If your breastfed baby is refusing the bottle, here's what you need to know.
Breastfeeding is truly a force of nature. It can deepen the bond between baby + mama for years to come; it can cut the risk of SIDS in half; it even has its own emoji and its own Sesame Street episode.
But mamas, listen up—we'd be lying if we told you that breastfeeding isn't also hard. It can be stressful, and when it doesn't go as planned, it can make you feel like a total failure, even though so many moms struggle with breastfeeding.
Getting a breastfed baby to take a bottle is one of the most prevalent breastfeeding issues among new moms according to Jamie Owens, RN and Board Certified Lactation Consultant. If your baby is refusing the bottle, don't panic, mamas—you're not alone. And we can help.
From breast to bottle: What's the deal?
As a breastfeeding mom, you may want to incorporate bottles for a variety of reasons. Maybe you need to be away from baby for a while, or want your partner to get more involved with feedings, or baby is struggling a bit on the breast. Whatever the reason, incorporating bottles into baby's feeding routine is totally healthy and, when done correctly, according to Owens, won't undermine your baby's ability to breastfeed effectively.
Sounds easy, right? [Insert the sound of the universe laughing here ??]
Unfortunately, getting a breastfed baby to take a bottle can be one heck of a feat for lots of mamas, and it's not all that surprising as to why, says Owens. Bottle nipples are not mama's nipples, and babies can sense and feel the obvious difference.
The way a baby takes in milk also differs; in order to get milk out of a breast, a baby needs to suck in a completely different way than if she were taking milk from a bottle. And then there's flow, which, according to Owens, is the most important difference of all. Milk from a bottle flows faster and more easily than it does from a breast, and once a baby gets used to the faster flow of a bottle, it's often frustrating to then switch back and forth.
So what's a mama to do?
Timing is everything: When should you introduce a bottle?
According to many lactation consultants, timing is key when it comes to introducing a bottle to a breastfed baby. If breastfeeding is going well and baby (and mama) are thriving, Owens recommends waiting two weeks before beginning to pump. (It usually takes about this time to establish your supply and get baby back to their birth weight.)
Between two and four weeks is the ideal time to introduce a breastfed baby to a bottle.
Start too soon and it can interfere with production; but, wait too long and baby is much more likely to reject the bottle. Start with no more than a few ounces of lukewarm-to-warm breast milk—you don't want to waste that liquid gold!—and make sure baby is calm (and hungry) when you try.
Use a bottle with a slow flow nipple, and be sure to burp baby a few times throughout the feeding. And be consistent; aim for at least one bottle a week at minimum, if not more.
Sounds great, but my baby is still refusing the bottle...now what do I do?
Relax, take a few deep breaths, and try some of these tips below from our lactation consultant:
- Make sure you're using a slow flow nipple and a breastfeeding-friendly bottle. (Lots more on that below.)
- Have your partner give the bottle. Newborns may be new, but they're smarter than we think, and they're more likely to accept a bottle from your partner rather than from mom.
- Trigger the rooting reflex. Place the bottle in baby's mouth and use your finger to lightly touch their cheek; this will stimulate their rooting reflex, making it more likely that they'll latch on.
- Try a bait-and-switch. If baby likes a pacifier, let them suck for a bit then pop it out and quickly replace it with the bottle; they may be none the wiser.
- Experiment with a dream feed. Baby may be more likely to accept the bottle if they're hungry + not fully awake.
- Don't push it. A screaming baby is tough to feed whether from the breast or bottle. If everyone's getting frustrated, take a break and come back in five minutes to try again.
Which bottle do I choose?
Decisions, decisions. Not to worry, mama—we did the research so you don't have to. There are lots of factors to consider when choosing a bottle: price; material; ease of cleaning (or lack thereof); nipple options and anti-colic features, just to name a few.
Keeping all of these in mind, here are our picks for the top eight bottles for breastfed babies. And remember, finding the right bottle for you + baby often involves a lot of trial and error, so we don't recommend buying in bulk until you learn what you like!
The Philips Avent Natural bottle got the top pick from our lactation consultant because of the specially designed slow-flow nipple. The unique petal design is soft and flexible, but won't collapse, and the bottle features a built-in anti-colic venting system that's easy to clean and reduces air intake. The Natural bottle is available in both BPA-free plastic and glass.
Reviewers say: "I love that these bottles work with my Spectra flanges. We've tried just about every bottle, and these are what my baby uses (I'm an exclusive pumper). She uses the slowest flow size 0 nipple (purchased separately), but I still have to pace feed with it. Without pace feeding, it takes under 5 minutes for my baby to drink 4oz, which is way too fast. With pace feeding, we can extend it out to 10-15 minutes. I wish the nipple was still a little bit slower, but these are the best bottles we've tried so far and we've tried over 20 other brands. I loved Comotomo too, but they fall over easily and aren't compatible with my Spectra, so these come out ahead."–Nim
Based on 50+ years of breastfeeding research and designed by a company that's supported mamas + babies for 35 years, it's no surprise Lansinoh makes the cut. The magic is in the NaturalWave Nipple, a soft and flexible nipple that is specifically designed to reduce confusion by ergonomically mimicking a natural breast. Little ones can use the same sucking method to expel milk whether they're nursing or using the bottle which is key for making a smooth transition.
Reviewers say: "People do not understand how hard it is when your breastfed baby will. not. take. a. bottle. As you can see in the picture, we tried about 20 bottles/sippy cups. She refused, and I mean knockdown drag out refused ALL of them until this magical bottle. What used to be an hour-long endeavor to get even 2oz of breast milk or formula into this bottle-hating baby has turned into 6+oz in 8 minutes or less. It is astounding. ASTOUNDING. I nearly died of shock. Seriously, if this is you, try this bottle."—j.m.g.
(Price is for 3-pack)
When it comes to successful feeding, whether it's from breast or bottle, your baby's latch is clutch. That's why we recommend Munchkin's Latch bottle. The nipple, which is designed like an accordion to stretch in the way your nipple would during breastfeeding, allows baby to control the flow of milk while staying latched and in turn, take in less air. The only complaint is that the anti-colic valve, which rests in the bottom of the bottle, can be a bit tricky to clean. But it's nothing a bottle brush can't handle.
Reviewers say: "We have tried every bottle made with my daughter. She wouldn't take any of them. She did take this one though! She moves around a lot while eating, and I think the fact that the nipple on this bottle is flexible helped her stay latched to it. Many others are too rigid and she would spit them out immediately. We spent a lot of money on other bottle claiming to be the best for breastfed babies, and they just didn't work out for us. So glad that we found this one!"—Jlg1014
(Price is for 3-pack)
There are so many things to love about the Comotomo bottle. It's made from silicone so it's soft and squishy, mimicking mom's breast and making it easy for little ones to grab and hold. The super-wide neck design means it's simple and easy to clean—no bottle brush needed, you can just stick your hand right in there!
It's microwave, dishwasher, and sterilizer-safe, and it's got two built-in anti-colic vents with no extra parts. (Another win in the "easy to clean" department.) Win, win, and win.
Reviewers say: "Oh where do I start! First, these saved my life. My daughter was exclusively BF for 6 weeks, when I had to go back to work I attempted to give her a bottle and to my shock, she did not want it. I bought and tried eight different bottles and no luck! I was mortified! I spent many hours and a lot of money hoping to find the perfect bottle for her and nothing. I made a post on a Facebook breastfeeding moms group and one of the moms recommended this Comotomo bottle, so i gave it a try and voila! It worked!!!! She successfully transitioned into a bottle and I was able to go back to work without thinking my daughter was starving at daycare! The only downside was that I had to practically tip it up the whole way so she could drink all the milk! Other than that I highly recommend them!"–Jazmin L.
(Price is for 2-pack)
Dr. Brown's wide-neck design has long been a favorite of breastfed babies and championed for their efficacy in aiding digestion and preventing colic + gas. The multi-part venting system is admittedly less than a dream to clean (so. many.parts.), but you take the good with the annoying, right?
Luckily, the Options series can be used with or without the vent. Use the vent during the newborn months when baby's digestive system isn't as mature, then remove it as baby gets older and their feeding is more developed.
Reviewers say: "I like that these bottles don't cause any nipple confusion. They don't make my baby fussy since I use the vent system. They are very easy to clean. The only problem I have is when they leak sometimes and all of the pieces are put together properly. And the bottle isn't full over the line. But that only happens once in a while."—Tashika
(Price is for 4-pack)
If there were awards for the most beautiful bottle, this one might take the cake—but the best part is that it's beautiful and functional. The GentleBottle is fairly similar to the Comotomo in terms of look, feel, and material, but also boasts an off-centered nipple that mimics the breast and some claim offers a better + easier angle for feeding. And have we mentioned the gorgeous colors? Love.
Reviewers say: "This is my new favorite bottle! Oh and my baby loves it too. ;) I love the placement of the nipple. To me, this bottle is better than the Comotomo bottles because of the nipple being on one side, which obviously helps assist baby in getting every drop without having to lay baby completely flat on his/her back. I do own both brands and They are very similar in feel. But this one wins in my book. BTW... My baby is exclusively on breast milk and is breastfed 97% of the time and she has no problem with either bottle."—CrysHaz8
Designed exclusively for breastfed baby, the Calma has several great features that make it an ideal choice for a baby who is both breast and bottle-fed. Similar to the Philips Avent, you can flip the Calma upside-down and the milk won't drip out—meaning that your baby needs to apply a certain level of vacuum suction in order to get milk out, just like during breastfeeding. This allows baby to feed, pause, and breathe, as well as to better self-regulate milk intake, which are all also part of the breastfeeding experience.
Reviewers say: "This bottle nipple was a lifesaver for our family. I went back to work and my 7-month-old was refusing a bottle at daycare and for my husband. We tried a few different kinds (Avent, Tommee Tippee, Dr Brown's) and had pretty much given up until I saw a blog post recommending the Calma for babies who let the milk leak out of their mouth while trying to drink. This was the problem my baby had and apparently it has to do with a vacuum being created when they suck so they get flooded with milk. My other two kids never had a problem but the bottle just wasn't similar enough to the breast for him. I ordered this and after a few tries he liked it and now willingly and happily drinks his bottle. I highly recommend to anyone who is having issues with a breastfeeding baby resisting normal bottles."—Jinna
NUK Simply Natural
One of the most affordable bottles on our list, the NUK Simply Natural's claim to fame is the multiple nipple holes that disperse milk similarly to a mother's breast. Depending on flow speed, nipples come with between three to nine holes, but you'll want to use the three-hole choice for most breastfed little ones.
The wide neck and flexible nipple both promote a good latch, and there aren't a ton of parts to clean here so bottle washing isn't too tedious.
Reviewers say: "I've been using these for about a month now and I absolutely love them. I had twin girls and They were in the NICU. One of my girls had nipple confusion and I could not get her to latch! She would do fine on the other bottle I was using, but I couldn't get her to breastfeed. It was frustrating for both of us. I switched to these and we love them! After using them for less than a week she was able to latch properly again! I breastfeed/pump/ and supplement with some formula and I don't have any latch problems with either one of my girls. I sterilize after every use and they do so well. Very durable, easy to clean, easy to put together and have ready when we need them. They don't leak and I've noticed my girls actually burp less and have less gas when using these. I can't say enough good things about this bottle. I have 15 of these bottles and I wouldn't hesitate to buy more!"—Samantha K.
(Price is for 3-pack)
The Joovy Boob rounds out our list of the best bottles for all those breastfed babes giving their parents a run for their money in the feeding department.
PPSU refers to polyphenylsulfone, a super tough material that can withstand over 1,000 cycles of steam sterilization. PPSU doesn't stain and doesn't absorb odors, and the idea is that these bottles will last twice as long so you'll have to purchase fewer bottles in the long run—which is an idea we can definitely get behind. We love the ease of cleaning here, as well as the venting system and breastfeeding-friendly nipple design.
Reviewers say: "Mom of three, I've tried a lot of bottles over the years! These bottles are by far the easiest and best ones yet! Simple to assemble and clean, no need to hassle with lots of parts. My breastfed baby switches back and forth between breast and bottle with no issues! We love these bottles! There is a slight learning curve to make sure you don't over tighten the lid which causes the seal to come off and leak, but once you figure that out it's simple. I feel like the directions could do a better job of explaining that."—AZ Momma
This article was originally published in January 2018. It has been updated.
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