Bottle feeding: Should you refuse the breast?

I have been breastfeeding my five month old exclusively. She has never accepted a bottle. I now need to go back to work. To complicate things, she recently had an ear infection and I had to force her to take antibiotics. Now she clamps her mouth shut and there is almost no getting past her little gums. Should I just refuse to nurse her until she accepts the bottle?

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

I understand it can be very frustrating to find your daughter will still not accept a bottle as you are planning to return to work. And this is complicated now that she is also not accepting solids. It is quite likely that forcing the medication made her want to closely control anything entering her mouth. Quite reasonable when you think about it -- but not easy for a parent to deal with.

I would never advocate using refusal of the breast to force your baby into accepting a bottle or solid foods. You will be getting into a struggle that might not only compromise her physical health but may also affect her lifelong attitudes toward food.

Are you offering your expressed milk to your baby? If you are offering formula in bottles, your daughter may not like the taste. Try it yourself, along with some of your expressed milk, and you will see there is a considerable difference -- with breastmilk winning hands down!

Since a bottle isn't working out at this time, you might want to try putting some of your expressed milk in a cup. Hold your little one on your lap and explain that this is your milk. You might want to express a bit from your breast, onto your (clean) finger for her to taste, or let her see you express some into a cup. If she refuses a sip, try dipping your finger in and offer her a taste. Once she sees it's your milk, and that you aren't forcing her, she may enjoy drinking your milk in this new way.

Since your little one is only five months old, it shouldn't harm her to wait a bit longer for solid foods. Take a step backward and try to be patient with her. (Perhaps the ear infection -- which can be a sign of allergy -- was caused by a food she was offered. She may be protecting herself by not eating solids or accepting formula at this time.)

You didn't mention how soon you need to return to work. If your little one is still not accepting your expressed milk or solids at that time explain the situation to your baby's caregiver and ask her not to force any feeds. Her patience is also essential to your baby's acceptance of alternate feeds. If your baby doesn't take anything in while you are at work for the first few days she will undoubtedly increase her feeds when the two of you are together -- reverse cycle nursing.

Be sure to watch your daughter's output during this time just to be sure she is getting what she needs. She should be wetting five to six diapers each day and have regular, substantial bowel movements. If you find that she is falling short, it is important to seek prompt evaluation by her Health Care Provider. My very best wishes in this time of transition!

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