Battle with the bottle: persistence pays off

bottle_2When C was about 10 weeks old, she started refusing to feed from a bottle. Initial reluctance rapidly turned into violent resistance, and if I actually managed to get the teat near her mouth, it was met only by screams.

My despair at the situation was tempered only by the fact that it turned out not to be particularly unusual. Two mothers I knew had had the same experience – trouble free bottle feeding morphing into complete refusal – and several others (including, ahem, my own mother) had never managed to get their babies to feed from a bottle.

On the web, several discussion forums were devoted to the topic, and here I found a glimmer of hope: many parents who had experienced similar problems had eventually been able to get their babies to accept bottles. Reading the advice was nevertheless confusing. There were a multitude of conditions that apparently dictated whether infants would feed from a bottle: mothers needed to be around to provide comfort/mothers needed to be completely out of the house; babies shouldn’t be really hungry (they might get too upset)/babies should be really hungry (they won’t let themselves starve); silicon teats were better than rubber/rubber teats were better than silicon…

The only thing that all the success stories had in common was that the parents persisted in offering their children bottles. This in itself is not a great revelation – if a bottle isn’t offered, then it cannot be accepted – but it was reassuring to know that just because a baby resolutely refuses a bottle at one point, it doesn’t necessarily mean she always will.

Keeping this in mind, we started to offer C a bottle everyday, containing just an ounce of expressed milk to start with. I abandoned my frustration, and decided not to worry too much whether she took it or left it. Perhaps because I was no longer anxious, C stopped crying when the bottle was near her. Sometimes she drank a little bit of milk, sometimes she just chewed on the teat, sometimes she spat it out. Eventually, she became so comfortable feeding this way that she’d grab the bottle with both hands and help push it into her mouth! Whether it was decoupling the stress from the situation, the increasing familiarity of the bottle, or a sudden turnaround that would have happened regardless of what we had done is impossible to know, but for now at least, bottle refusal is thankfully in the distant past.

Battle with the bottle

bottleWhen C was a few weeks old, and I was expressing to take the pressure off my beleagured nipple, she would gulp down whatever ended up near her mouth – even milk straight from the fridge. I didn’t enjoy feeding her bottles, but it was a necessary evil, and as the health visitor told me, if I wanted her to take a bottle later on, I needed to introduce it at that point anyway. She also mentioned that if I wanted C to carry on accepting bottles, I’d need to keep it up, giving her at least one per week. I endeavoured to do this, more or less, although I was reluctant to do it really frequently as it seemed to make her windy and more likely to be sick. I have to admit that part of it was laziness as well. Since breastfeeding had become less painful, it was proving to be amazingly convenient, whereas expressing and bottle feeding was a bit of a hassle.

On my husband J’s birthday, we went out for a meal without C for the first time. My sister came over to look after her, and even though we were only going to be a couple of hours, I wanted to have a bit of wine, so thought it would be better to give her a bottle that evening. I expressed milk in the morning, and defrosted some frozen stuff just in case. My sister didn’t need to use the milk in the end (C had a substantial meal just before we left), but I thought my blood-alcohol content was probably a bit high when I got back, so I decided I ought to leave it an hour or so. C seemed pretty peckish, so J settled down to bottle-feed her. Half an hour and a lot of agitation later, very little had gone down, and we ended up trying to distract her until I could feed her again. I wasn’t particularly worried by this turn of events, but realised that we were going to have to make this bottle thing a lot more regular to ensure that C would take one readily when I wasn’t available to feed her.

The plan was for J, who would normally be feeding her in my absence, to give her a bottle of expressed milk each evening. Simple. Except that rather than making bottles appear more desirable, it transformed her into a small bundle of rage who wouldn’t have them anywhere near her. She turned her head and pushed them away with her hand (at least it was helping her motor coordination), refusing to swallow even the milk that happened to leak into her mouth by chance.

After a few nights of this, I was at my wit’s end. I hadn’t really considered that she might refuse to feed from a bottle in my absence. It had been so easy! Now I realised that I might have to accept that she’d reached the point where she might flat out refuse, even if she was really hungry. It wasn’t that she didn’t know how to do it (a couple of times she’d sleepily suckled for a few seconds), but rather that she didn’t want to. C had realised that she could decide what to take into her mouth, and unfortunately for me, milk from a bottle simply wasn’t on the approved list…

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