9 Creative Strategies for Helping Baby to Take a Bottle

Help baby take a bottle postpartum doula Irvine

We get calls sometimes from parents who are desperate to get their breastfed baby to take a bottle.

Not like, "Oh, it would be nice but it's been tough so far." Like, "OMG MY BABY WOULD RATHER STARVE THAN EAT FROM A BOTTLE AND I HAVE TO GO BACK TO WORK/I WANT 3 HOURS TO MYSELF/DESPERATELY WANT MY PARTNER TO HELP WITH THE 3AM FEED WHAT DO I DO???"

Chances are if parents have gotten to that point, they've already read some great articles online about introducing bottles to a breastfed baby (like this one, this one, or this one). They may even have called for help on Facebook for tips or advice on how to get and gotten responses with some of the standard advice to try:

  • Change the bottle (with numerous suggestions of "the one" that works)
  • Different temperature of milk
  • Different time of day
  • Different people trying (not parents)
  • Distracting baby
  • Trying formula in the bottle instead of breastmilk
  • Mom (primary food source) out of the house while someone else tries
  • Make sure baby is really hungry first
  • ... and so many other common suggestions
     

It's true that some babies just don't like bottles. But it's also true that there are times in development when helping babies learn to eat from a bottle is easier than others because babies lose their sucking reflex over time.

If you're already past the 6-8 week mark and having trouble, it's important to know that baby really might not learn to take a bottle if they haven't already. There are lots of other ways to get milk into babies besides at the breast or bottles (see this great list of ideas on Kellymom.com, one of our favorite baby feeding resources), so it might be worth trying some other methods. 

When we started getting calls from parents who had tried everything, we were looking for some creative ways to help and stumbled upon this blog post from Kimberly Bepler of ABC Doula Service in Portland. Kimberly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), postpartum doula, and all-around baby whisperer. She has worked with over 2,000 families of all shapes and sizes and has a LOT of wisdom to offer. 

We started trying out some of her creative techniques for helping breastfed babies learn to take a bottle, and saw that her tips and tricks worked so well with some babies! Some of these tips are along the lines of typical advice we've seen on parenting forums, but there are some true gems here... and all are written with sensitivity and compassion for parents and little ones going through this transition.

We asked Kimberly if she would allow us to feature this post on our blog, and she graciously agreed. So without further adieu, here is Kimberly with some ideas for you to try!


Trouble with baby taking the bottle?

by Kimberly Bepler

 Kimberly Bepler

Kimberly Bepler

At moms group I used to get asked almost every week about how to get a reluctant baby to take a feeding from the bottle. So many parents have agonized over this task as they prepare to go back to work, or their partner or relative desperately wants to be included in the feeding, or they are slowly losing their milk supply and not able to turn the tide. It often results in a lot of anxiety for the breastfeeding parent, and certainly for the baby's caregivers as well.

As prevention seems to be the best solution to most things, here is my best advice (i.e. guidance, encouragement, not evidence-based):

  • Don't wait too long (say past 6 or 8 weeks) because babies get to a point where Mama's warm body is really the source of food and all other substitutes fail miserably--that is not the easiest time to introduce a piece of silicone.
     
  • The next biggest thing would be to keep the bottle in the  baby's daily life so they stay in the habit of getting a supplemental feed (usually from their other parent or another caregiver) each day, or at the least every other day. Don't worry so much about the timing, other than to build it into your schedule of pumping and preparing milk. The key is to keep it as part of a baby's life, so they don't lose the desire to get food this way.
     

Obviously most of the worried moms in my groups have already passed this point. If you have a baby who is already refusing the bottle, then we have a little more work to do.

The biggest thing I recommend with an out and out Bottle Refuser (or a baby who "plays" with the bottle nipple) is keeping the baby calm, and using persistence.
 

Here are a few things that mamas have told me work for them, and some that have worked with me with ABC Doula Service clients:

  • Try feeding in mid-morning, before a regular feed is due so baby is not so hungry that he can't learn a new skill.
     
  • Don't buy one of every bottle thinking the nipple makes the difference. Most babies will take whatever bottle nipple you have unless the flow is wrong. Some mamas say to look at your nipple after a feeding and see what shape it is and buy a bottle with a similar shape. I don't worry as much about this, but I try not to change it too often so baby has a chance to get familiar with this strange silicone thing. As with most baby things, there are lots of ways of doing this right.
     
  • Usually it is best to have the breastfeeding parent leave the room, and engage in something else that is noisy. Whomever is feeding the baby will need some time to get familiar with this new role, and they will certainly learn their own techniques for soothing baby in between.
     
  • Keep the baby calm. I find that a calm baby is better at learning new things. Use the soothing skills you have learned that work for this baby, allow baby to try to eat, and calm them when they get worked up. Try not to allow the baby to cry and cry, which often sends a breastfeeding parent running in to "fix" it (both parties feeling like a failure).
     
  • Some families say that using a different position than baby normally feeds in works better. Others try to mimic the baby's typical breastfeeding position. Try both. And think outside the box. You might find the best way is to take the baby outside where they are really distracted and try there.
     
  • I have had good results by using a piece of the breastfeeding parent's clothing between me and the baby, and not making eye contact while getting baby adjusted. Sometimes I also don't talk but rather use a white noise to help soothe baby (some babies could be thrown off a bit by my voice).
     
  • Sometimes I pull out all the stops and have to use all the S's at once while trying to keep baby calm. Swaddling, side-stomach, swinging/jiggling (in my arms or bouncing on the ball), using white noise, and then using the bait-and-switch with the pacifier or finger. This can even work for much older babies. Sometimes they even fall asleep, which I allow of course, only to be gently nudged by the bottle when they are still drowsy after sleeping a bit. Sometimes the half asleep attempts are the most successful.
     
  • Give baby time. Start trying weeks before you go back to work, and keep going until you come up with an alternate plan or baby decides this bottle contains the same wonderful stuff they get from mom, they just need to learn the new technique!
     

Last tip: I have the very best outcomes with this approach, especially with the full out "Bottle Refusers." 


I get on the bouncy ball with baby, sometimes wrapped or at least held firmly. While using a rhythmic (but not fast or too strong) bounce, I allow baby to be soothed by the motion while I put a little milk on their philtrum  (base of the nose/upper lip area). Then I set the collar of the bottle on the baby's chin with gentle pressure, and make sure the nipple is pressing on the philtrum. We bounce like this until baby engages their rooting reflex, and then I roll the nipple into baby's mouth, guiding it along the roof of the mouth until baby starts sucking (a reflex as well with pressure on the palate). I keep bouncing baby until the sucking rhythm takes over and we allow baby to eat without as much movement. We don't have to use the ball each time after that, but it does seem to work well for getting through the frustration phase of initially taking the bottle.

 

This article was published on abcdoula.com. It was republished with permission from Kimberly Bepler. 


Have any of these tips worked for you? Do you have any other gems to add to this list? If you're in need of help getting your baby to take a bottle, book a lactation counseling session today!