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Getting a Breastfed Baby on the Bottle

Categories: Uncategorized, breastfeeding


While I was pregnant I had a lot of people ask me if I was going to breastfeed. My answer, based on years of horror stories about low supply, bad latch, pain, fatigue, clogged ducts, mastitis, and just plain incompatibility, was always: “I’m going to try.” When it happened that my son and I were both lucky to find breastfeeding as easy and natural as I wish it could be for everyone, I thought we’d dodged that particular bullet and could happily close the book on the issue, dust off our hands, and move on to worrying about other things, like, oh my god, one day I’m going to have to give him the keys to my car and let him go out driving, alone, on the roads, where he could get hurt!  It turns out, however, that my relief was premature and I have a little more handwringing to devote to breastfeeding before I proceed to installing a GPS device in my car to track my boy’s every movement. Motherhood: Let the worrying begin (and never end)!

My problem is this: Breastfeeding continues to go well, but so well that my eight-week-old won’t take a bottle, not no way, not no how. At this point the situation isn’t dire–sure, it would be a luxury to hand him to someone else when he cries at that telltale “feed me” pitch–but as each day passes I’m less and less concerned about just getting a break now and more and more nervous that my kid will starve to death because he won’t drink from a bottle while I’m ten miles away at the office shuffling paperwork and trying to ignore the donuts in the breakroom. I go back to work in less than a month, so the clock is officially ticking on getting my breast-bound baby to take a bottle. 

This all started when I read in The Nursing Mother’s Companion that it’s best to introduce babies to the bottle at around four weeks old. Too bad I got to that chapter three weeks late, eh? But better late than never, yes siree, and so for the last few days we’ve been trying to substitute one feeding per day with the Dreaded Bottle but alas have had little success. At best he’s taken half an ounce in half an hour, and most of that ended up pooled in his neck folds. We’ve tried different bottles, different nipples, different positions, different times of day. I’ve had Daddy feed him while I stood outside the room, I’ve had Daddy feed him while I hovered and instructed (pretending I know what to do, which I DON’T; where were my bottle-feeding consultants and bottle-feeding classes at the hospital, huh?), and I’ve even tried giving him the bottle myself. Reinforcements are coming at the end of the week (read: Grandma!), and my fingers are crossed.    

The good news, I guess, is that the baby doesn’t hate the bottle, he just doesn’t know what to do with it. As with the Dreaded Pacifier, he gets that synthetic nipple in his mouth, works it around with his tongue, jams it from cheekpouch to cheekpouch, tries to pitooey it onto the floor, all the while gazing at his audience with a puzzled expression, eyebrows at a quizzical slant, and never gets the hang of just sucking on the darned thing. It’s easy to blame the baby when he’s the one with the problem, but it’s also possible that his bumbling parents are doing something wrong.

Has anyone else been here, done this, and come out the other side wiser? Any tips, tricks, or techniques you can share to get us through it? What was it for you: Magic bottles? Miracle nipples? Time and practice? Spells and incantations? Even just a sympathetic pat on the back will help at this point–just no hugs, as you can see there’s an infant attached to my chest.

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27 comments so far...

  • Unfortunately I don’t have any advise for you. I just understand the frustration you are going through. My youngest, now 2, never would use a bottle. I wasn’t working at the time so I didn’t worry about it too much. Although it would have been nice to not have him with me all the time as a result.

    Surviving  |  February 11th, 2009 at 7:48 am

  • ::sympathetic pat on the back::

    Robyn  |  February 11th, 2009 at 8:42 am

  • My problem with my son was the exact opposite. I planned on bottle and breast at 8 weeks. He took the bottle and never looked back. I was so insulted!

    Sharon  |  February 11th, 2009 at 10:31 am

  • I have definitely been there done that! Maddy was and still is very resistant to change when it comes to her eating regime. I started at 3-4 weeks, doing one bottle feeding a day everyday and when I went to work at 4 months, I had ZERO faith that she wouldn’t starve. And she didn’t drink very much at her daycare, but she lived. (She continues to be one of those kids that just doesn’t care enough about food to eat it if she doesn’t REALLY want to.) My advice would be to keep doing what you’re doing but don’t stress too much. I did try every bottle/nipple known to man and found that Dr Browns suited her best (she had a small mouth) and buying ‘premie’ nipples seemed to help since breast milk tends to flow slower than a bottle nipple and the regular nipples overwhelmed her at first. Letting others do the feedings may or may not help (Maddy was just as likely to take a bottle from me than from anyone else) but it couldn’t hurt to get him used to taking food from other people. Good Luck!

    Amy  |  February 11th, 2009 at 12:41 pm

  • My baby boy was the same way. What I did is get a bottle ready with a small amout of milk and put him in the same position that I would if I was going to nurse. I would have already pumped one breast empty. Then I would start to nurse him on the empty breast and when he started to cry because there was no milk I would slip the bottle right in the corner of his mouth. He would go back and fourth and cry but eventually he was okay and now will drink from both. I kept one breast with milk incase he got really upset. I also found after that he does better if I’m not the one giving him the bottle

    Rue  |  February 11th, 2009 at 4:08 pm

  • Rue–That sounds like a great technique, and one I haven’t heard of before. Guess what we’ll be doing tonight…

    Leah K  |  February 11th, 2009 at 6:17 pm

  • I worked and pumped with both kids (now 3 and 5). My first had no problem with the bottle - we introduced early and often. Number 2 we weren’t so diligent with (we were busy!!) and he first day at daycare our (beloved!) provider called at 1pm to day she hadn’t eaten AT ALL. I rushed over - ready to pull out a boob! - using my 5 minute drive to worry that I’d be spending all my breaks and lunches for the next 9 months or so going over to feed my daughter. By the time I had gotten there, she decided the bottle was okay. WHEW.

    My advice? Just keep trying! You’re doing a great job - while I think trying a few different nipples is okay - I wouldn’t over do it - all the differences may make the problem worse. Your baby may be pissed at first - cry, etc., but he will eventually figure out the bottle (especially if he gets hungry enough. Keep trying.

    BethanyWD  |  February 11th, 2009 at 11:28 pm

  • Congrats on your wee one! Our first daughter did not take the bottle very well at all. We tried everything and she would just scream until I breastfed her…sometimes my husband (who was usually the one trying) would be doing it for an hour. The kid was persistent. We finally started trying in the middle of the night, when she’d slept a good chunk of time and was starving. She’d fuss, but she was so hungry she’d just take it. Did that a couple of times every night and had no problem after that. Good luck!

    Carolina  |  February 11th, 2009 at 11:52 pm

  • My son summarily rejected the bottle, also. This is what worked for us, sort of. Heh.

    1. I had to be gone, baby, gone.
    2. He had to sit on the person’s lap, facing outward.
    3. He had to not quite be hungry. If he was too hungry, he had less patience for it.
    4. The milk had to be pretty fresh (even for my daughter, who did not mind the bottle). I am fairly sure I had a lipase problem, where the milk has a “soapy” smell to it and does not taste as good to the baby.
    5. We had to try many nipples before we found one he liked.

    An overall tip, is to put the nipple of the bottle in facing upwards into the roof of the mouth.

    cagey  |  February 12th, 2009 at 6:28 am

  • I was JUST there. Dec. 20th actually. LOL. Baby EE was born Oct. 7th and like a good mommy who knew work would come, started giving the bottle at one feeding every couple of days early on. Say like the 2nd week in. But then we all got sick and all that fell to PIECES! 2 weeks went by without a bottle and when we tried again-EVIL! So for the whole month of Nov we tried and tried. I was there, I was around the corner. I was out of the house crying… I had to be at work on the 22nd of Dec. As the weeks got closer we tried more and more. I even bought a can of formula, as it seemed that once Baby EE tasted my milk from the bottle, she was going to make us pay. So we thought formula.

    Finally in a LAST RESORT effort, we let me my mom take her while we went out. We gave her milk (Just in case) and Forumla. We figured Even Daddy was just too closely associated with the boobies to do the feeding.

    My mom said she cried and then finally my mom broke it down and said to her, “EE, if you want to eat then you need to take a bottle. It’s mommy’s milk, you can do it.” And that then EE just opened wide and gulped it down. So at midnight that night you could find me pumping and then racing across town to provide more milk once Baby woke up. Also we all agreed that no more boobies till Wed when I was off of work again.

    During that time we also got EE to take a paci (My nipples say WOOHOO!!)

    So my advice is, don’t give it. Also more of a comforting shoulder as I’ve been there, got t-shirt… etc. EE is my 2nd child and my 1st didn’t care where the food came from. EE, not like that. We lika the boobs. BIGTIME.

    P.S. We all totally set to have my mom come up to my office for me to feed incase things went south for some reason.

    P.S.S My SIL couldn;t get her oldest to take a bottle and somehow her oldest would sleep 8 hours during the day and then be up at night. I woulld die, but this worked for them. Good Luck!

    Also don’t give up. It’s VERY hard. But Dr’s are right. The baby won’t let itself go hungry.

    Oh we ended up using NUK nipples, they have the hole on one side. It was the one she liked best for some reason. Does not ook like my nipple AT ALL.

    Shanee  |  February 12th, 2009 at 8:02 am

  • Oh, man. I wish I had advice for you. but my story is like Amy’s. My daughter refused to take a bottle too, and it turns out, some kids just do that. and they might not ever get over it. Like you, I tried EVERYTHING — every bottle, nipple, every combo, every person I knew trying to feed her, even wrapping my stinky teeshirt around her bottle so that it smelled like me. She started daycare at 4 months and I was beyond wracked with nerves, worry, and guilt, and well, I won’t lie to you: she cried. a lot. and didn’t eat. Eventually she got used to it and just starved herself all day long and made up for by eating at night. Oh, she’d eat an ounce here or there at daycare, but never a real feeding, and never, ever, a full bottle. She knew how to do it, she just didn’t want to.

    The good news? she was fine. she ate when she wanted and how she wanted, and it was stressful for me, but in the end, no big deal. Eventually kids eat solid food and drink from sippy cups and so the reall difficult part is only for a few months.

    My only real advice for you is to try not to stress too much about it. in the early days of trying to give my daughter a bottle, my day depended on whether she was willing to drink an ounce or not. when she refused, which was most days, I was despodent and stressed and a total wreck. I’d like to go back and tell that new mom not to worry so much; it turns out that worrying and being a wreck doesn’t make your baby any more likely to take the bottle. so try to give yourself a break. he’ll take or it he won’t, and you’ll figure out how to deal with it.

    good luck!

    wood  |  February 12th, 2009 at 8:35 am

  • Look at this, I’m here so that it won’t be just you and the crickets! (and also, thank you for commenting on my blog yesterday)

    I don’t have a baby yet, so I really probably shouldn’t be commenting at all, but a close friend of mine also ran into this problem so I can tell you how she solved it with her baby at least. Anyway, first she pumped so that when the baby suckled there wasn’t much there. She didn’t pump empty, though, because she didn’t want the baby to think that he couldn’t turn to her for nursing down the road. Then when the baby cried because he was still hungry, she offered him the bottle.

    It turned out that for her, keeping her son in the breastfeeding position he was already in worked best. He wanted the comfort of being pressed against her skin, or he wanted eye contact, etc. But also, when he still had trouble adjusting to the bottle, she bought a few Adiri bottles. They leak sometimes, but they were the closest she could find to being breast-like, and he took to those much better than he had to the Even Flo bottles she’d originally tried.

    And that’s all I’ve got. For my friend, I was just the phone call in the middle of the night, so I can’t tell you what her struggles were or anything, just what did eventually work. Good luck!

    Sarah  |  February 12th, 2009 at 9:55 am

  • ah been there. I work at home and had a sitter here (mine are 5 & 7 now!) so I had no problems taking breaks to breast feed. at 8 months I had an all day meeting . . . alas. the time had come. we had on and off tried the bottle with no luck. finally the weekend before the meeting my husband instructed me to just leave all day (with my then 2 year old) and leave him to it (what a man!). Well, as you suspect, eventually she did it from shear hunger.

    Here was the kick in the pants though: she wouldn’t drink breastmilk out of the bottle, only formula! my husband tried the breastmilk unsuccessfully several times then figured, what the hey let’s mix up a batch of formula and lo she took it right away. From that day on we continued to give her 1 feeding a day of formula in a bottle even though we didn’t need to because I didn’t want her to lose the skill!

    gretchen  |  February 12th, 2009 at 10:31 am

  • Sadly, I can’t offer much help on this, but it’s great you’re breastfeeding. My kids never had a pacifier (my daughter sucked her thumb and “weaned” herself from it before she was two years old, my first son never sucked a finger or thumb, and my second son likes his finger but isn’t as devoted to it as his older sister was with her thumb). Pacifiers and thumbs (or fingers) can both cause dental problems, but a finger or thumb is something a baby can find themself when they want it :)

    I have heard that you can cup or spoon feed a small infant if they don’t take the bottle and you can’t be there to breastfeed. You could even try a soft sippy cup like the Avent brand. They could be alternatives to try.

    It sounds like your baby is smart and knows what he wants!

    Good luck, and I hope it works out well! Time and patience should help too - my friends girl wouldn’t take a sippy cup at one year old for the longest time, but she did eventually.



    Cindy  |  February 12th, 2009 at 11:23 am

  • Granted it was 45 years ago . . . but I used the Playtex nurser with the collapsible plastic bag innards. The nipple is more . . . er, ah, “motherly” shaped, and the surrounding area is more “breast like” as well.

    I breastfed for five months before switching, and there was no resistance. Drainage was quick and without complaint.
    It seemed he was pulling off the nipple and just drinking out of the plastic bag!

    Transition then to a regular cup/glass was pretty quick, with only a short stop at the “sippy cup” level. The objective seemed to be how much he could glug down, not the manner of presentation.


    note at the bottom of the page about the nipples.

    Just like everything else, it will work out eventually. ;->

    Virtual hugs,


    Judie Ashford  |  February 12th, 2009 at 2:15 pm

  • We went through the same thing with my daughter (now 19 months old) when I went back to work after 12 weeks. I made the dumb mistake of NEVER having given her a bottle until I went back to work. I had tried a few times but she never took to it, so I figured, oh we’ll just wait until she has to. In the beginning her dad stayed home with her, and on my first day back at work, she absolutely refused the bottle. Finally he brought her to my work on my lunch break so she could nurse and have at least one meal that day. The next day, same thing, she refused the bottle. I asked him to bring her in, but he (the smart one) said, “she just has to get used to it… if I keep bringing her in, she’ll never take the bottle.” He was totally right. It took ALL day, but finally at 4:00 that afternoon, she finally broke down and drank from the bottle. We never had a problem again after that, and luckily for us, she never refused my breast or the bottle… just took whatever was available. Good luck!

    Hadey  |  February 12th, 2009 at 5:23 pm

  • been there with two kids. With my son, something worked that I had never thought of– he would only take a bottle when we weren’t holding him–he had to be in a stroller or bouncy seat. Weird, but whatever works, right? Also, both my kids did better with formula than pumped milk, I guess if it wasn’t from the tap they weren’t interested? Best of luck and a big pat on the back…I remember all too well the frustation and fear when this happens!

    laura  |  February 12th, 2009 at 5:41 pm

  • Oh my, we have so been there. My son is 16 weeks old, and we did introduce the bottle around 4 weeks, and my god did he hate it. Screaming and carrying on. He would occasionally take a bottle from me, but what’s the point of that? The only thing that has ended up working is me leaving the apartment entirely. Otherwise the boy knows I’m around, and will accept no substitute. I’m back at work now, and he takes his bottles easily and cheerfully from the nanny. But if his dad tries to give him a bottle so I can sleep, fergit it. Ain’t gonna happen. So I’m stlll up a couple times a night…hopefully sleeping through the night is around the corner…

    Jackie  |  February 12th, 2009 at 7:57 pm

  • Like a few others (Surviving, Amy, wood), my daughter never really drank milk from a bottle. She’d have an ounce here and there, but mostly she would just wait for me to come home and get her fill then. I only worked outside the house two days a week, so I was able to nurse her on the other days. A flexible schedule can help, if that’s available to you. Sometimes she’d go for 10 hours without milk. It wasn’t a big deal, and once she started eating other foods at 7-8 months, we stopped trying to give her pumped breast milk since it would just get wasted. I continued pumping and was able to donate several hundred ounces of milk to a local breast milk bank. Keep trying, consider some non-bottle alternatives (some babies will drink out of a small, flexible cup or a spoon), but ultimately, it’s up to your baby to decide how this will play out, and no matter how it does, he’ll be fine.

    iris  |  February 13th, 2009 at 6:53 am

  • My experience was that when I went back to work and it was time to take that bottle of pumped goodness, she took it. Not from me and when I was no where where she could see, hear, smell, etc. me. We had no problems transitioning to a bottle for daycare and back to mommy for home time. In fact, I am a full-time working mother who breastfed for nearly 17 months - my daughter never had any formula (though it was close near the one-year mark). If you want further assvice or have questions, feel free to shoot me an email.

    Audrey  |  February 13th, 2009 at 12:56 pm

  • I’ve heard of people introducing the bottle while the baby was nice and relaxed in the bath (as long as yours likes the bath). Just make sure he’s not too hungry or tired when you try. It might also be a good idea to leave the house entirely while someone else feeds the baby. They have a keen sense of smell and know when mommy is nearby. My son took a bottle off and on, but it was never consistent. They also sell bottles with nipples shaped more like that of a breast. You can find them at a place like Whole Foods or in specialty magazines.

    Angelique  |  February 14th, 2009 at 10:29 am

  • I have no advice, but I just wanted to let you know that my daughter was born on the same day as your son and we are having the exact same problem right now. I’m in the process of trying different nipples/bottles. We’ll see what happens. Good luck!

    Catherine  |  February 15th, 2009 at 8:47 am

  • So sorry that you’re going through this. My daughter didn’t take many bottles at that age, but I do know that it helped if I was out of the house where she couldn’t even catch a whiff of me on the air. I truly have heard that some babies do just fine even if they haven’t been introduced to the bottle before mom leaves for work (not that that makes you feel any better). Also, remember that bottles aren’t the only way to get liquid into a kid. There is always spoon or cup feeding if necessary. He will get nourishment, and la leche league has tons of resources to tell you how to do that stuff.

    Wish you all the best.

    mamajama  |  February 16th, 2009 at 3:27 pm

  • My newborn doesn’t like plastic either. When I put the pacifier in, he’ll spit it out. But I didn’t want to be a human pacifier al the time, so I insisted that he used the pacifier. When I put it in his mouth, I can feel his tongue moving and trying to push it out. But I keep it firmly there until I feel him sucking on it. Then I remove my hand and he continues to suck on it.

    Same thing with the bottle. Like the pacifier, he wanted to push the plastic nipple back out, but I insisted. I kept it in his mouth and once he felt drops of milk on his tongue, he started sucking on the nipple and drinking from the bottle.

    I started the bottle at a few days from 1 month. He’s almost 2 months now and still resists the pacifier and bottle with his tongue, but like I said, I don’t want to be a human pacifier and I want him to drink from the bottle (because I want to be able to feed him when we leave the house), so I just firmly keep it in his mouth and eventually he starts sucking on it.

    Linda  |  February 16th, 2009 at 7:13 pm

  • The same thing happened to me, and my daughter just ended up reverse cycling. She’d eat the bare minimum to stave off the hunger pangs at daycare then guzzle when she got home. At 6M she took to the sippy, though, so maybe your son will take a sippy in a few months. Good luck!

    Lisa  |  February 19th, 2009 at 3:31 pm

  • It’s a naturally healthy response not to want to take a bottle of artificial substitute milk. Babies need to ingest their mother’s milk for as long as possible. I mean has anyone ever tasted artificial formula? The difference is human milk is perfectly balanced and sweet tasting.

    My advice to anyone in a similar position would be to build up a milk supply over a couple of weeks, pump your breasts either using an electronic or hand held device. Frieze a good amount and take it from there. Just become familiar with your pump and take it where ever you go.

    Once your child has reached four to six months you can begin to gradually wean onto vegetable and fruit puree’s.

    Natasha  |  April 10th, 2009 at 5:24 pm

  • I know this is a year later, and I hope things are going well with your baby! I wanted to post this comment in case another mother stumbles across your blog entry seeking similar advice. My exclusively breastfed baby would not take the bottle. Not at 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 5, 6… we were getting frantic because I had to go back to work at 8 weeks. We tried just about every bottle out there, and every trick in the book. I finally figured out that I have too much lipase in my milk, causing it to taste stronger more quickly when stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Once I started scalding my milk, my baby took the bottle with no problem. Now my baby is 9 months old and I still have to scald my milk. He is VERY picky about the way it tastes, and prefers it straight from the tap! I write about my breastfeeding struggles on my blog too, at

    Gaby  |  March 10th, 2010 at 12:39 pm