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Bottle Aversion: Why Does My Baby Refuse To Be Bottle-Fed?

Is your baby refusing their bottle? If so, not to worry! Mamamade is to the rescue 🚀

When a baby shows difficulties with bottle-feeding, it can be very worrying for any kind of parent, be they new or experienced parents. A baby with a bottle-feeding aversion can be one of the most stressful situations any parent can face, but the truth is that it's more common than you think.

We've teamed up with some professionals to help parents understand more about bottle aversion, how to identify it and most importantly, how to treat and or navigate your way around it!

You might be thinking, what is bottle aversion?

Well, bottle aversion is basically your baby's way of going on "strike" there are many reasons for this reaction; some can be physical or psychological. For most parents, this "strike" can raise many alarm bells, be very worrying, stressful and most of the time cause you to find faults within your parenting! But rest assured that it's common, and most parents go through it in one way or another. Babies can develop an aversion to many forms of feeding, whether that be bottle-feeding, breastfeeding and sometimes even solid foods.

We at Mamamade are here to support our community of parents through this blog post - specifically focused on bottle-feeding aversion.

Now that we've covered the basics - let's move into how bottle aversion can affect your daily lifestyle.

Bottle aversion can be frustrating within the first few weeks or months of becoming a parent - don't be hard on yourself; you've got a lot on your plate, and it's all a learning experience. Most parents who are struggling with a bottle-averse baby are known to develop anxiety eventually. The thought of feeding their baby can trigger this, thus having an enormous impact on their confidence, sense of competency as a parent and self-esteem.

For some, this can run deep - even to the point of not wanting to leave their house as they'd rather stay home to feed their distressed baby. Other issues that can arise for parents include bonding issues as they feel a sense of rejection from their baby, and to make it even harder, the frustration kicks in, which is ultimately followed by guilt or shame.

We know that as parents all you want is to address the issue of bottle aversion so that your baby can continue to grow and develop to their full potential. We want exactly the same which is why it's important to take help when offered (As we say, it take a village to raise a child) and ask for help when you need it most.

If you aren't sure if your baby has a bottle aversion, look out for the following signs:

  • Skipping feeds with no signs of distress.

  • Appears hungry but refuses to eat.

  • Becomes tense, cries or screams when about to be fed.

  • Only takes a small volume of milk before crying or refusing any more.

  • Clamping their mouth shut, turning their head away, avoiding eye contact while trying to bottle-feed.

  • Only feeding while in a drowsy or sleepy state.

  • Displaying poor growth.

If you recognise some of these behaviours in your baby and are concerned, please speak to your GP or health visitor who will advise you further.

So, what's the cause of bottle-feeding aversion?

Bottle aversion can occur due to fears caused by previous stressful or unpleasant experiences associated with bottle feeding. The most common reasons behind this are:

  • Stress caused by being pressured or forced to feed can stem from the parents worrying that their baby isn't gaining enough weight.

  • An episode of gagging or choking while feeding which later caused psychological distress.

  • Medical trauma, such as nasal or oral suctioning or feeding tube insertion.

  • Pain due to acid reflux, ulcers or a milk allergy.

  • A sensory-based feeding disorder (more common in premature babies who experienced longer stays in NICU).

And sometimes a baby might just prefer the boob rather than the bottle! They know what they like and sometimes they just stick to it. From a baby's point of view, they feel comforted and safe snuggling into their mother ready to be breastfed, it becomes a peaceful routine for them. Persistence is key so keep trying. However, sometimes, the cause might be bigger than just their preference for the boob. For example, babies can sometimes experience "nipple confusion." This is when their sucking reflex has not quite caught up to the change in the delivery method of the milk as the flow from the bottle might be too fast or too slow in comparison to the boob. So, try different bottle tips, and if that doesn't work consult your health visitor or GP for some advice/recommendations.

It sometimes can be that bottle aversion is a learned behavioural response. Parents will worry that their baby is in pain at every feed, but this is rarely the case.

Initially, a baby may be displaying distress in response to something unpleasant, stressful or painful. If exposure to this is repeated, the baby may then learn to start showing signs of distress before being fed and starts a vicious cycle and pattern of behaviour. The timing and type of behaviour your baby exhibits will provide vital clues as to the cause of the bottle aversion.

If you're unsure what the cause of your baby's feeding aversion is, then the best route is to narrow down the above likely reasons. If you're still not sure, it's worth speaking to your GP or health visitor.

After reading the above, you might now be wondering how to treat a baby with bottle-aversion?

It's important before getting treatment to make sure you've identified the cause of your baby's bottle-aversion, or there's a chance that the treatment might not work.

To determine this, the first step should be to speak to your GP or health visitor to explain what is happening during feeds and your understanding of the possible cause. If you're not sure, they should be able to advise and investigate the situation.

Some common treatments include medication, dietary changes, high-energy feeds with a special formula, and sometimes they might even recommend starting your baby on solids early. Your GP or health visitor will advise the best treatment for your baby based on the cause of their bottle aversion.

If your GP does recommend starting solids early due to a feeding aversion, then we have a range of single-ingredient fruit and veg purees that are safe for babies from 4+ months old.

  • When you purchase one of our baby food subscription boxes, you also gain free access to our 24/7 weaning coach, who can offer support throughout your weaning journey, from everything from bottle aversion to introducing solids.

  • Most importantly, we want parents to know that they aren't alone. Mamamade is always there to support them throughout their parenting journey. We're building a community of parents on our Facebook group, Mamamates, to share the highs and lows of parenting. If you're a parent, please join us.

I hope this helps, we at Mamamade are always available - so, message us with any questions you might have. 

Love, 

Himanshi @ Mamamade

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