12 Steps to help your Baby take a bottle.

Today’s post is about an issue many new parents face, but were not prepared or expecting to have to deal with. Getting their new bundle of joy to take a bottle!

Sounds simple right? Not so much. Why? Well, we will get to that in a minute. As a Newborn Care Specialist (also known as a baby nurse) these are the kinds of calls I get. The typical situation goes something like this: mom’s maternity leave is up and needs to return back to work. She and dad (and probably) other family members have tried EVERYTHING to get their little one to take the bottle, but anytime that bottle nipple touches the baby’s lips, or even worse, the baby just sees the bottle, he or she starts crying hysterically.

It’s awful. Hours, days, weeks and months can go by and still the baby won’t take the bottle. Mom gets so stressed out having to deal with this while returning back to work, which in turn puts stress on the entire family unit. Sometimes the baby is a little more accommodating and will only protest a few days to a week and eventually give in, but some babies are really stubborn and hold out. In these situations, another arrangement is usually made. One that involves the baby being brought to mom’s place of employment to nurse, or mom coming home on her lunch break to breastfeed the baby. Not an ideal situation for most families, but nothing else has worked and the new parents are desperate. I’ve been there. I’ve worked with these babies. I empathize with your pain. It’s not fun for anyone involved.

So, what is happening? Why is your baby crying and why won’t he or she take the bottle? The short answer is this: your baby has an aversion to the bottle, has developed a preference for the breast (not the same as nipple confusion) and cries because of the negative association with the bottle and/or is protesting because he/she is not getting the breast.

If you’re currently struggling with your baby not taking a bottle, please do not worry. I’m going to give you some tools that will hopefully get you moving in the right direction. But first, what would you say if I told you this whole dilemma could 100% be avoided? Would you believe me? Well new parents, it’s true! Getting your baby to take the bottle can be easy peasy! All you have to do is one simple thing. START EARLY. How early? When your baby is 8 weeks, 4 weeks or 2 weeks old? Is that early enough? Not usually. If you want your baby to accept the bottle and breast simultaneously with ease, the best time to introduce the bottle is within the first 2-3 days of life.

Yes, you read that right and I know what you may be thinking. “But I was told if I introduced the bottle that early my baby would get nipple confusion and it would compromise my breastfeeding relationship”. Right? Unfortunately this is misinformation, please take it with a grain of salt. As a baby nurse I see this advice backfire too often because the baby is taught that his or her milk comes from the breast and the breast only. Now there are babies that can be exclusively breastfed for 3 or 4 months and have no problem accepting a bottle the first time it is offered. However, there is no way to know if you will have one of those babies. When done appropriately and the bottle is introduced in the first few days of life the baby learns that there is two ways to get milk: from the breast and from the bottle. It really is that simple.

So, if you’re still expecting, here is what you will do to have a successful bottle introduction.

Introduce the bottle in the first few days of life.
Have another person other than the mother give the bottle.
Start with only one feed per day from the bottle.

That’s it! When working with new families, this is how we do it and it works beautifully! The breastfeeding relationship is maintained and the baby knows how and accepts a feed from the bottle.

If you’re currently struggling to get your baby to take a bottle, the following are a few things to try:

  1. Before offering the bottle, make sure the baby is calm and not overtired. If the baby is crying, the negative association is going to continue to remain. Trying to force the baby to take the bottle when they are crying isn’t usually helpful.
  2. Have the mother leave the house while another caregiver gives the bottle. The breastfeeding mother has a very distinct smell, one that the baby can easily pick up on. Babies have an incredibly developed sense of smell and are really smart, so keep that in mind.
  3. Remove the infant from the home environment. Again, they are really good at associating certain smells, sounds and routines. Try going to the park or sit outside on the patio.
  4. If the baby is under 4 months, try gently swaddling them. Swaddling helps to calm their nervous system. If your baby is crying when being offered the bottle, chances are they are flailing their arms, which is really upsetting to their nervous system.
  5. Try offering the bottle during the night, when they are drowsy. If your baby does a dream feed, pull them out of the crib a few minutes before they would normally wake and offer the bottle.
  6. Have the mother use a nipple shield. Not their conventional use, but I’ve had it work for families. Using a nipple shield allows the baby to breastfeed in the same comfortable position and environment that they are used to, but also introduces the artificial nipple and gets them used to it. Medela has a nice one: https://www.amazon.com/Medela-Contact-Nipple-Shield-Mediu/dp/B000067PQ0?th=1
  7. Try to face the baby away from you and walk around slowly. Sometimes they will become slightly distracted and will take the bottle this way.
  8. Most babies that have trouble taking the bottle don’t like to be offered the bottle in the cradle position. They associate this position with breastfeeding. You can try it, but be prepared. Oftentimes it will make them mad if they don’t get the breast.
  9. Try a few different bottles and nipples. I like Dr. Browns original bottles because most babies do well with them and they are comfortable to hold: https://www.amazon.com/Dr-Browns-Original-Newborn-Feeding/dp/B001IXYOD2/ref=sr_1_1_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1502161742&sr=8-1&keywords=dr+brown%27s+bottles
    Nine times out of ten, babies won’t take the bottle because it’s different and not the breast. It can be helpful to find one that has a similar nipple shape to the mother’s, but I have seen babies transfer back and forth beautifully when the mother’s nipples and the bottle nipple are completely different. Also, make sure the nipple size is appropriate for your baby’s age. Nipple size determines how fast the milk will flow through the nipple. Size 1 = 0-3 months, size 2 = 3-6 months etc. sometimes a slower or faster flow than your baby’s age range might be necessary, but they will usually fall in the normal range.
  10. Try taking them to your preferred daycare for a few days. Whole new environment and people. I have also seen this work quite well.
  11. Rule out any potential medical issues such as a tongue or lip tie and other possible feeding problems.
  12. Lastly, don’t give up. Know that it will take time and repetition, so keep trying! If you feel hopeless or are getting frustrated, reach out to a local Newborn Care Specialist (NCS) in your area.

Please leave a comment if you found this information helpful. If you have questions or other specific needs relating to your baby please email me at katie@theearlyweeks.com Also, if you have questions you’d like answered in a blog, send them to me!

Until next time, your Boise Baby Nurse


The content contained in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice or to replace the advice of any medical professional. It is based on our opinions and experience working with newborns and their families. Other’s opinions may vary. It does not represent the views of any affiliated organizations. The reader understands that term “Babynurse” is often a word used to describe a newborn caregiver. However, unless otherwise disclosed, we are not licensed nurses in any state. By reading and/or utilizing any information or suggestions contained in this blog, the reader acknowledges that we are not medical professionals and agrees to and waives any claim, known or unknown, past, present or future.

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