Help! My baby is refusing their bottle...
When a baby shows difficulties with bottle-feeding, it can be very worrying for new parents.
A baby with a bottle-feeding aversion can be one of the most stressful situations a new parent can face, but it is extremely common. We've spoken to professionals to create this blog post to help parents understand more about bottle aversion, how to identify it and how it's usually treated.
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, and Mamamade support all parents in however they choose to feed their baby. In this blog post we focus specifically on bottle-feeding aversion.
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.
Parents who are struggling with a bottle averse may develop anxiety that's triggered by the thought of feeding their baby. It can have an enormous impact on a 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.
How do I know if my baby has a bottle aversion?
A baby with a bottle aversion may do the following:
- Skip 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, then speak to your GP or health visitor who will be able to advise.
What causes 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:
- Stressed caused by being pressured or forced to feed as parents worry their baby isn't gaining enough weight
- Gagging or choking episodes while feeding which cause 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)
Usually, a 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 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 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 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 getting 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 medication, dietary changes, high-energy feeds with special formula and sometimes they will recommend starting 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 goes recommend starting solids early due to a feeding aversion, then we have a range of single-ingredient fruit and veg purees which 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 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.