How Can I Get My Breastfed Baby to Take a Bottle?

I have to go back to work and I’m having trouble getting baby to take a bottle. What can I do?
ByThe Bump Editors
June 13, 2017
Illustration of baby bottles

You’re not alone. Most breastfed babies refuse everything but the real deal at first. Be patient and know that with time (and hunger) your baby will eventually accept food from something other than the breast. There are a couple of things you can do to make it easier:

Find the right bottle nipple. There’s no one bottle nipple that’s “best” for all babies, says Amy Spangler, MN, RN, IBCLC, author of Breastfeeding: A Parent’s Guide. You’ll have to experiment with a variety of them (slow-flow, fast-flow, wide base, narrow base, firm, flexible) to see which ones your baby will accept. Babies typically prefer the flow rate (slow, medium, fast) that matches their sucking skills. While flow that’s too slow can be frustrating for some babies, flow that’s too fast can make it difficult for your baby to breathe. So watch baby closely during bottle feedings to see which type she seems to be adjusting to more readily.

Bottle-feed in an upright position. This is actually more important than finding the right nipple, says Spangler: Hold your baby upright and pace the feeding by encouraging your baby to pause after a few sucks. Stop the feeding as soon as baby shows signs of fullness (yes, even if the bottle isn’t empty).

Intermittently bottle-feed. If baby’s particularly resistant to the bottle, do combo breast and bottle feedings suggests Nancy Mohrbacher, lactation consultant and creator of the Breastfeeding Solutions app. Breastfeed baby with a bottle handy. Throughout the feeding, take baby off the breast and offer her the bottle. Go back and forth to help familiarize baby.

Look for an alternative. If baby still refuses a bottle after repeated attempts, consider a cup. Surprisingly, even very young babies can learn to drink from a cup.

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Don’t stress. No, your baby won’t starve to death while he’s at day care, even if he’s being really stubborn. Some babies learn to use the bottle simply by being apart from mom. Others “reverse cycle” at first — squeezing in all their feedings when they’re with mom (that includes overnight — sorry), and taking eight hours off while she’s away. “You wouldn’t worry if your baby went eight hours at night without a feeding,” says Mohrbacher. “This is an issue that’s usually very temporary.”

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