**We know that families all look different, and not every family includes a mom. In the language below, we use the term "mom" to refer to the breastfeeding person.
"I assumed all babies would willingly take a bottle..."
When you learn about breastfeeding during pregnancy, you hear terms like “supply and demand” and are taught how important a good latch is for successful milk transfer. However, very few people talk about the fact that many breastfed babies refuse to take bottles of breast milk, something many moms don’t expect. We see images of baby bottles everywhere and assume that all babies will drink from them.
Interestingly, the bottle is easier for a breastfed baby to drink out of since it’s a static process. Some babies can drink milk much faster from a bottle than a breast. For this reason, many moms are advised to not introduce a bottle until at least 4-6 weeks, or when breastfeeding is well established. What many moms don’t expect is that not all babies will take a bottle when it’s eventually introduced.
While bottle refusal is OK for some families, many moms need to go back to work or would like more flexibility in feeding. It can be extremely frustrating and isolating for a mom who wants or needs to be away from their baby longer than two hours but cannot due to feeding schedules. Furthermore, bottle refusal can be difficult for care providers and can discourage loved ones from wanting to care for the baby.
It is a blessing to successfully breastfeed, but when baby can’t take a bottle, sometimes the mom feels trapped. Perhaps she’s distracted at work because she worries about how much milk her baby is drinking at daycare. These are very valid, real feelings. Fortunately, this situation is temporary.
Both of Megan’s babies refused bottles, as have many of our clients’ babies, so we are fully aware of the emotional toll this can take on a family. We wanted to share some practical tips and alternatives to bottles that can help you survive this temporary phase.
Before you read this article, please know these four things:
Oh, and one day your bottle refuser will be a toddler who sees a baby bottle and tries to drink from it. Little stinker.
Let’s talk about how to navigate bottle refusal.
All images used in this blog post were submitted by members of our Feeding Littles Clients Only Facebook Group and are used with permission.
First, an important safety caveat.
This article assumes that your baby is getting enough milk to support adequate growth and development via breastfeeding. If your baby isn’t transferring milk well, is refusing to breastfeed, is away from breastfeeding mom for a prolonged period and isn’t taking milk, or is refusing their formula please work with your health care provider ASAP. Dehydration in infants can be very dangerous and must be addressed immediately. Additionally, it’s important to make sure that your child does not have any medical issues that would prevent them from taking a bottle. For example, babies born prematurely and those with neuromuscular impairments maybe more susceptible to feeding preferences, and these specific concerns should be discussed with your child’s pediatrician, lactation and feeding specialists.
Why do babies refuse bottles?
Unfortunately, we never know which babies will refuse bottles. Many babies have no difficulty transitioning back and forth between breast and bottle, while other babies will fight a bottle and refuse to accept it.
Let’s briefly discuss the mechanics of breast and bottle feeding so we can better understand what your baby is experiencing.
Breastfeeding is dynamic – as breasts fill and empty, a baby’s mouth constantly adjusts to accommodate these changes. Breastmilk changes in consistency and nutrient quality from the beginning of the feed to the end. It starts off more watery and higher in protein, which can help baby quench their thirst and provides amino acids for physiologic processes, and becomes higher in fat and creamier in texture as the feed proceeds. The milk consistency and changes throughout the day, as does the taste of breastmilk depending on mom's diet. Even the color of breastmilk can change from day to day!
What’s more, breastfeeding is a dynamic bonding experience between mom and baby. Babies are used to mom’s voice, her smell, her body and the little routines they have established together while feeding. Of course, you don’t have to breastfeed to bond with your baby, but from a nursing baby’s perspective, feeding time equals time with mom.
That’s why when you try to bottle feed some breastfed babies, they refuse to drink the milk. The bottle is not dynamic like a breast, and the nipple itself is very different than mom’s nipple. Babies know the difference – they’re smart little creatures! What’s more, when mom tries to give baby a bottle, baby might not understand why they can’t have what they’re used to – the breast.
Think about it from your baby’s perspective: all they know is cuddling with mom (warm, comfortable, familiar) and getting their milk from her breast. They have done it only this way for potentially 500-2,000 feeds, depending on when you start to offer a bottle. Suddenly you are asking them to do something extraordinarily different than what they’ve practiced their entire life. It makes sense that many of them refuse the bottle.
Stress can affect this process, big time.
Before we talk about specific strategies (we promise to get there!), we want to emphasize how much stress can affect how well a breastfed baby will take a bottle. When babies refuse bottles, it can understandably be extremely stressful and anxiety-driven. Breastfeeding moms may feel desperate, “trapped” at home or angry that their baby isn’t figuring it out. Similarly, the adult attempting to feed the baby with a bottle may be frustrated or fearful because it hasn’t been going well. They might not be willing to continue to try.
Your baby can pick up on this stress. They sense not only their mom’s anxiety, but also the stress of the person giving them the bottle. Stress in a breastfeeding mom may affect their breast milk production.
Of course…hearing that you need to stress less or “calm down” when faced with an emotionally-charged topic only stresses you out even more. Rather, we (Judy and Megan) just want to highlight how important it is to be emotionally calm and steady when trying to offer the bottle. It’s equally as important for the person doing the bottle feeding to try to remain calm, patient and positive during this process. Notice how your body tenses or how the bottle feeder responds to the baby if your baby is turning their head, spitting out the bottle nipple or crying. If the bottle feeder or the baby begin to get noticeably stressed, take a break and try again. Explain to the bottle feeder that this is a process that might take time.
How can I (hopefully) prevent my baby from refusing bottles?
If you are planning to return to work, many lactation professionals recommend offering the bottle every few days starting at 2-4 weeks of age. Of course, if breastfeeding is still a major struggle, work with your lactation consultant first. Be consistent – it can take time for your baby to become accustomed to the feel and the rhythm of a bottle. Ideally, have someone other than the breastfeeding mom do the bottle feeds. This can be a great bonding experience for your partner or another family member.
If possible, start by putting an ounce or two of expressed breastmilk in a bottle with a slow-flow or preemie nipple. Judy recommends Dr. Brown’s bottles because they are known for their venting system. This helps keep air out of the milk, which prevents gas and makes the feeding go more smoothly. If we don’t need to burp the baby as often, then less latching on and off may occur. Many babies get frustrated and somewhat lost the more frequent on/off latching with the bottles when they're used to breastfeeding.
You don’t need to offer a full feed; the goal is to get your baby used to the sucking pattern and nipple feel of a bottle. If you’re consistent with offering a bottle every few days, your baby will be more likely to continue to accept it.
My baby won't take the bottle - what do I do?
Below are some specific tips and multiple things to rule out if your baby refuses a bottle. You don't have to try all of these things! We are simply offering multiple techniques that may help.
Don't forget to read your baby’s cues. We don’t want to force a baby to drink from the bottle by holding it in their mouth when they’re refusing to swallow or if they’re crying without suckling. It can become a safety hazard if milk is in their mouth but they’re not swallowing effectively, and they can develop a negative association with bottles and feeding time. Above all else, don’t force this process.
My baby still won't drink from the bottle despite trying everything above. Now what do I do?
First off, it’s important to remember that there’s nothing wrong with you or your baby if they don’t take a bottle. It’s not a required developmental step. Breastfeeding does great things to develop your child's oral-motor skills, so don’t worry that they are “missing out” developmentally if they don’t take a bottle.
However, that doesn’t make bottle refusal easy. Here are some ways to work around bottle refusal:
Alternative Feeding Devices
If your baby will not take a bottle and you need to give them milk in another manner, sometimes additional tools may help. Before using any of these techniques, please consult a feeding specialist or lactation specialist, especially if your baby has any breathing or swallowing issues. The biggest concern with this type of feeding is a risk for aspiration if your baby isn’t actively drinking the milk.
We are simply offering these techniques to help you safely use these tools and be aware that they exist. This does not replace medical advice or care. Talk with your provider about which specific products and techniques will work best for your baby.
Dropper or syringe:
Open cup, bowl or spoon
We generally recommend introducing an open cup to babies around 6 months when they start solids as discussed in our Ultimate Guide to Cup Drinking. However, if your breastfed baby is refusing bottles, you can try an open cup, bowl or spoon as early as 4 months, or when your baby has good head and neck control.
Note: sometimes spoon feeding colostrum or breast milk is a technique used much earlier than 4 months - lactation specialists often utilize it in the hospital before a baby has figured out how to breastfeed. These are general guidelines to help families whose babies consistently refuse bottles and can't receive milk when mom is away, but every baby and situation will be different. Work with your provider.
Can you continue to breastfeed into toddlerhood if your baby refuses bottles as an infant?
Yes! Many moms decide to breastfeed into toddlerhood (12+ months). At this point, breastfeeding a bottle-refusing baby can be less stressful since they don’t need to breastfeed as much as they did in infancy. Many moms gradually stop pumping at work and only breastfeed when they’re with their toddler. While at daycare (or while mom travels), baby drinks an alternative milk from a cup or gets their nutrition through food and water until mom comes home.
We know that bottle refusal can be really stressful, but we hope these strategies help you discover some solutions for your family. Soon your baby will be drinking from a cup and eating food like a pro – this is so temporary!
Did you know you can serve babies (6+ months) whole, cooked broccoli? We teach this method, Baby-led Weaning, in a flexible way in our online Infant Course if you need help!)
Broccoli forms a natural handle that small hands can easily hold and offers texture that feels good on teething gums. Many babies love broccoli, but some need to be exposed to it multiple times to learn to like it!
Many people assume that we have to serve babies plain, steamed veggies…but babies can eat foods cooked the way the family eats it as long as it’s cooked through and soft for those strong back gums to chew on - no teeth necessary!
Oils and spices are actually beneficial for baby, and they help them learn to enjoy broccoli (and other veggies) with a variety of flavors. Plus, using cooking oils, herbs and other cooking methods make foods taste better and more appealing to new eaters.
What about salt? We recommend going easy on salt on baby’s food, as their recommended intake is pretty low - 400 mg. However, it’s likely unnecessary to stress about sodium if you’re offering baby lots of unsalted foods alongside foods that inherently have salt. We don’t have science to prove that a little more sodium is necessarily harmful in healthy infants. If you like your food salted, add it after cooking or pull aside baby’s portion before salting it if possible. More on this in our post about babies and salt.
Frozen broccoli works too! Below are instructions for fresh broccoli.
Let’s talk about if babies and kids can eat “too much fruit.”
Recently in our Clients Only Facebook group, a mama asked if she should cut off her kiddo when he eats too much fruit. In general, we recommend the model “You provide, child decides.” This mean that you offer the food of your choosing and they decide how much of it to eat. Yes, that means they may eat much more than a child’s size serving of fruit. Is this OK?
Well, let’s look at the big picture. Fruit is full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients (plant nutrients that have disease-preventive effects). It is hydrating and tasty. Many kids are interested in a meal because they see their favorite “familiar” food - fruit! It gets them eating other foods.
Yes, fruit contains inherent fruit sugar, but for many kids it’s their main source of key nutrients. We know that as a culture we have been taught that “all sugar is bad,” but even if we followed that line of thinking - we don’t - do we really think that fruit is the problem?
So, are there times when we would limit how much fruit we offer our kids?
How do you deal with a kid who only wants fruit?
Let’s talk tips for serving the same meal to everyone in your family when possible...and why it's sometimes not possible.
Before we start, did you grab our free Family Meal Toolkits for Dinner and Breakfast yet? (That’s where these meals came from!) Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter where great resources like these come out first.
Why do we want to eat the same meal as a family when possible? It’s easier, cheaper, and helps your kid learn to eat a greater variety of food in the long run.
The problem? Kids don’t always want to eat what we serve. It can take 20-30 exposures for a child to want to eat a new food.
So how do we serve what we’re eating to our kids and make it a success for everyone?
What we want you to notice on these plates:
“Do we all have to eat the same foods at a meal?” It’s not always possible!
We talked about the benefits of serving one meal to everyone above. However, we can’t always eat the same things for a variety of reasons:
We know its ideal to eat the same meals and serve our kids a variety of foods - even if they might not eat them right away. So, how can we make meals and snacks successful when we have to eat different foods?
Traveling with kids - Part 1: Snacks!
Our number one suggestion for traveling with toddlers and kids? Bring snacks! No, seriously. All the snacks. The last thing you need on a long travel day is a hungry child, and sometimes meals aren’t nearly as regular when we’re away from home.
Shown are some unique snack ideas you may not have thought of, including freeze dried peas and strawberries, crunchy cheese (Moon Cheese brand - break apart for younger toddlers), sunflower seed butter cracker “sandwiches,” soft dried cranberries and chocolate chips. None of these require refrigeration, but if you bring perishable items you might want to consider a PackIt bag or small cooler depending on how you’re traveling.
When planning snacks for a trip, consider the following:
Do babies need snacks on trips? The most important thing for babies when traveling is breast milk or formula. Snacks are ok - but not required - for babies 6+ months. Small foods like O’s cereal can keep baby occupied; they just need a pincer grasp to pick up really small foods (10-12 months).
Traveling with kids - Part 2: Activities!
While bringing snacks is imperative during travel with kids, it’s also important to bring something for them to do! Our Feeding Littles team member Sarah, a former preschool teacher, travels very often with her kiddos (now 3 and 7) and has been using these activities for years. Again, head to our Amazon shop under Travel Activities and Snack Gear to get them for your next trip! We have lots of other activities and ideas in there too!
Shown are a variety of activities - keep in mind your child’s stage and abilities when choosing them for your kiddo. Many of these are especially good for plane travel.
Judy also recommends heading to the dollar store for little toys or trinkets your kiddo hasn’t seen before. Even something as simple as a calculator can keep them occupied since it’s novel and different.
Fold down the end of pipe cleaners to keep them safer, and always be careful with small objects kids may put in their mouths.
What about tablets or screens during travel? Well, for many families, screen time is much more liberal on long car rides or plane rides, especially since traveling isn’t an every day thing. Sometimes travel is about simply surviving while getting from one place to another, and an educational app, movie or show can really help with that. Kids usually have a longer attention span for shows or movies as they get older, and it can definitely make traveling a lot more enjoyable, but you’ll have to decide how much screen time is appropriate for your family during travel.
Want more travel activity ideas? Check out Susie’s awesome Travel Kit and Travel Ideas highlights over at @busytoddler.
Let’s talk how to serve avocado to babies in a ways that they can feed themselves!
Don’t forget that we have a complete online resource for you that will help you let your baby learn to self-feed with confidence! We teach Baby-led Weaning from a practical, evidence-based perspective utilizing our combined expertise as feeding and nutrition professionals. Join the thousands of families worldwide who have taken our Infant Course. It doesn’t expire and can be watched at your convenience!
What’s the deal with avocado? Why do parents choose it for babies?
,Why do we suggest serving it like this? We recommend starting with strips of food that baby (6+ months) can pick up, put in their mouth at the back gums, learn to chew and swallow. No, it’s not a choking hazard to serve whole foods at this age - their gag reflex will take over if they don’t chew the food well enough! If you’re uncomfortable with whole foods, you can always start with smashed avocado.
Even though many babies can figure out chewing and swallowing avocado, holding it is another story. That’s why the whole top row offers ways to make avocado less slippery.
Of course, we don't want baby eating the skin, but that's usually the part stuck in their tight grasp as they're eating the avocado piece poking out of the top of their fist.
You can also use avocado to add texture to something that's difficult to pick up or something dry, like salmon or quinoa. Simply load it on a NumNum GOOtensil and hand it to baby for them to put in their own mouth.
If you do avocado toast, make sure the bread doesn't have any large seeds or honey baked into it.
One important note: make sure the avocado is soft so that baby can chew it with their gums (it should be fork tender). If you need to ripen your avocado more quickly, place it in a paper bag with another piece of fruit like an apple to speed up the ripening process (apples release lots of ethylene gas that expedite ripening). Make sure to fold the top to trap the ethylene gas, and in a day or two your avocado will be perfectly ripe!
Let’s talk low-cost protein options!
Many plant-based protein sources, especially dried beans and lentils, are nutrient-packed options that can help lower your grocery bill. In our online Toddler Course, we recommend some protein with each meal for blood sugar regulation, growth, satiety and building muscle.
However, kids’ protein needs aren’t crazy high, and when we’re on a budget there are some super inexpensive ways to meet those needs!
Of course, meat, poultry and fresh fish are great sources of protein, but sometimes they can be more pricey. Make sure to shop sales and freeze in bulk to get better deals on those foods!
Note: the images listed aren’t of portion sizes - just the food itself! Even though we have portion sizes listed for reference to protein values, your kiddo may eat much more or much less.
Prices via Walmart in Arizona.
How much protein is enough?
Do I need to count protein? No, not unless your child has a specific medical issue or is severely limited in their diet.
What do these numbers mean? Your child is very likely eating enough protein!
What if my child eats more than this? Very excessive protein intake can tax the kidneys, but as long as your child’s diet is balanced with other foods and they drink lots of water, we don’t worry if they eat more than the RDA.
Other nut butters and seed butters also contain protein - peanut butter may just be the most cost effective.
Lentil or chickpea pasta are great sources of protein; they’re just less accessible and more pricey (about $0.26 per 1/4 cup serving, providing 5 grams of protein). We showed whole wheat as a reminder that whole grains contain protein too.
Who loves pancakes?! This banana egg pancake recipe is a staple in our house that works well for eaters of all ages (babies included)!
We love this basic banana pancake recipe and hope your whole family will, too. My kids get really excited on pancake day!
You may see this recipe on the internet as just banana and egg, but we like adding rolled oats (or coconut flour) so it’s thicker and doesn’t fall apart as easily when cooked.
The recipe is super versatile and makes about 8 small pancakes, enough to feed 1-2 adults and 2 kids depending on how much you eat.
We love to double or triple the recipe, make a big batch, and keep the leftovers in the fridge (up to 3 days) for awesome fast breakfasts or snacks. They also freeze well! Just thaw and reheat in the toaster oven on convection or in the microwave before serving.
We added real maple syrup to the pumpkin variation because pumpkin can be a little bitter - you can omit it if you’d like!
What do you top these with?
Baby at home? Cut into slices they can easily pick up! Practice serving them cut into small pieces, strips, wedges or whole with toddlers and kids to practice different fine motor skills.
Egg allergy? We haven’t made these with an egg replacer, but Cookie and Kate and The Worktop have some great eggless pancake recipes if you do a quick search!
We are often asked "How do I respond when people constantly comment on my child’s body size in front of them?”
When my youngest was 3 months old (and 99th percentile weight/age and length/age), a woman came up to me at lunch and said, “My dear, what on earth are you feeding that poor child?” As you can imagine, there were so many responses that flooded my head (I really wanted to stand up for parents everywhere), but I responded with confusion as she shuffled away. I don’t know if she had any idea how hurtful her comment could be, especially if directed to a new parent who might be struggling with feeding their baby.
When you have a child that’s smaller or larger than “average,” it’s common for family, friends and strangers to make comments about their size. Many times it’s not said with malintent - it’s simply an observation or is used as small talk. When you don’t see a child for a few months it’s natural to celebrate how much they have grown or how tall they are becoming. It’s also easy to compare when you have children of the same age - their sizes can be dramatically different, and that’s OK! We are all meant to be different sizes.
However, sometimes these comments can strike an emotional chord.
These comments - which are said both with or without judgment - can be hurtful, and sometimes it helps to have quick responses to use.
Try out some of these responses to keep language more neutral about your child's body size.
The last two suggestions are a bit more direct and can be helpful when talking with a family member or someone who is around your child often - they can imply that you’re uncomfortable with them regularly talking about your child’s size and want to focus on something else.
Above all else, we recommend avoiding discussing nutritional or growth challenges in front of your child when possible.
It's natural to respond with, "Well, yeah, he never eats" or "She eats more than my husband does!" Children tend to live up to the labels we place on them, and the amount of food they eat depends on so many factors (many of which are out of your child's control).
If you kiddo always hears that they're "tiny" or "huge," try to remind them that they are just right for their body and that we are all so different. You can show them pictures of different animals and explain that not every creature is the same size. Reassure them that you will help them grow into the body that they are meant to have and that they can always talk to you about their body. Your home is a safe place for that.
In the end, the goal is for us to try to focus less on size and outward appearance and more on inner beauty, personality, values, strengths and what we're contributing to the world. As The Bird's Papaya says, "You are beautiful, and that's the least interesting thing about you!"
“I feel like I always serve the same breakfasts over and over again.” We hear this from clients often - do you relate?
Here are just some of our favorite morning meal foods - you may not have thought to try all of these! When modified, they can be safely served to kids 6+ months (see below).
We want breakfast to contain a little protein and some fat for satiety and blood sugar regulation, plus have at least one fruit or veggie.
All of these can be made dairy-free and nut-free with slight modifications (dairy-free yogurt, nut-free bar, etc).
Looking for more breakfast ideas? Check out our Family Meal Toolkit - Breakfast Edition!