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Your baby won’t take a bottle? Yes, I’ve been there with 3 out of my 4 babies and it can be very frustrating!

Often breastfed baby’s gets very used to their ‘milk delivery system’ being the breast and a bottle is very different. It isn’t soft and warm like a breast and the milk comes out in a slightly different way.

The milk itself may be expressed breastmilk or maybe it is baby formula which also tastes and smells different?

If you put yourself in your baby’s position, it must be a little confusing!

Newborn breastfed babies will often take a bottle quite happily but at some stage between 8 weeks and 4 months some babies decide that the bottle is not their preferred way to be fed and refuse to suck from the bottle.

Perhaps it’s the first time you have offered a bottle to your baby and they don’t realise that it is a new way to be fed.

Some strategies you can try:

  • start with a quiet room, and try to stay calm even if your baby refuses the bottle, relaxing music may help.

  • ask someone else to try to feed your baby the bottle, perhaps, Dad, a Grandparent, a friend, (they won’t smell like breast milk). You need to be out of sight, perhaps even out of the house, I used to go for a walk around the block.

  • try a different bottle or teat. Many brands advertise that they are more like a real nipple however they are unable to truly mimic this. Some may flow too quickly or not quickly enough.

  • wait until your baby is hungry but not starving, learning a new skill is harder when you are starving.

  • try expressed breast milk or formula, some babies will take formula from a bottle but breastmilk only from Mum’s breast.

  • have some of Mums clothing close by, her smell may have a calming effect.

  • try a different position than their usual breastfeeding position, perhaps for an older baby facing outwards

  • go outside, the distraction may help.

  • use a small cup to feed your baby, such as a bottle lid. Be careful to sit them upright and watch closely for swallowing before offering more. Some baby’s will lap the milk out of the cup.

Other considerations::

If you are trying to give formula but your baby will only drink expressed breast milk from the bottle you can try giving 3/4 breastmilk and 1/4 formula and gradually increase the formula portion over time until they are drinking all formula. Many babies will tolerate this gradual change and it also allows their bowels to get used to a new sort of food as well.

In addition if your baby is over 6 months of age and eating solid foods, some babies will breastfeed before mum goes out or to work and on her return, making up for little milk while she is gone. Some babies breastfeed a number of times overnight and get adequate breastmilk to grow and develop well. This very much depends on the length of time Mum is away. Is it just going out for a few hours or are is she gone for 8 hours 3 days in a row at work. The baby will need adequate fluids such as water in a sippy cup and food during this time.

Some parents give their baby solid foods with extra formula or breastmilk in it, such as custard, thinner purees with extra breastmilk or formula. Over the entire day the extra formula or breastmilk in the food could be equivalent to a full bottle.

The truth is that some baby’s will not take a bottle regardless of their parents trying multiple strategies. If your baby has commenced solid foods and is growing and developing well, you can probably relax. If however your baby is less than 6 months of age or not growing well, see your Maternal and Child Health Nurse, Lactation Consultant, GP or Paediatrician for monitoring of growth and more targeted strategies.

Belinda Joyce

Belinda Joyce is a midwife, maternal & child health nurse and author of 'Survive and Enjoy Your Baby'. Throughout her 20 years of experience, her passion is in providing safe, non-judgemental, evidence-based advice & options to parents so they can find their own path to parenthood. She has a wealth of knowledge, not just professionally, but also personally, as she is mum to 4 kids of her own. 


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