melanie Venuti, Boston 

mvbreastfeedingsupport.com/

 

Kira Kim, Boston’s North Shore 

northshorebirthservices.com

Leah Segura, Midland 

nurturingtraditions.net

Andrea Zook, Minneapolis/St Paul Metro 

AtoZPostpartum.com

Kay Miller, Kansas City Metro 

heavensentsupport.com

Lisa Weinshenker, Las Vegas

breastfeedinglv.com

Elizabeth Devaney, Morristown 

laidbacklactation.com

Kara Thornton, South Jersey and Philadelphia 

vialacteanj.com

Michelle Farfel, Spring Lake 

luckybabylactation.com

Chaya Lighten, East Brunswick 

lactationcentralnj.com

Avery Giordano, Collingswood

http://thevillagesj.com

Sandra Jean Taylor, Albuquerque 

bosquebirth.org

Jen Deshaies, Syracuse 

syracuselactation.com

Barbara Ryan, Brooklyn & Westchester 

barbaraibclc.com

Leigh Anne O’Connor, NYC 

leighanneoconor.com

Barbara Cohen, NYC 

barbaracohenibclc.com

Stephanie Wagner, NYC

http://www.everlatchinglove.com

Sarah Lester, Fayetteville 

NTBLactation.com

Angela Tatum Malloy, Fayetteville 

alphaomegalactation.wordpress.com

Rebecca Costello, Chapel Hill

ncbirthcenter.org/lactation

Moira Griffin, Cary 

beautifulbabylactation.com

Jessica Altemara, Triangle area

http://BlissAtTheBreast.com

Stacy Noestine, Columbus 

babysbestbeginning.com

James Steele Diver, Mason 

rootswellness.net

Melissa Cole, Portland 

lunalactation.com

Seal Fichadia, Portland

kindredmothercare.com

Rosalie Kmiec, Philadelphia 

mombabyphila.com

Meredith Wentzel, Greenville 

meredithwentzel.com

Dawnalea Robinson, Nashville

lavenderlactation.com

Leah Jolly, Houston 

Bayareabreastfeeding.net

Suzanne Juel, Houston 

bayoucitybreastfeeding.com

Susan Johnson, SLC

segolilycollective.com

Jenna Forester & Gina Boling, Northern VA & DC 

breastfeedingcenter.org

Susan Howard, Arlington 

arlingtonlactation.com

Stacy Kucharczk, Hampton Roads 

helpingyou2breastfeed.com

Renee Beebe, Seattle 

second9months.com

Joy McTavish, Seattle 

Soundbeginngingsfamily.com

Mary Francell, Bellingham 

fairhavenlactation.com

Please note: This list was last updated 1/2019 and contains names, locations and websites of IBCLCs who say they specialize in bottle refusal consults. Names are in no particular order (except for in Massachusetts where I put myself first because it’s my blog post and I can do what I want) and are provided merely as a courtesy for my readers.

If you are an IBCLC in the USA and would like to be added to this list, please make sure you are:

  • experienced with bottle refusal consults
  • confident about your skill and ability in this area
  • in private practice with a standalone website (not a Facebook page)

If these all apply to you,  please contact me with your name, town/area and state, and your website. I will add names to this list at my leisure, and I have final say on who is on this list.

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