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When a baby refuses to bottle feed, cries or turns its head away, does not swallow and spills instead, it is a sign that something is amiss.
Signs Your Baby Refusing Bottle-feeding
A breastfed baby refusing bottle feeding is relatively common, and it isn’t much cause for alarm. Following are some signs that your baby is refusing bottle feeding.
- Starting to cry when approached with a bottle or placed in feeding position.
- Constantly turning and shifting its head to avoid the bottle.
- Falling asleep while feeding.
- Spilling most of the milk from the sides of the mouth instead of swallowing.
- Not closing its mouth when the nipple is inserted.
- Closing its mouth when the nipple is inserted but not sucking.
- Coughing and spitting out the milk.
- Throwing up the milk.
- Sucking a little milk and then refusing more.
- Feeding very quickly or very slowly.
- Not feeding the expected amount.
Common Bottle Feeding Problems and their Solutions
There are various reasons for a baby to refuse bottle feeding; the good news is that most of these reasons are behavioural in nature and can be addressed, sometimes, by simply observing the baby for vital clues. Given below are some common problems associated with bottle feeding and their solutions.
1. Misinterpreting Hunger
The most common and the most easily correctable problem related to bottle feeding is the misinterpretation of hunger by new moms. Babies tend to suck on their thumbs and other objects for various reasons other than being hungry. A baby may suck on things out of anxiety, boredom or simply being tired; many mothers misinterpret this reflex of hunger. Attempting to feed the baby based on this behaviour can result in the baby refusing to feed simply because it is not hungry.
What to Do
If the baby is refusing to feed, do not force it, accept that you may have misinterpreted and wait till the baby gives more clear clues of being hungry.
2. Misinterpreting/Miscalculating Feeding Amount
The second most common and easily correctable problem with regards to bottle feeding is miscalculating the amount of milk or baby formula a baby really needs. Sometimes parents make calculations based on expert opinion or simply guesstimate their baby’s daily requirement of milk or formula. And sometimes professionals make the mistake of not properly calculating requirements based on changing requirements as the baby is growing. Whatever the case maybe, if a baby has had enough and is not hungry, it will refuse to feed.
What to Do
Commonly estimated feeding suggestions are only approximate figures and can vary from baby to baby. Some babies feed more than others and some less. As noted above, wait till the baby gives more clear clues of being hungry.
3. Distracted Baby
Humans are naturally curious beings; this curiosity is apparent as early as four months from being born. Once a baby is four months or older, his curiosity makes him take more interest in everything around him. Other children playing, pets acting up, and even music and television can distract a baby and make it lose focus on feeding.
What to Do
If you feel your baby is distracted, turn of all sound sources such as television, music etc., better still is to find a quiet room without people, children or pets.
4. Tired Baby
A baby may refuse to bottle feed simply because it is tired. A baby that has not slept enough will tire quickly; while it is true that a hungry baby may sleep less, it is equally true for a baby deprived of sleep to avoid feeding. It will throw up a fuss, cry or fall asleep while feeding.
What to Do
Seek expert opinion on sleeping and feeding schedules, or create a balanced schedule to avoid overlapping sleeping time with feeding time. Also, ensure that your baby is getting enough sleep and try to feed the baby before it gets tired.
5. Individual Feeding Pattern
Like all mammals, humans tend to display individual personality types, behavioural patterns and feeding habits from very early in their life. Some babies like to consume large amounts of food at one go; others like to feed a little at a time but more often during the day. If your baby is frequently refusing to bottle feed, then it is prudent to consider that you may not have fully understood his/her individual feeding pattern. Constantly feeding a baby can put added stress on the mother. Ideally, a baby’s individual pattern should be respected, but if needed, an attempt can be made to gently and gradually encourage a change.
What to Do
A baby should be encouraged to feed much of what food it needs in about forty minutes, but given individual patterns, this should not be forced. Stop if the baby does not wish to continue. Another approach to a frequent feeding pattern is to try and create longer intervals between feeds. Encourage play or take the baby for an outing, or let it nap to gradually increase the time intervals between feeds.
6. Bottle Feeding Aversion
Some babies may develop an allergy to milk protein or may develop intolerance to milk or formula. There are many factors that may induce feeding aversions, such as certain physical or oral problems and reflux. Fortunately, most feeding aversions are a result of behavioural issues than actual physical problems or medical conditions.
What to Do
A feeding aversion can be a very complicated problem with no easy or straightforward solutions. If all else fails, then the only solution is to consult experts to try and identify the root cause of this aversion.
7. Night Feeding
Newborn babies need to be fed frequently and even at night. Avoid feeding a baby, that has reached six months, at night. If night feeding continues beyond six months it could result in a formula fed baby refusing bottle. This is no cause for alarm; it may simply be that the baby relies on feeding to fall asleep. Night time feeding will not harm the baby, but given that a baby needs only a certain amount of food every twenty-four hours, she may simply refuse to be bottle fed during the day.
What to Do
Once the baby has reached six months of age, parents should consider slowly and gradually discouraging nighttime feeding. This can be done by simply encouraging the baby to feed more during the day.
8. Solid Foods
In a perfect world, a baby should only be allowed solid food after six months of age. In some instances, some babies need solid foods earlier. Solid foods generally have more calories and nutrition. As a result, the baby may lose appetite for bottle feeding.
What to Do
For babies, less than six months of age avoid starting solid food. If you have already started feeding them try and reduce the quantity and if possible stop feeding solids food all together till the baby has crossed six months of age.
9. Difficulties With Transition to Bottle Feeding
If you have been breastfeeding your baby beyond three months of age, then there is a high probability that the baby will find it difficult to make the transition to bottle feeding. Everything from the difference in feeding action between bottle feeding and breastfeeding to the difference in the taste of formula and breast milk, can cause this problem.
What to Do
The easiest way is to begin by providing expressed breast milk in the bottle that way if the baby has a problem with taste, then that problem has been resolved, and the transition would be easier to achieve. If this does not work, then it is advisable to try different nipples.
10. Tightly Screwed Bottle
The bottle used for bottle feeding needs to maintain neutral pressure for the milk to flow smoothly. The milk emptying out of the bottle as a result of feeding will create a vacuum which needs to be filled with fresh air entering the bottle. If the milk bottle is not able to vent the baby will find it harder and harder to feed as the negative pressure builds up. Some babies will tire and fall asleep while others will simply stop trying. In some bottles, the air can enter only from between the rim of the bottle and the nipple ring, if the nipple is screwed too tightly on the bottle the venting required in the bottle will not take place.
What to Do
Check the bottle for proper venting, and airflow.
What to do If You Tried Everything But Still Your Baby Refuses Bottle?
If all the above has been tried and hasn’t worked there are a few other approaches that can be tried.
1. Create a Relaxed Atmosphere
Sometimes a baby may be unsettled for unknown reasons; a human baby is very perceptive and can detect stress in parents. As a rule, if the mum is calm and relaxed, the baby will be too and be more open to bottle feeding.
2. Allow the Baby to Get a Little Hungry
A baby that is not hungry will fuss over being fed. Too much hunger can cause ease and discomfort to a baby, but a little hunger will not harm the baby. Increase the time between feeding intervals and allow the baby to get a little hungry.
3. Let Someone Else Bottle Feed
Babies that are struggling to make the transition from breastfeeding to bottle feeding will not accept being bottle fed by the mother. It is advisable to encourage the father or another family member to take on the responsibility.
4. Proper Positioning for Bottle Feeding
If the baby is not in a comfortable position, he/she may refuse to bottle feed. It is essential to hold the baby a little upright with the head being positioned to be in a straight line with the body. The baby should be snuggled in your arms and also have support for its feet.
It can be very frustrating when parents are faced with babies refusing to bottle feed; thankfully the common problems associated with bottle feeding are simple with simple solutions. If all else fails then seeking medical advice is the last and best resort.