Jean Teo was extremely frustrated when her 4-month-old baby boy, Noel, refused to take a bottle.
Unfortunately, her baby boy would have none of that. “He would use his tongue to push the teat out, and start crying,” she says.
When Noel was just a month old, Jean’s friends had advised her to give him a bottle of expressed milk, so as to prevent bottle refusal. “I did, and he took to it easily, so I thought there wouldn’t be a problem later. Of course, the week before I went back to work, I learnt that he hated it.”
Valerie Ng, a lactation consultant with Mumsfairy, says that this is not uncommon, as babies develop a strong preference for latching, especially if he’s been latched from day one.
“It could be that the baby associates sleep with latching ― so, a crying baby may not be hungry, but wants to suckle for comfort,” she shares. “It could also be that the baby doesn’t like the firm and long teat, compared to a mother’s breast.”
Or perhaps the baby, like 9-month-old Elena, had a bad experience with a bottle previously. Her mum, Yvonne Lee, says, “The first time I gave her a bottle when she was 3 months old, the flow was too fast for her and she ended up gagging.”
From then, even though Lee attempted giving her a bottle several times, Elena simply refused. “So, she’s been stuck to me all these months,” Lee says.
“The first time I gave her a bottle when she was 3 months old, the flow was too fast for her and she ended up gagging.”
Finally, if you’ve ruled out all other reasons, it could be that your baby just wants you. “Some babies take minimal milk from the bottle when the mother is away, and latch more to ‘compensate’ when the mum comes back,” Ng explains.
If you’re struggling to give your baby the bottle, here are tips.
1) Start early
Some mums fear nipple confusion, and delay bottle feeding. But mums who intend to go back to work after maternity leave can actually offer their babies a bottle from as early as a month after the birth.
“Introduce one bottle a day once your supply is established and the baby is breastfeeding well,” Ng recommends. Keep breastfeeding as the primary means for feeding your baby, but with one bottle a day, the bottle won’t be so foreign and confusing for your baby when you do need to go back to work.
2) Pick a right time and location
When introducing the bottle, do it at a time when your baby is not too sleepy or tired, or too hungry. Taking a bottle is a new skill that your baby has to learn, so they need to focus before it can happen.
Go to a calm and quiet environment where your baby will feel relaxed. Rock or sway him for a little, and stay positive as you place the bottle near your baby’s lips, as he’ll be able to feel it if you’re stressed out, too!
3) Get someone else to feed
If you suspect that your baby is refusing the bottle because he only wants you, then this tip makes perfect sense! It’s also a wonderful opportunity for other family members to bond with bubba.
“This did the trick for me,” says Teo. “In fact, I couldn’t even be at home when he was trying to take the bottle – it was as if he could smell me! I would take the chance to go for a walk to the supermarket, and my mum-in-law would tell me that he only drank when I was gone.”
4) Try different bottles and positions
Babies, like us, have their preferences. Perhaps they dislike a certain brand of bottles because the teat is shaped funny, or too hard. Says Vanessa Liow, a mum of two, “Both my kids didn’t particularly like the bottle at first, but they were finally okay with the NUK latex teat, probably because it was softer than the regular silicone ones.”
“As long as the baby’s bowel movements and urine output is normal, the baby is putting on weight and is relatively calm, there is no cause for concern.”
Another tip that Vanessa has, is to wear the baby in the baby carrier as you feed him or her. “I would wear my baby, then lift her head up slightly and she would be willing to suckle from the bottle. It was probably the closeness to me that got her comfortable enough, and willing to drink.”
5) Stay calm
As the days and weeks pass, you’ll probably start to get increasing anxious if your baby isn’t making progress with the bottle, or is taking just minimal amounts of milk.
But don’t worry if the reality isn’t meeting your expectations, says Ng. “As long as the baby’s bowel movements and urine output is normal, the baby is putting on weight and is relatively calm, there is no cause for concern.”
6) If all else fails
Don’t fret. You’re not going to have to shelve your plans to go back to work. There are other options available!
The La Leche League International organisation, which supports and promotes breastfeeding, suggests using a syringe, cup or spoon to feed your little one. Ng points out, “Babies are individuals, and as much as we would want them to do things according to our expectations, they may not.” Just know that this is a phase, and it will pass.
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