Bottle Refusal

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Bottle Refusal: How To Get a Breastfed Baby to Take a Bottle. Tips to help you return to work from maternity leave or just go out of the house for a bit!


Preparing to Go Back to Work

Going back to work after maternity leave is one of the most difficult things a new mom will face.  There are so many emotions that come along with that transition.  You may feel like you are abandoning your baby.  Will their caregiver care for them properly?  What if something happens?  What if they forget you or you miss all of their milestones?  Those are just a tiny sampling of the thoughts that might race through your head.

There are so many things to think about and plan for.  But one of the things that you may not consider is how your baby will be fed in your absence.  Many moms who have been on maternity leave have been exclusively nursing and are confident in their choice to pump and continue to nurse after going back to work.  Bottle refusal is not even on their radar.

That was me.  And as my return to work date approached I was definitely dreading it. But making sure my baby was fed was not something I was particularly concerned about.  In fact, I’d never even heard of bottle refusal before.  That is until I had to go for a hair appointment about 2 weeks before returning to work.


Hello Bottle Refusal

I asked Dad to feed the little guy a bottle of pumped milk in my absence.  That should not have been a big deal because he’d had a handful of bottles over the past few months without issue.  All was right with the world until I received a panicked phone call that the baby would not drink from the bottle.  Of course, I immediately thought he was just doing it wrong and told him to console little Baby Guy for a few minutes since I was on my way home.

When I arrived home I tried to get him to take the bottle and realized that Dad wasn’t kidding.  He was straight up refusing it.  Pursed lips, shaking head, angry faced bottle refusal!  After I realized that this little one wasn’t going to budge, I popped a boob in his mouth and sat there stunned as I began to panic over what I was going to do about work.

I grabbed my phone and began to Google “what to do with a breastfed baby who won’t take a bottle” and up popped information on bottle refusal.  And I quickly realized that, although many chat groups had the question, there were very few resources out there.  So I set about doing what I do best.  And that is crazy research to cobble together some common sense solutions that we could hurry up and try.


Related Reading

3 Things You Need To Do BEFORE Date Night As A New Mom

10 Best Lactation Aids to Increase Milk Supply Quickly


5 Tips to Get Your Breastfed Baby to Take a Bottle

Below you will find the full list of the things we tried (or wished we had) and ultimately what worked for us:

1. Early Introduction \\ If you are a super proactive mama then you may be reading this before you’ve even given birth. Or weeks/months before you are planning to go back to work.  If that is the case, I highly recommend introducing the bottle early.  Not too early, because you want to avoid nipple confusion.  But that magic window between 6-8 weeks is prime.  At that point, you have probably established a solid nursing relationship, but baby is still a newborn and not stuck in their ways yet.  This is also a good time to introduce a pacifier, which I will address in a different post, but that can help with this as well.  Make sure that the bottle you introduce them to is the type of bottle they will be using when you are at work.  And make sure to let Dad feed baby at least one bottle per week until you go back to work.  It’s also helpful to feed freshly expressed milk initially.  That is just to get baby used to this whole thing.  That way the taste and temperature will be familiar.

2. Graduated Return to Work \\ What I mean by this is don’t just jump back in full time on a Monday for a full week. I recommend going back half time starting on a Wednesday or Thursday.  Maybe work a half day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next week.  Then do a full week, then ramp up to regular full time.  That will be easier on both you and baby.  I also recommend doing a trial run once or twice before you go back just to anticipate any problems.  You could go spend half a day shopping with your girlfriends but could easily get back home if there is an issue.

3. First Week Caregiver \\ My recommendation is to ask either Dad, Grandma, or another close family member to take off that first week to stay with baby in your absence.  Whoever it is should be someone that your little one knows well and someone with incredible patience and compassion.  That first day or two will be hell on everyone, so you need someone who can handle it.  And it will be easier on baby if this person is not a stranger.

4. Pace Feeding \\ A really great strategy for feeding a BF baby from a bottle is called pace feeding.  The recommendation is for a caregiver, other than Mom, to hold baby in a position other than the standard nursing position.  This is often sitting up with their back against your tummy so baby is facing away from the adult. You hold the bottle just about horizontal with a slow flow nipple.  Feed baby for a short time and then take a break to burp and then repeat on the other side.  A feeding should take a similar amount of time as a standard nursing session.  For more information on this technique please see recommended reading at the bottom of the post.  Timing is also important here.  I recommend attempting to feed right as baby is waking up, while still groggy.  Also make sure to pay close attention to hunger cues so y ou can try right when baby is getting hungry, but not starving.

5. Choosing a Bottle \\ This is actually the most difficult of the five tips because every baby is so different.  I did so much research and purchased so many bottles & sippy cups it was ridiculous.  I literally spent over $100 in one sitting just buying every single recommended type to see which one he would take to.  The SUPER expensive Mimijumi, the one that actually looks like a ta-ta, worked quite well.  However, I realized that it wasn’t sustainable for us to buy a bunch of these.  The nanny we ended up with preferred the First Years Breastflow  These were fine but had lots of parts to wash.  I’m not a fan of washing lots of little parts, but desperate times call for desperate measures!  However, in the end, we landed on the super cheap disposable Enfamil slow flow NB nipples that we just screwed onto the Medela pumping storage bottles.  Go figure!  We also tried the Minbie Newborn Feeding Kit EXTRA and the Comotomo Natural Feel Baby Bottle.  Our little guy didn’t take to either of these, but I hear that other babies have LOVED them.  So you might want to add these to your list of possibilities.

* What to do if these tips don’t work: I also prepared myself for the possibility that these options wouldn’t work. For us, that left very few options because we had chosen to delay introducing solids.  But if your baby does eat solids then it may be easier.  But if you’re like me you have to get creative.  I considered trying a nipple shield to get my guy used to the different sensation.  I figured that would be similar to the feel of a bottle in his mouth but returned it because we never got to that point. We also purchased a large soft tipped medicine dispenser as a backup.  I figured that I could just have him fed via dropper in a pinch.You could also create a contingency plan where you have baby brought to you at work to nurse.  However, that is not likely a sustainable option.  In the end, you all may just need to “suffer” through it for a day or two.  Your baby will eat when they get hungry enough, so you don’t need to worry that your baby will starve.  I promise!

How Things Played Out For Us

So, in the end, we decided that Dad would stay home that whole first week to make the transition easier.  I purchased all of those bottles & supplies and left detailed notes on what to do.  We tried giving him a bottle once a day until started work, but he never did more than chew on it.  Then the day came.

The first day started out fine until Logi got hungry.  Dad tried all of the tips & techniques and nothing worked.  Logi got more & more worked up until Dad broke down and called me in a panic to see if there was any way I could come home.  I could not and just advised to comfort him to the best of his ability & keep trying.  He did.  All day. And over the course of the day baby only ate about 1 ounce and was ravenous by the time I got home.  But we all survived to see day two.  That was similar, but a little better.  And by the end of the week, our little Baby Guy was a bottle drinking pro!  Bottle refusal conquered! At that point, it was on to the next hurdle.  The introduction to the nanny…

You Will Survive

So mama, I just want you to know that even though this will be challenging for your family it will all work out in the end.  And nobody will be any worse for wear.  I hope that this will help you anticipate what is in store and do your very best to prepare as much as you can.  But in the end, we can’t control everything.  And this is one of those things that is just going to be hard.

This battle with bottle refusal is also one of the challenges that planted the seed in my mind that I might want to be a stay at home mom after all.  Which led me to get serious about this blogging thing.  So everything happens for a reason…right?  Okay, now get back to mommy stuff and enjoy before you have to start working again!!

Additional Reading On Bottle Refusal:

How to Bottle Feed The Breastfed Baby by KellyMom (One of my favorite resources!)

3 comments on “Bottle Refusal Solutions for Breastfed Babies”

  1. It’s very emotional when they refuse & especially when your milk is depleted from mistatis so you have no choice to bottle feed. Day 1 is hell & day 2 isn’t much better but each day gets better. Baby will adjust and so will momma 🙂

    • So true, it’s the worst feeling in the world. And we do survive, but boy is it rough when you’re going through it! Thanks for your thoughts Regina! ??

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