What to Do When Your Baby Refuses to Take a Bottle and You Have to Go to Work
My Baby the Breastfeeding Purist
I was one of the lucky ones who had an easy time with breastfeeding. I was home for the first five months, and I learned to nurse lying down at night, so I didn't really have a strong incentive right away to make sure my son would be able to take a bottle when I eventually returned to work. We even tried a bottle after the first couple weeks, and he downed it like a champ. We patted ourselves on the back, and didn't try the bottle again for a couple weeks. Completely different story - to say he refused it sounds even more polite than what actually happened. He basically screamed at us like we were trying to poison him. And this is a kid who loved to eat all the time. But the bottle simply wouldn't do. And this kept happening every time we would try it for the next few months, as we got more and more worried about what we would do when I returned to work.
Needless to say, I spent a ton of time on the internet looking for suggestions from other parents of hard-core bottle refusers. It taught me a couple of things:
- One was to be grateful for how easy breastfeeding was for us - most of the articles and threads I came across online were about how to deal with a baby who refuses to breastfeed. I think it's important to always be grateful for the things that aren't problems - it's easy to forget those because the problems always rise to the forefront of your mind.
- The other thing it taught me is that while there is a lot of advice about how to get your baby to take a bottle - ranging from gentle approaches to fairly draconian - there was not a lot of discussion of how to work around it if your baby refuses the bottle and none of the approaches you try (and are willing to try) will change that.
With this hub, I wanted to provide some thoughts for people who ended up in the same camp as us - the babies who just won't take a bottle despite you taking all the efforts you are willing to take to get them to do so.
The First Step: Trying to Get Your Baby to Take a Bottle
I won't spend a lot of time on this because my focus is what to do when you just can't get them to take a bottle. But I did want to provide the links below to some very good advice about different approaches to try. I think these three cover a lot of ground and will give many good ideas of what to try. As you will see, there are so many approaches, and you have to pick what makes sense for you and your family.
Just to relate our experience, we tried all of the following:
- Me leaving the house and my husband trying to give him a bottle - he tried holding him in the same way I would hold him to breastfeed, and also holding him sitting up, walking around the house, and in various different ways that were not similar to breastfeeding
- We tried every different type of bottle (I still have a bag of bottles that looks like a sample sale) and every level of nipple. There were two that we had a tiny bit of success with - one was the Adiri Natural Nurser, and one was the Breastflow bottle. These worked with him between 4-6 or 7 months of age. Then he started being able to drink out of a sippy cup, and he liked the Playtex ones the best.
- We tried having me give him the bottle - both in a position similar to breastfeeding and in non-similar positions.
- We tried having other caregivers (grandma, grandpa) give him a bottle - both in a position similar to breastfeeding and not.
Despite our efforts, he never drank more than an ounce or two out of a bottle. So now we move on to ideas on how to deal with this situation when you have to return to work, as I did around 5 months.
A technique for bottle feeding with breastfed babies - worth a try!
Links to Advice About How to Get Your Baby to Take a Bottle
- Berkeley Parents Network: Baby Refuses the Bottle
Advice from parents about how to deal with babies of all ages when they refuse to drink from a bottle. A range of opinions and advice from real parents.
- How can I teach my breastfed baby to take a bottle? | BabyCenter
Suggestions from a lactation consultant - geared towards a three month old (assuming that's the general time mothers go back to work), but has ideas you can use for other ages as well.
- Working and Breastfeeding | Ask Dr. Sears®
Offers a lot of helpful and specific ideas about how to keep breastfeeding while working. Not a lot on specifically how to take a bottle, but great creative ideas about how to work and breastfeed.
No Idea is a Bad Idea: Ways to Deal When Your Baby Just Won't Take a Bottle
I will relate our experience, because I think it's only fair to explain where I'm coming from - and honestly, when I was searching the internet for ideas I desperately wanted to hear what others had actually done, even if those things weren't going to be an option for me. I will also pull out ideas based my own experience - I absolutely realize that these won't be options for everyone, but I just wanted to throw out as many ideas as possible.
I was coming back to work part-time, so that itself made the situation more workable. I started back at 2 half days and 2 full days. This is my first obvious idea:
- #1 - Consider coming back to work part time - many of these will obviously not be an option for everyone, but it's worth considering, and it could just be for the first few months back.
On my half days, he basically just wouldn't eat while I was gone - maybe an ounce or two at most. I would feed him right before I left and right when I got home. I was pretty surprised at how ok he was with this arrangement. One think that I think made this work was nursing at night, and this are my next two ideas to share:
- #2 - Consider nursing multiple times during the night (to make up for missed day time feedings) - He would wake up every 2-3 hours, and I would lay down next to him and nurse him back to sleep. I think he did a bit of what has been termed "reverse cycling" - basically where the baby eats more at night than in the day - and that kept his growth right on track. Obviously, this is very personal and only works if it works for your family and everyone gets enough sleep. Luckily, for us, it worked fine.
- #3 - See if you can work shorter days - obviously this won't be an option for everyone, but it's worth considering, even just for the first few months back.
On my full days, I was able to use my lunch break to feed him - one day he was with a family member who was able to meet me at a friendly cafe close to my work, and one day he was with another family member who was close by that I could go to their house and feed him. This leads me to my fourth idea:
- #4 - Try to locate child care close to work so you can breastfeed on breaks - obviously for some people this just simply won't be an option, but it's worth considering if you can pull it off, even for a short period of time.
Also keep in mind that it is a limited amount of time that your baby will be so dependent on your breast milk. If they really hate bottles, they may be willing to drink out of a sippy cup, which they can do as early as 6 months - this helped my son get a few more ounces in while I was at work. And at 4-6 months you can start solid foods, which is another possible option for getting them some calories while you're at work - this didn't work as well for us, and . These are my final two ideas based on our experience:
- #5 - Try a sippy cup early and often - some kids take them very young (6 months or so) and for whatever reason, they may be more open to this than a bottle. You can also try giving them breast milk in a small cup (we tried a shot glass!) or on a spoon, or mixed with baby food.
- #6 - Try baby food early and often - they say you can start offering food to your baby as early as four months. A lot of the early baby foods (veggie or fruit purees, rice cereal) have hardly any calories, but it's still worth trying, and there are some foods (like avocado) that can offer some calories to keep them feeling full. You can also mix breast milk with any of the baby food.
Final Thoughts: Keep It All in Perspective
I think one of the greatest parenting mantras is "this too shall pass." It is hard to believe - or at least it was for me - early on in my son's life. I felt like everything was a permanent problem that had to be fixed immediately or it would plague us for life. As so many apparent 'problems' kept resolving themselves on their own as my son naturally developed, I started understanding the truth of this mantra.
If you approach the feeding of your baby with love, patience, and as much creativity and flexibility as you have, it will work out. In a certain way, you have to take this on faith, and I wish I could have done that more successfully. But it is true, and every challenge like this is an opportunity to work with your baby to figure out how to meet all of your needs as best as possible.