One of the most common pieces of advice given when wanting to establish a great start to breastfeeding is to not use a bottle for at least the first few weeks. This is mainly due to the importance of direct latching for your milk production as well as avoiding bottle preference. At some point, most parents are going to want their baby to take a bottle. This can be just so they can get a little extra sleep, get to an appointment, run an errand, go on a date with her significant other, etc. without the baby, or they may be going back to work. Sometimes the baby may end up being fine and having an easy transition to taking a bottle, while others may just flat out refuse.
My suggestion is to offer a bottle for the first time between 4-6 weeks of age and then consistently offer 3-4 bottles per week for the breastfeeding duration. If you have missed that window and the baby is now refusing a bottle, please see my suggestions below.
There are a few reasons why your baby will refuse a bottle. One reason could be that they fully associate you with food and the bottle is a totally foreign object they have no idea what to do with. Another reason is they don’t like the feel of the artificial nipple and it may take some getting used to. If your baby does try to take the bottle, but gags on the nipple then it could be either the wrong type of nipple or an undiagnosed tongue tie. If you are worried it could be a tie then check with an IBCLC or a local professional who specializes (pediatric dentist or ENT) to see if that is contributing to the cause.
Here are some ways you can help your baby take a bottle:
-Have someone else try. It is best for the breastfeeding parent to be somewhere else while someone else gives the baby the bottle. If your baby smells their parent then you have a higher chance of the baby refusing the bottle because he wants the breast. You can also add one of the parent’s shirts or clothing items that they have worn recently to help them smell their parent while the other person tries the bottle.
-Make sure the breastmilk or formula in the bottle is warm. You can also run the nipple under warm water so it isn’t cold when it gets to the baby’s mouth. You may need to also try different bottles.
-Offer the bottle when they would be just starting to be hungry. If you wait until they are very hungry then they just will not want to bother trying to take the time to try something new.
-Make sure you are in a quiet and non-stimulating area so the baby can focus.
-If you try many other ways and the baby still isn’t taking the bottle, then mama needs to leave the house. Get approval from the pediatrician to leave for a while and let someone else try multiple times. If the baby is healthy and growing well then mama should be able to leave the house for the day. Have the other person keep trying off and on and eventually the baby will take the bottle. This could take a couple of tries. Make sure to check in with the pediatrician to see how long is ok to be away from the baby.
If the suggestions above fail, get in touch with an IBCLC. I would be offer to help virtually if you cannot find a local provider.