What to Do When Your Baby Prefers the Bottle to Breastfeeding
Life can get really stressful when you feel like you’re the reason your baby isn’t breastfeeding. It may be because you went back to work, your baby is on a nursing strike, or maybe your baby prefers the bottle to breastfeeding.
Reminder: It’s not you, it’s them! They love you!
The reason your baby is struggling to breastfeed likely has NOTHING to do with you. Your baby loves you and thinks you’re amazing. At this point, the best thing you can do is remind yourself of the benefits of breastfeeding and why you chose to breastfeed, to begin with.
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Benefits of breastfeeding for your baby
There are a lot of amazing benefits to breastfeeding your baby. First and foremost, you get a lot of skin-to-skin when your baby is born. Imagine being your baby and being removed from the one place you’ve always known as home. Breastfeeding allows your baby to hear your heartbeat, your breathing, and your voice as they lay right next to you. It really feels like the safest spot for them.
Benefits of breastfeeding for mom
And, let’s not forget about all of the incredible benefits that breastfeeding has for women! Some of the major benefits of breastfeeding for moms are it contracts your uterus back more quickly, breastfeeding women often lose the baby weight faster, it lessens your risk for anemia and postpartum depression. And, from a long-term perspective, breastfeeding lowers a woman’s risk for ovarian and breast cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease. All of these benefits are worth the time of figuring out how to get your baby back to the breast.
What is a nursing strike?
A nursing strike is when a baby decides to stop breastfeeding. There are so many different factors that can lead to a nursing strike. It’s important to be aware of the potential reasons your baby is choosing the bottle instead of the breast. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons your baby is choosing not to breastfeed.
What causes a nursing strike?
Illness such as an ear infection, cold, teething, etc.
Sometimes a baby will stop breastfeeding because of an illness. This could be because of something like an ear infection, teething pain, a simple cold, or even an illness you’re struggling with that could be reducing your breast milk supply. (Here are some tips for increasing your breast milk supply quickly!)
Infant reflux- feeding hurts
Infant acid reflux is exactly as painful as it sounds. If you’ve ever had acid reflux, you know how painful it is every single time you eat. The same is true for babies. What sometimes happens is that a baby will start to associate the pain of acid reflux with breastfeeding, and they’ll start to distance themselves from breastfeeding. This can also be tied to colic. I’ve had babies with colic and I want to share the ways I survived colic!
Breastfeeding is not a calm environment
SQUIRREL! Most people know what someone is referring to when someone yells, “SQUIRREL”. If not, they’re basically saying someone has lost the complete ability to focus. This happens with babies too. If you’re trying to breastfeed your baby in a place with a lot of distractions, they’ll choose the distractions over breastfeeding. In turn, this could lead to you becoming frustrating and giving them a bottle of breastmilk simply to keep them fed.
Too fast or too slow of a letdown
If your breastmilk is still regulation itself, you may find that you have really fast, and other times really slow letdowns of breast milk. Or, even sometimes with older babies, you can have a fast and slow letdown. A fast letdown will essentially drown your baby in breast milk in a way that makes it hard to swallow as quickly as the breast milk is coming out. With a slow letdown, your baby will become frustrated because they aren’t getting milk as fast as they want. Both situations can lead to your baby wanting a bottle instead of breastfeeding because a bottle is predictable.
Pain from injury or surgery
Did your baby recently have an injury or maybe surgery? Something like circumcision, a lip/tongue tie, or any other surgery could lead to a baby not wanting to nurse and preferring breast milk in a bottle.
Your reaction when your baby bit you
Oh, Lord. Let’s talk about your baby biting your nipple! OUCH!!! Been there, done that. And let me tell you, it’s incredibly hard not to scream and want to pull your baby off the breast when they bite you. Unfortunately, sometimes babies do bite and your reaction when this happens could lead your baby to prefer the bottle over the breast. If this is something you’re struggling with, here are some helpful tips for breastfeeding a teething baby!
You’ve been away from your baby for a while
Life happens, and sometimes things take you away from your baby for a few days. Then, when you come back, your baby prefers the bottle to the breast. If you enjoy breastfeeding, this is heartbreaking because you want nothing more than to breastfeed your baby. Don’t panic! We will talk about some things you can do to rekindle your breastfeeding relationship in just a minute!
Baby doesn’t like a product you’re using
To me, this is one of the easiest ways to end a nursing strike. If you’ve changed perfumes (or started wearing one), changed deodorants, or any other scent change like laundry detergent, it could be as simple as switching back. Baby’s have a sensitive smell, and something this simple can send your baby on a nursing strike.
Too strict of a feeding schedule
I totally get the importance of a feeding schedule. When I was working and breastfeeding/pumping, I had a feeding routine. But, sometimes you can have too strict of a feeding routine. If your baby is hungry or not hungry and it is or isn’t feeding time, you’ve got a problem. If you’re feeding with a bottle, they’re going to want the bottle because chances are, they get the milk faster.
Reasons why baby prefers bottle to breast
The baby was introduced to bottle early on before a breastfeeding routine was established
This happens a lot! And sometimes, it happens for reasons that were beyond our control. When you have a baby, sometimes a doctor will recommend that you supplement with formula. If this was the case, you likely did what they told you to do because they’re doctors. And you’ve found yourself in a position where the baby now prefers the bottle over the breast. This isn’t your fault. You did what you were told to do.
Or, maybe you had to go back to work or school, and you needed your baby to take a bottle. Then when you come home your baby doesn’t want to breastfeed. Babies will take what is given to them, and then go with what they’re given most often. This doesn’t mean your breastfeeding relationship is over. It just means you’re going to have to work a little harder to maintain your breastfeeding relationship with your baby.
Mother returned to work and the baby gets bottle all-day
As I just mentioned, sometimes you have to go back to work or school before you’ve created a strong breastfeeding bond with your baby, and now the baby wants the bottle instead of the breast. If you choose to pump breast milk and use a bottle, you can, but don’t give up on breastfeeding your baby if that’s really what you want to do.
An issue with latching or infection made it impossible to nurse for a time
Sometimes your baby begins to prefer the bottle to breastfeeding because of an issue establishing a good latch, or something like thrush. If you’re struggling with your baby latching to the breast, find a lactation consultant in your area who will help you with getting your baby to latch to the breast in a way that isn’t painful and allows your baby to breastfeed comfortably. If you or your baby have thrush, make sure you see a doctor for help treating the infection.
The wrong nipple was used and the baby became lazy
I had no idea that baby bottles have different flow nipples! When I went back to work, someone recommended that I make sure the bottles I was leaving for my baby had a slow flow nipple. A what?? I had no clue this was a thing! Check your baby bottles and see what flow of nipple they have. The bottles I used had a preemie flow nipple and I swear this was what saved my breastfeeding relationship with my baby. Without this, I am confident they would have started preferring the bottle instead of breastfeeding.
MOST COMMON: the bottle is easier to get milk from
You know you like things in life to be easy. Who doesn’t? Babies are just the same. If they can get milk easily from a bottle but have to work harder to breastfeed, they’re going to choose the bottle every time! To even the playing field, make sure you’ve put the slowest flow nipple on the bottle of milk. This will often lead to a baby preferring the breast because now the breast will seem faster than the bottle. It’s AMAZING what this change can do for breastfeeding moms.
Too shallow or too strong of a letdown
Keep an eye on your baby while they’re breastfeeding. Do you notice they get frustrated when the milk doesn’t come out fast enough? Or maybe your baby all of the sudden starts to swallow VERY quickly and eventually pulls off the breast because they can’t keep up with the flow of breast milk? There are some things you can do to work on increasing the flow of breast milk or reducing the flow of breast milk.
Last, but not least at all is teething. If you have a teething baby, you have a baby who is in pain often. And sometimes, the last thing a baby wants to do is work to eat. If the bottle lets milk out faster and easier, they’re going to choose the bottle over the breast.
Taking it Back to the Basics of Breastfeeding
ONLINE BREASTFEEDING CLASS
If you’re struggling to breastfeed, I HIGHLY recommend that you take an online breastfeeding course.
I personally felt weird about having someone watch me breastfeed my baby, and possibly touching my breast to get my baby to latch. I was totally cool with this in the hospital, but for some reason felt weird about it when I was at the doctor and had someone there to help me when my baby was a couple of months old.
Maybe you can relate to that!
So, with this in mind, I went on a hunt for a great breastfeeding course that was completely online that I could do in the privacy of my home. And I found one!
Milkology has an incredible breastfeeding course that works through how breastfeeding works, latching and breastfeeding positions with videos, what to expect as a breastfeeding mom, where to find helpful resources, and more!
The best part is you can give it a try for free with her free 5-day breastfeeding intro course. It’s a great way to see if her style is right for you without any commitment. Should you choose to take her full breastfeeding course, you can do that for the price of a few fancy coffee drinks!
If you’ve only tried one breastfeeding position, now is a good time to try something different. This picture of a mother breastfeeding her baby in several different positions is a helpful visual. A lot of women use the cradle position, but not every baby feeds well in that position. Don’t give in and give your baby the bottle until you’ve tried multiple breastfeeding positions.
How to reintroduce breastfeeding after the bottle
I think patience is one of the hardest parts of parenting in general. We often want to fix things right now. But, transitioning from the bottle to the breast will likely take some time. Maybe even a few weeks. But, if breastfeeding is really important to you, then give yourself the time to get it right.
Start with the nipple of the bottle (slow flow)
Now that you’ve made the decision to transition your baby from the bottle to the breast, the first thing you need to do is change the flow of the nipples on all of your baby’s bottles. This will force your baby to get used to a slower flow, which is likely the case when you’re breastfeeding your baby. Bottles tend to have a faster flow rate than the breast.
Choose the best bottle for breastfed babies or take a break
There are some really great bottles for breastfed babies that are designed to be like the breast, which ideally lets your baby easily transition between the breast and the bottle. Make sure you’re using one of these bottles for breastfed babies. Or, you could take a break from the bottle completely.
Try to relax
When you begin reintroducing breastfeeding, try to relax. I totally know how stressful this can be, but your baby will sense that stress. Go into the breastfeeding session with a calm attitude knowing that it may not be successful. Best case scenario it works. Worst case scenario, you try again.
Follow your baby’s breastfeeding instincts
God made babies and they are amazing tiny humans who have a natural rooting instinct. Babies naturally desire to find the breast to feed. Even if your baby isn’t a newborn, they’re going to be on the hunt for breastmilk if that’s all they’ve ever known. If your baby is showing hunger cues, follow your baby’s lead.
Consider the swaddle
All of my kids have loved the Swaddle Me swaddle. They enjoy being snuggly (and I enjoy snuggling them). Sometimes, being swaddled will help a baby relax, and being calmer may help your baby to latch onto the breast for nursing. Swaddling can also help to keep a baby from flailing everywhere when they get upset which will give you a better chance of redirecting your baby back to the breast.
Breastfeed in the morning when your breasts are most full
For most breastfeeding women, your breasts have the most milk in the morning. There’s no need to get into the science behind that, but when you’re trying to reintroduce breastfeeding to your baby, choose the time when you have the most breast milk available for your baby.
Express milk onto the nipple
Entice your baby to breastfeed by giving them a small sample of what you have to offer. You can do this by hand expressing a bit of breast milk onto your nipple. Your baby will smell the milk and will hopefully latch and begin nursing.
Feed your baby in a place with the least distractions
I think people underrate how important this is. If your baby has any distractions from breastfeeding, you need to remove the distractions. This could be other kids, sound, TV, so many things. Choose your breastfeeding environment carefully.
Return to skin to skin when possible
I think skin-to-skin is the easiest when your baby is little, but it doesn’t mean you can’t reintroduce skin-to-skin with your older baby. Keeping your baby close to you will keep your scent and your breasts easily accessible for easy nursing. You can also do this by safely taking a bath with your baby. Always make sure to keep your baby’s head on your chest and above the water.
Try using a nipple shield
If you’re still struggling to get your baby back on the breast, you could consider using a nipple shield. A nipple shield will somewhat mimic what a bottle nipple feels like. This could help take your baby from the bottle back to the breast.
Try breast compression to express more milk
I had no idea how much more milk I could offer my baby until I started using breast compression while pumping. I was pumping at least an ounce more milk on each side every single pumping session. This will also hold true for breastfeeding. Here is some more helpful information on breast compression.
Try to nurse when your baby is sleepy
Oftentimes, babies will latch onto the breast much like a pacifier when they’re sleepy. They’re in a state of happiness as they’re about to drift off to sleep and you may have great luck getting your baby to latch to the breast right before a nap or bedtime.
Be sure you’re drinking PLENTY of water
One of the greatest things you personally can do to help your baby ditch the bottle for the breast is to make sure you’re drinking enough water every single day. You need a lot of water to produce enough breast milk to feed your baby. If you aren’t drinking an adequate amount of water, you may not be producing enough breast milk to feed your baby. I have one of these large water bottles and it helps reassure me that I’m drinking plenty of water. You would fill this up and drink it twice every day.
Try different breastfeeding positions
I shared this picture above, but I’ll share it again. If you aren’t having breastfeeding success with one breastfeeding position, try something else. There are a lot of different positions you can try to get your baby to latch. Continue working through the different breastfeeding positions until you find one that works.
Ditch the pacifier if necessary
Nipple confusion can happen. This is when your baby gets confused between the pacifier, the breast, and even a bottle nipple. If you truly want to get your baby back to the breast, you may want to get rid of the pacifier and even the bottle completely. This then will force your baby back to breastfeeding. It may not be pretty, but your baby will desire to eat, and will *hopefully* accept your breast to meet that need.
Reintroducing and Encouraging Breastfeeding Takes Time
Breastfeeding, in general, is a lot of work. But, it certainly becomes a lot harder when your baby prefers the bottle to breastfeeding. Don’t let this deter you from reintroducing breastfeeding. One of the amazing things about babies is how adaptable they are. Some may be stubborn and fight you on breastfeeding because of the convenience of bottle-feeding, but you can do this momma!
MORE Helpful Breastfeeding Tips
The Best Cooler Bags for Transporting Breast Milk
The Best Nursing Bras for Breastfeeding Moms
The Best Nursing Tops for Breastfeeding Moms
How to Manage Breastfeeding and Pumping
How to Safely Store Breast Milk
The Best Bottles for Breastfed Babies
How to Quickly Increase Breast Milk Supply
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