Q&A: getting a 4-month-old baby to take a bottle

Melissa writes:

"I am currently breastfeeding a 15 week old baby. We would like to give her breastmilk from a bottle, but so far we haven't had a lot of luck with this.

We waited until she was about four weeks before trying and had some luck getting her to drink about an ounce, but we didn't really keep in her "practice". Now she will put the nipple in her mouth but won't suck on it.

We have tried all imaginable bottles and nipples. Some seem to be a little better than others, but none markably so.

I am going to return to work at six months; at the same time I'll be introducing her to solid food. I really don't want to do that sooner and I'd to send her with breastmilk in a bottle.

ANY ideas for helping my baby take a bottle? Brands, technique, persistance, anything?"

Well, I'm 1 for 2. My first child took a bottle easily (on the second try, at 7 weeks) and my second wouldn't take a bottle (we started trying at 2 weeks and gave up trying at 9 weeks) until he was around 5 months or so. And he'll only take one from our babysitter--not from me ("Are you freaking joking me, lady?!" is what his eyes say) and not from my husband ("Nice try, hairy person, but I prefer to wait for the smooth one with the milk") and not from my mom ("I like you so I won't cry very much as you rock me, but I think we can be honest about the fact that both of us hope the lady with the milk shows up soon"). And I think he only takes it from her because he loooves her and is trying to flirt. So I'll tell you what I know, but it may not be any more revelatory than what you've already been doing. Let's hope one of the readers has the magic bullet and will post it.

Here are the basics of what I was told:

* Do not wait until your baby is really hungry to give a bottle. The baby should be interested in the milk, not desperate for it. A hungry baby will become an angry baby, who will reject anything that isn't the norm. Nurse your baby to take the edge off and then try a bottle, or try a bottle an hour or so after your baby has eaten so s/he will be interested but not too hungry.

* Have someone who's not the nursing mother give the bottle. Why would any baby accept milk from a bottle when warm, snuggly, good-smelling mom is right there? Instead, have your partner or someone else give the bottle. Some kids will accept a bottle from someone else when the nursing mother is still there but in another room, but others won't take one if the mother is anywhere in the house. The nursing mother may have to leave (go get a pedicure! or read a magazine all by yourself! or drink a latte!) while someone else gives the bottle.

* Keep it fun. Even though you're desperate for your baby to take a bottle, the baby will be more into it if it's just a fun game. No pressure. Just dripping a little milk onto the baby's lips, then teasing with the bottle to get the baby to try it. Eventually the baby will probably have a lightbulb "Hey! Milk comes out of this thing, too!" moment and the objective will be achieved. We hope.

* Some babies don't want to take a bottle, but will take another kind of cup. Try the Nuby cup or straw cup or sippy cup (with the valve removed, if the baby is under a year or so). Read the comments to this post, which have stellar suggestions from readers about what worked for their kids.

Now that I've regurgitated the same stuff you've heard a million times, I'm going to go a little radical and tell you I think you should not try to make the experience of taking a bottle of breastmilk anything like actually nursing. By the time you go back to work you won't be dealing with a teeny newborn. You'll be dealing with a 6-month-old who will be getting curious and excited about different textures and flavors and experiences. If you can make drinking milk a new and interesting experience that isn't connected to you (since it'll be the daycare provider giving it to her), you might have better luck getting her to take it (since she sounds like one of those babies who doesn't want to be "tricked" into drinking milk from something other than the breast). So it might be worth it to try giving her cold breastmilk out of a straw cup or sippy (or the Nuby if she won't do a straw or sippy). 6 months is kind of a transitional time in a lot of ways, and some kids who are very particular about what goes into their mouths before then get more adventurous for a few weeks right around that time (which makes sense, since that's when kids start to want to eat other foods). You might be able to use that in your favor to get her to drink cold milk out of a different kind of cup.

If you decide to adopt that approach, you might want to wait another month or two before you even try to introduce milk in a cup or sippy. That way you can be closer to the experimentation window and not spend time trying to give warm miilk from a bottle in case you end up giving cold milk from a cup later. But obviously it's your call, based on what makes you feel better about things.

If nothing works, I think you have two options:

1. Let the daycare provider deal with it. Your daughter won't be the first child they've ever dealt with that doesn't want to drink out of a bottle. They probably have tricks we don't know about.

2. Don't worry about it. A 6-month-old can go a long time between feedings, and she may just rearrange her feeding schedule so she eats only solids at daycare and does all her nursing at home. This wouldn't surprise me at all, since I know plenty of babies who are at home with their mothers who hardly nurse at all during the day, but eat food during the day and do most of their nursing in the evening and the 11 o'clock "dream feed." So I think it goes hand in hand with the age of exploration, and is quite a handy way for a baby who doesn't like bottles to still get in enough calories while still not taking a bottle.

Good luck. I think it will end up being much less stressful at 6 months approaches than it is now.