Tips to encourage your breastfed baby to take a bottle

For whatever reason, there may come a time when you would like your breastfed baby to take a bottle. It’s not always as easy as you might think, and it can be quite stressful and confusing if your baby refuses the bottle, particularly if you’re planning to leave them in someone else’s care.

The key is to plan ahead. Here are our tips to make the transition from boob to bottle a little easier for you:

Start to offer a bottle early

Before 3 months of age, the sucking reflex will be triggered spontaneously when a baby is offered a bottle, meaning that most newborns will happily take one. Once that reflex has disappeared, introducing a bottle to a baby over 8-12 weeks can be tricky.

So, if possible, start to expose your baby to a bottle of breastmilk a few times a week from around 4 weeks of age so that they get plenty of practice. Otherwise, you might find that your baby refuses the bottle altogether. Babies are clever like that!

Try different bottles

If you’re completely new to bottle-feeding, you’ll need to find the perfect one for your individual baby. Remember that all they know is breastfeeding, so it can take awhile to find one that matches not only their instinctive breastfeeding technique, but also your unique breast and nipple shape and size. Be prepared to try a few different types.

While it can seem frustrating, try to be patient with your little one who is learning a new skill. To help you decide, and to see what’s available on the market, check out our list of Top 10 baby bottles for 2021.

Ask someone else to offer the bottle

Your baby is more likely to accept a bottle from another caregiver. It’s even better if you’re not present, so your bub doesn’t smell or hear you. Babies will usually take the breast or nothing if it’s available!

Ensure your baby and the person offering the bottle are both calm. Explain to them not to keep persisting if your baby shows clear signs of refusal. A few protest sounds is okay, but we don’t want them getting distressed, therefore creating negative associations with the bottle. Once your baby takes a bottle from someone else, you can start to try offering them in a different position to breastfeeding.

Offer the bottle for fun, not a feed

While your baby is getting the hang of using a bottle, it can be a good idea just to start off by only having the goal of them getting familiar, rather than actually swallowing any milk. Of course no one wants to waste their precious breastmilk, so fill the bottle with a tiny amount of milk.

Instead, use this opportunity to allow your baby to play with the teat in their mouth, and roll their tongue around it. If they decide to actually take any milk, you can give them a smile and some reassuring words.

Find the right time and place for your baby

Experiment to find a good time that works for your baby. It might be when your baby is sleepy, or when they’ve just woken from a nap. Mornings or afternoons might work better. You might like to try different locations to offer the bottle: in your bedroom, sitting down outside, or on the couch.

If you or another caregiver are at home, perhaps you could try playing calming music, or singing to them. They may prefer a dark room over a light room. Remember to never just prop up a bottle on your baby on the floor or in a swing, for example, because little ones can’t control the flow of milk.

Try different feeding positions

You or someone else could try offering the bottle in a close cuddled up position, using the paced bottle feeding method, try rocking them gently, or perhaps feeding whilst walking around with them.

You might like to try heating the milk slightly in a jug of boiling water, or offering it at room temperature. You could wear a muslin cloth inside your top, and let whoever is doing the bottle feeds drape it over them so the baby can smell your comforting scent.

Make it part of your daily routine

It’s important to keep going with it, even if you don’t actually need them to regularly take a bottle just yet. Incorporate it into your day in whichever way works for you. This might be your partner giving your baby a bottle first thing in the morning, or you offer one each afternoon.

Your baby will learn to expect it, and it will become a familiar and positive experience. Of course, it’s not always practical to stick to a routine, so just do what you can as often as you can. It’s your baby, and your rules.

When your baby still refuses the bottle…

Let’s say you’ve tried all of these tips consistently for several weeks, and your baby is still refusing the bottle, all is not lost. You might find that transitioning them to a spoon or cup is easier than a bottle. Babies from birth can use a cup to feed. If your baby is over 6 months, you could try to introduce a sippy cup of milk instead. They might also fill up on solids on the days that you can’t breastfeed them, so rest assured that they won’t be going hungry.

This final point might not be very reassuring (sorry!). Often what happens when babies refuse bottles is they make up for it overnight. So, you won’t have to worry about them missing out on precious nutrients and calories. They’ll just pay you a visit (or several) during the night instead.

Try to be patient, remember that your baby isn’t making it difficult for you on purpose. It’s because they’re finding it difficult.