Baby refusing bottle?

It's common for babies to refuse bottles, especially if they are breastfeeding. There are a few things you can try to help encourage your baby to drink from a bottle, or, you can try an alternative feeding method of expressed breastmilk. This article describes alternative feeding methods to bottle feeding (if you want to know more about bottle feeding, see our article on Paced Bottle Feeding).

Things to try when baby refuses bottle

  • Have someone else besides mum offer the bottle: A breastfed baby might prefer mum if she's in the room, so try having someone else offer a bottle in another room. 
  • Try Paced Bottle Feeding
  • Try alternative feeding methods to bottles (see below).
  • Try different teats or bottles - this can get pricey, so we encourage you to try alternative feeding methods first.

Alternatives to bottle feeding

Did you know that you don't have to feed expressed breastmilk with a bottle? Here are some methods you can try using...

Spoon feeding

  • Great for Colostrum

Even newborn babies can drink from a spoon. They won’t sip and gulp like an older person, but they will take light laps with their tongues. Knowing how to spoon feed is especially useful if you’re expressing colostrum for a newborn baby because you can control the feeding of very small amounts. Using a plastic spoon, support baby upright and bring the spoon to her bottom lip. Gently tip the spoon forward at a light angle, and allow her to use her tongue to control how much she drinks. If you’re feeding colostrum, try hand expressing directly into the spoon.

Spoon feeding colostrum is an excellent alternative to baby bottles for feeding breastmilk.
A newborn baby lapping colostrum with his tongue. Image courtesy of Breastfeeding Resources Ontario.

Cup feeding

You can also feed expressed breastmilk in a cup – even to a newborn baby. Just like with the spoon, your baby can take breastmilk from a cup just by using his tongue. Using a small cup (or the bottle cap that comes with your Spectra breast pump), hold baby in an upright position and bring the cup to his lower lip. Gently and slowly tip it forward so he can drink from it. For an older baby, you might consider a sippy cup top so your baby can feed himself without too much worry about spilling breastmilk.

Babies of all ages can drink breastmilk from a cup. This is a great alternative to baby bottles for breastmilk feeding.
Tip: You can use the clear bottle cap that comes with your Spectra breast pump to feed breastmilk.

Syringe feeding

  • Great for Colostrum

A food syringe will hold just a few mililitres so it may not be practical for breastmilk. However, feeding colostrum with a syringe is easy (and maybe even practical as you can use the syringe to suck droplets of expressed colostrum out of your breastshield or valve). Insert the tip of the syringe into baby’s mouth. When she latches on, press the syringe top to give her a mililitre or two at a time. You can use a finger to help encourage baby to open her mouth, as shown in the image below.

Syringe feeding is an alternative to baby bottles for feeding breastmilk.
Tip: You can use a finger to assist in inserting the syringe into baby’s mouth, as shown in this image.

Supplemental Nursing Systems

Another alternative to baby bottles for feeding breastmilk is using a supplemental nursing system (SNS). There are a few types of SNS’s on the market that you can use to feed your baby breastmilk. You can learn more about SNS tube feeding, finger feeding, and other feeding devices by reading this article.

Paced bottle feeding

If you’re using a baby bottle for breastmilk feeding, one thing to know is that feeding a breastfed baby from a bottle is a bit different than feeding infant formula from a bottle. Paced bottle feeding mimics, as much as possible, how a baby would normally draw milk from the breast. The important thing to know about paced bottle feeding is that it should take, at minimum, 10 minutes to feed baby a bottle of expressed breastmilk, regardless of how much breastmilk baby needs.

Use paced bottle feeding if you're using baby bottles for breastmilk feeding.
Spectra breast pumps come with soft flow teats so you can use your milk collection bottles to feed breastmilk.

To pace bottle feed, hold baby in an upright position just like feeding breastmilk from a cup or spoon. Offer the baby the bottle at a horizontal angle, but don’t force it into his mouth. Once baby draws the bottle into his mouth, tip it upward at a slight angle. After baby has drank for a few minutes, remove the bottle from his mouth to offer a pause. Pause every few minutes, allowing baby to draw the bottle into his mouth. This makes sure baby drinks at the pace he normally would from the breast, and prevents baby from getting overly-full. If you watch older babies use baby bottles to feed themselves breastmilk on their own (like in the photo above), you’ll notice that their drinking patterns resemble paced bottle feeding.

See our article on Paced Bottle Feeding for more information on paced bottle feeding.


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