Whether they're fed by breast or bottle, we all know babies need to be fed in order to grow and thrive! So when a baby shows difficulties with feeding, it can be very worrying for new parents.
A baby bottle-feeding aversion is one of the most stressful situations a new parent can face, but it is extremely common.
A parent can see that their baby is clearly hungry and distressed, but despite this, why won’t they eat?
Mamamade have spoken to professionals to help parents understand the causes of bottle aversion.
What is a bottle aversion? 🍼
A bottle aversion is when a baby who is capable of feeding either partially or fully refuses to be bottle-fed. This can be an extremely stressful situation for parents, but it is also very common.
Babies can develop an aversion to bottle-feeding, breastfeeding and solid foods.
How does bottle aversion affect babies and parents?
Bottle aversion can be both frustrating and worrying for parents and can cause medical issues for babies.
Repeated stressful feeding experiences may cause parents to dread feeding times. Parents who are struggling with a bottle averse may develop anticipatory anxiety triggered by the thought of feeding their baby.
It is heartbreaking for a parent who struggles to feed their child. It can have an enormous impact on their confidence, sense of competency as a parent and self-esteem. It’s common for parents to not want to leave their house as they do not wish to be in public while trying to feed their distressed baby.
Bonding issues can also occur when babies are distressed by laying in their parent’s arms to be fed, which can be perceived as the parent being rejected by their baby. This not the case! It may cause the parent to become frustrated with their baby, which can be followed by guilt or shame.
It’s also common for babies with bottle aversions to experience poor growth and development as they struggle to get all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients they need to thrive.
What behaviours do bottle-averse babies display?
A baby with a bottle aversion may do the following:
- Skipping feedings with no signs of distress
- Appearing hungry but refusing to eat
- Becoming tense, crying or screaming when about to be fed (either being shown a bottle, placed in a feeding position)
- Only taking 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, it's probably worth speaking to your GP or health visitor. 🩺
What causes bottle-feeding aversion?Bottle aversion can occur be due to fears caused by previous stressful or unpleasant experiences associated with bottle feeding.
The most common reasons behind this are:
- Stressed caused by being pressured or forced to feed
- Stress associated with gagging or choking while feeding
- Stress associated with medical procedures related to their face
- Pain due to acid reflux or a milk allergy
- A sensory-based feeding disorder (more common in premature babies who experienced longer stays in NICU)
Usually, a bottle aversion is a conditioned 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 that is unpleasant, stressful or painful. If exposure to this is repeated, the baby may then learn to start showing signs of distress before being fed, which can be very challenging for both parents and babies. These behaviours can last for months, weeks or years.
The timing and type of behaviour your baby exhibits will provide vital clues as to the cause of the bottle aversion.
If you’re not sure what the cause is of your baby’s feeding aversion, then the best route is narrow down the above likely causes. If you’re still not sure, it’s worth speaking to your GP or health visitor.
How is bottle-aversion treated?
It’s important before pursuing treatment to make sure you’ve identified the cause of your baby’s bottle-aversion, or the treatment won’t work!
To determine this, the first thing you should always do 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.
Common treatments include behaviour therapy, speech therapy, medication, dietary changes, high-energy feeds and starting solids early. Your GP or health visitor will advise the best treatment for your baby based on the cause of their bottle aversion.
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 are 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.
If you have a friend, relative or colleague who’s expecting a baby soon, have a read of our blog How to Support a Pregnant Friend During the Pandemic.