Formula Feeding Tips to Try When Your Baby Won’t Drink the Bottle
Bottle refusal happens with great moms and healthy babies all the time for perfectly normal reasons. When there’s a change in formula brand or feeding schedule, or a progression in emotional or physical development, it’s not unusual for a baby to resist drinking formula. Sometimes a perfectly bottle-trained infant will simply have a fussy moment where they struggle with drinking their baby formula, even if they’re hungry! How can you help your infant accept the formula they need? Try these baby formula feeding tips to help your baby relax, focus, and eat.
If there’s an ongoing problem getting your baby to take their meals you’ll need to consult your pediatrician, but before you jump to appointments and professional care try these immediate hands-on steps to help your baby drink the bottle.
Reboot and Try Again
If a hungry baby doesn’t accept the bottle of baby formula that you’re offering, they’ll likely feel as stressed and frustrated as you are. The same way that you would take a step back and a deep breath if you hit a dead end while tackling a tough project at work, give your baby a break from a trying to eat.
Try switching focus to ten minutes of delighted play, a smile-inducing sing-along, or anything else your baby loves to do with you. Once your baby (and you!) calm down, slip them the bottle gently as though feeding hasn’t been a problem. Often this is enough of a reboot that they’re able to easily drink their baby formula on the second try!
If they were feeling fussy before, the shape of the nipple or the size of the object might have bothered them, but now that they’re in a better mood they can handle it. It sounds basic, but when you’re worried that your little one is hungry and can’t get what they need, that feeling of urgency can actually trick you into persisting relentlessly when what you really need to do is take a break together.
If you’re a parent who has been breastfeeding your baby, they can be more likely to refuse a bottle from you than from someone else. Even if they’d happily accept a bottle from dad or a nanny, many fussy babies will refuse it from mom because they would prefer the familiar comfort of latching onto the breast. When a baby is in mom’s arms, they can tell by smell and feel that natural milk is nearby, and since it is their most comfortable and well-known food source they may resist taking other feed.
This can feel frustrating, but the baby isn’t obstinate; the baby is confused! They associate you with milk, so they expect to feed on milk, and sometimes can’t understand what to do with the artificial nipple full of formula that you’re offering. Make it easier for the baby by switching caregivers.
In the arms of dad, grandpa, or a babysitter, your sweet little one won’t be getting sensory cues that they are about to receive breast milk, so it’s simpler for them to recognize the bottle as food. What a relief for everybody! Before you pass the baby along, calm them with play, and then put yourself in another room where the baby can’t see, hear, or smell you. If the other caregiver can ease them from play into feeding, it’ll give you all the best chance of mealtime success.
Simplify the Setting
Often, babies want to drink the bottle but is environmentally distracted, so they can’t remember how to feed. Their attention isn’t fully on the meal. A setting with interesting noise, moving objects, fascinating light, or other stimulation might be splitting the baby’s focus so that they can’t concentrate on their formula feeding.
Consider whether there is a way to simplify the setting. Could you lower the lights or turn them off? Can you drape a blanket over yourself and the baby? Is there a quieter place that you can go, or a way to cover other sound with calming white noise by turning on a fan or a sound machine? Whatever you can do to reduce distractions will improve your baby’s ability to calm down and drink the bottle. Take a break and then try again in a calmer setting.
Swap the Equipment
If you’ve tried these behavioral tips and tricks and your baby still isn’t eating, it may be the bottle or nipple itself that’s causing the struggle. Different nipples have different flow speeds, and what suited a baby yesterday at one hunger level, like a faster nipple during a ravenous lunchtime, might be unpleasant for the same baby at another time when they want a calmer eating experience and a chance to slowly taste their formula a bit more.
The size and shape of the bottle obviously change the speed and feel of eating as well! It’s smart to have 2-3 bottle and nipple types and brands to try. Most babies set a preference and stick to it, but some babies actually find a variety of nipple shapes or textures fun or interesting, and their curiosity can help them stay focused on eating. When you’re changing bottles or nipples, begin with the slowest-flowing options that you have.
If you can get a baby to take a slower feeding, it’s safer and healthier; it will be easier for them to coordinate their muscles to suck and swallow slowly, which means a lower chance of aspirating any baby formula into their lungs where it can cause problems. A slower feed from the bottle also means less chance of throwing up, and a more comfortable digestive process for the little one overall!
However, if a baby has been drinking happily from a slow nipple and slow bottle for days or weeks and suddenly doesn’t want their baby formula at feeding time, try a slightly faster flow. The baby might be feeling impatient, especially if they’ve been hungry for a little while, and leveling up to a faster formula delivery system might be just what your growing baby is trying to ask you for! Whatever you decide, I hope you found these formula feeding tips helpful.