Want to introduce formula but your baby refuses? Learn how to get a breastfed baby to take a bottle of formula quickly right here!
For many reasons, moms—even breastfeeding moms—turn to infant formulas as a way to feed their babies.
You might be going back to work and realizing that you can barely pump an ounce of milk. You’d rather that your spouse or caregiver feed the baby formula while you’re the one who nurses. Perhaps you’re finally ready to wean, but now need him to take formula.
I can certainly relate.
One of my twins was born underweight, so there was a risk he wouldn’t be able to come home with us until he gained enough. While I intended to practice exclusive breastfeeding like I did with my eldest, I also didn’t hesitate to supplement with formula if it meant getting him to a healthy weight.
Then, a few months later, I was hit with thrush, which reduced my milk supply nearly in half. I knew that the twins would need to switch to formula for half their bottles now that my milk production was lower. Combination feeding became my norm.
Except what do you do when your baby wants nothing to do with formula, or a bottle for that matter?
How to get a breastfed baby to take a bottle of formula
You’ve tried a few bottles and nipples to no avail. No one else can give him a bottle—when you leave him with someone else, he won’t eat until you get back. By that point, he’s crying so much because he’s hungry. You’re scared you’ll never be able to leave him anywhere at this rate.
How do you introduce an exclusively breastfed baby to formula when he refuses to drink it? And what if he never accepts it as a source of food?
First, try not to despair about his bottle refusal. Thinking he’ll never drink formula or that you’ve tried every bottle leaves you hopeless, and not solution-oriented. You can find a way to make it work.
And second, give yourself a few weeks to figure it out. This is all about trial and error, especially when it comes to introducing new habits and methods. We can’t expect our babies to take to something new the first time, every time.
With that said, let’s take a look at a few strategies on how to get a breastfed baby to take a bottle of formula:
1. Let your baby play with the bottle
Your baby might refuse to drink from the bottle simply because it feels unfamiliar to him. Imagine being so used to nursing to feed, to all of a sudden being handed something completely different as a way to eat.
Instead, let him play with a bottle of breast milk or formula, even if you only fill it to an ounce. The goal isn’t to get him to drink from it, so much as to get him familiar with how it works.
Stay calm and gentle if he doesn’t like it or throws it away, just as you would if he were exploring a new ball or toy. On the flip side, smile and praise him as he plays with the bottle, especially if he places his lips around the bottle nipple to suck.
Toddlers are often introduced to the potty long before parents begin the potty training process. The same is true with the your baby’s bottle. By letting him get familiar with it, he’s able to explore and get curious about it at his own pace.
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2. Offer the bottle when your baby is calm
As easy as it may be to calm your baby down by breastfeeding, the same isn’t always true with a bottle. He might be so hungry and upset that taking a bottle is the last thing he wants to do.
This rule is true for kids of any age—trying to talk to a toddler in the middle of a tantrum can feel pointless. Instead, offer the bottle when you know he’s happy and calm, not when he hasn’t eaten the whole time you’ve been gone.
One of the best times to offer a bottle is first thing in the morning. He can be calmer and willing to try new things than, say, during the witching hours at night.
3. Start small
Expecting your baby to go from 100% nursing to taking a bottle overnight can be unrealistic. Instead, start small.
For instance, it’s okay if he only drinks an ounce of formula when you offer a bottle. Go ahead and nurse him after, celebrating the fact that he took an ounce. Try again another time, praising him for drinking from the bottle, no matter how few ounces he takes.
Once he’s willing to take the bottle, start small again by mixing formula in little increments with expressed breast milk. Let’s say he drinks six ounces. Start with a bottle filled with one ounce of formula and five ounces of breastmilk. Gradually increase the amount of formula while decreasing the breastmilk.
4. Try premium formula brands and versions
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Many exasperated parents point to the many brands of formula they’ve already tried. “Nothing works,” you may have conceded.
But I urge you to try even more brands, especially if you’ve only tried two or three types. And choose premium brands or types of formula. For instance, one brand might be pricier than the next, but perhaps for a reason—the taste might be sweeter or more palatable.
Even within the same brand, offer the pre-made liquid version instead of the powder one, as this can also make for a tastier meal.
And lastly, check with his pediatrician for any issues that can complicate bottle feeding, like allergies, ear infections, or being lactose intolerant.
5. Mimic the breast
Bottle feeding, especially with formula, can feel so different for breastfed babies. Try to make the transition from breast to bottle as smooth as possible. A few tricks to try:
- Insert the bottle along with your pinky finger. Taking care that your finger is clean, keep it next to the nipple as you insert both of them into your baby’s mouth. The feel of your skin next to the bottle’s nipple can feel familiar enough that he can keep drinking. Eventually, you can slide your finger out, and let him continue drinking from the bottle.
- Warm the milk. Breastmilk feels warm to drink, not cold or even room temperature. If you find that he doesn’t like the temperature, experiment with warming the formula. Make sure to do so properly (never in the microwave!) and test the temperature on your skin.
- Use nipples that mimic the breast. Choose brands that are specifically similar to the breast—often, they’re soft and wide. Nanobébé, Comotomo, and Tommee Tippee are a few examples.
6. Feed your baby in a bouncy seat
Holding and feeding your baby as if you were nursing can feel confusing to him. He’s expecting to breastfeed and doesn’t understand why he’s given a bottle.
But what if you make the experience completely different? Place him in an infant seat, or even propped on your thighs so you’re facing each other. Encourage him to drink as you smile and praise him for his efforts. That way, you’re introducing the bottle as a new experience and avoiding any confusion.
What do you do when your baby won’t take to formula feeding and only wants breastmilk? Maybe your milk is drying up, you’re going back to work, or you’re simply ready to wean—except he wants nothing to do with formula.
Introduce the bottle the same way you would anything new—by letting him play with it. Offer it when he’s calm and cheerful, not cranky and throwing a fit. Start small, whether that’s offering an ounce of formula or mixing it little by little with breastmilk.
Offer premium brands or types of formula which, while more expensive, might be easier to take. Mimic breastmilk, from warming the formula to using nipples that resemble the breast. And finally, feed him in a bouncy seat instead of in a cradle so that drinking from a bottle can feel like a new, different experience.
Like many aspects of parenting, offering a bottle of formula isn’t always smooth the first time around. But with consistent effort and an optimistic attitude, you can get him to take formula in a bottle, once and for all.
Get more tips:
- 4 Effective Tricks to Handle Your Baby Not Drinking Milk
- How to Wean a Baby from Breastfeeding
- Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty for Not Breastfeeding
- 9 Things to Do If Your Baby Goes on a Bottle Strike
- How to Make Baby Food at Home Easily and Conveniently
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