My Baby Won’t Take a Bottle

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated March 2, 2015.

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Returning to work after having a baby can be a stressful time for a mother.  Many moms today find that they’ve just hit a stride breastfeeding and mothering, only to have everything turned upside down as they now must find a caregiver, pump milk, and return to work either part-time or full-time.  In their preparations, one big hurdle for many moms is having the reassurance their baby will take a bottle. And if their little one doesn’t, and mom finds herself crying, “Help! My baby won’t take a bottle!” it causes much anxiety and stress thinking about what will happen when maternity leave is over.

Try not to push a bottle or worry about your baby taking one.
This is hard, I know.  As moms, we want to have everything sorted out and know our babies will be fine if we have to be away.  But, many babies will take a bottle from someone other than their mother when their mother is not around.  Babies are smart and know what they like.  Many will refuse a bottle when their mom is near because they prefer to breastfeed.  However, when mom is gone, survival sets in and they will take a bottle when they get hungry and mom is not there.

There is no need to introduce a bottle early-on in maternity leave.
Research confirms that most babies will accept a bottle regardless of when it is started. 1  Thus, starting a bottle at one month does not make it easier for a baby to accept than starting at 3 months, 6 months, or whenever it is necessary.  In fact, starting a bottle before breastfeeding is well-established can interfere with a mother’s milk supply and a baby nursing effectively at the breast.  From a bonding and breastfeeding perspective, there are many benefits to waiting to introduce a bottle until later rather than earlier.

Maternity leave is too short to spend it worrying.
There are always going to be things to worry about in motherhood.  But maternity leave (in the US especially) is so short, the best way a mom can spend this time is enjoying her baby, nursing her baby at the breast, and soaking up lots of cuddles and skin-to-skin time together.  Worrying won’t change the “bottle status” and introducing bottles earlier won’t help baby accept them any quicker than right before maternity leave ends – or even waiting for your baby’s caregiver to give the first bottle.

Realize many babies reverse cycle while away from mom.
This means they essentially change when they are feeding – consuming the majority of their calories during the evening, throughout the night, and morning while they are with their mother.  Then, during the day while with a caregiver they don’t need nearly as much (if any) milk. You can find more information about reverse cycle breastfeeding here.

But what is a mom to do if her baby absolutely refuses to take a bottle? Below are 10 tips to assist you in feeding your baby while you are away.

  1. There is more than one method to give a baby expressed milk. If you have tried everything and your baby’s caregiver has tried everything while you are away, perhaps a bottle is not the best method to give your baby milk.  Expressed milk could also be given via spoon, sippy cup, regular cup, etc.
  2. Delaying your return to work, even by a week, can make a difference.  Babies grow and develop by leaps and bounds every single week.  What a baby can’t (or won’t) do one week, she may do easily a week later.  Every bit of time helps so delaying your return to work, even by a week, could be hugely beneficial to helping your baby take a bottle.
  3. Find a caregiver near work.  This allows your last breastfeed before going to work to be later, your first breastfeed after work to be sooner (do them both at the caregiver’s location) and might mean you could stop by during lunch or a break to breastfeed.  Depending on how long your baby is with a caregiver and/or the age of your baby, she may not need much (if any) more milk throughout the day.
  4. Not all bottles are created equal.  Experiment with different ones, trying different shapes, sizes, and materials to find one your baby is comfortable with.
  5. Try walking, dancing, or swaying while giving your baby a bottle.  Some babies like this rhythmic motion which can calm him and help him more willingly try a bottle.
  6. Try giving a bottle when your baby is calm, or even sleepy.  Waiting until your baby is fussy and hungry, then trying to introduce something new can be a bad combination.  If your baby is with her caregiver and refuses a bottle, the caregiver could give some of the milk with a spoon or cup to take the edge off the hunger, then try again when baby is calmer.
  7. If your baby is 6+ months old, offering solids is a good way to feed baby while you are away, without her having to take a bottle. Many moms find that their babies eat solids with their caregiver and nurse frequently while mom and baby are together – waiting until around a year old to really eat more solids while at home.
  8. Though it can be tiring if your baby reverse cycles, remember this too shall pass.  By the time your baby is a year old she should be able to manage without any expressed milk or bottles while away from you.  She will certainly be eating more food alongside nursing too, so it won’t seem like you are spending all your time together breastfeeding.  Parenting, in general, during the first year is tiring, especially while working.  Though each day may seem like it will last forever, looking at the big picture you know the first year will go by all too soon.
  9. Consider safe bedsharing.  Especially if your baby is reverse cycle breastfeeding, bedsharing will allow your baby to nurse as often as she likes without you having to be up and down all night – which can really wear a mom out who then must get up early and go to work the next morning.  (Safe bedsharing includes a flat mattress – not couch or waterbed; no smoking or drugs of any kind; no other children or pets in bed; partner who is supportive; covers that are not too heavy for baby; and baby not swaddled).
  10. Remember nursing won’t last forever. In fact, it will be over before you know it!  And you will probably look back and miss this precious time in your life.  Your baby is not the problem and breastfeeding is not the problem – it’s just the demands of life and you are doing the best you can to make everything work.  Use the time you have together nursing your baby to relax, escape from your hectic day, and enjoy these moments while she is still young.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Kearney, M.H. & Cronenwett, L. (1991). Breastfeeding and employment. J of Obs, Gyn, & Neonatal Nursing, 20(6):471-480.