Does your baby squirm and cry while bottle feeding?
Or do they fight their bottle, even though you know they are hungry?
Given breast milk or formula is the only form of nutrition during your baby’s first 4-6 months, it’s important to determine why a baby squirms, cries or is overly fussy during a feed, so you can get to the bottom of the cause and implement a solution.
There are multiple reasons why a baby might fight their bottle despite being hungry, including being distracted or uncomfortable, having reflux, a loss of appetite due to feeling unwell or even overtiredness.
So let’s take a look at 10 common reasons why your little one might be squirming, crying or fighting their bottle, and what you can do to resolve the issue and get things back to normal.
With everything being so new to a baby and no less than 5 development leaps in the first 6 months, it’s unsurprising that babies can get easily distracted.
From siblings running around to spotting their favorite toy or lovey in the corner of their eye or hearing and seeing the TV, there’s no end of distractions in most homes, and as you’d expect, all of these things can distract a baby from the job in hand.
Try giving your baby a bottle in as calm and quite an environment as possible, and to really limit distractions, you could try feeding in a dark room.
Both formula and breast milk contain lactose, which is important to a baby’s health because it helps your little one absorb calcium and supports the growth of good bacteria in their intestinal tract.
But given a newborn’s digestive system is still developing, infants may not be able to easily digest the proteins, fats and carbohydrates in milk until they are a bit older.
This can lead to gas, farting and other discomfort, and as a result your baby may squirm and kick their legs during a bottle, even if they are hungry.
Keep your baby in an upright position when feeding, as this will help reduce the amount of air they swallow.
Holding their bottle at an angle should also help avoid trapping air inside their bottle.
You can also try feeding more slowly, and taking regular breaks every few minutes to burp your baby, so any trapped air or gas is released from their stomach.
When a baby is overly tired it can lead to all sorts of issues, including taking a long time to settle down to sleep in their bassinet or crib, clinginess, boredom and being more fussy with food.
Babies have a notoriously short attention span at the best of time, but an overtired baby will really struggle to stay focused on a feed, even if they are hungry.
It sounds obvious, but try feeding your baby before they get too tired.
Routines are difficult to establish, but if you can avoid feeds clashing too much with naps and sleep time, then you should see an improvement.
4. Silent Reflux
If your little one has reflux then it’s probably something you’re well aware of, because it results in throwing up milk after a feed.
But sometimes babies may have signs of reflux but will not bring up milk or be sick, and this is known as silent reflux.
So if your baby is fighting their bottle or pushing their bottle away when they are still hungry, it could be an indication of reflux.
According to experts, some of the most common ways to relive reflux include:
- Feeding your baby in an upright position and then holding them in a sitting position for 30 minutes after feeding.
- Smaller, more frequent feeds.
- Burping your baby often.
- Putting them to sleep on their back.
5. Feeling Unwell
When a baby is unwell – for example they have a cold, bacterial infection or are teething – then it’s likely to have an impact on their appetite.
With their developing immune systems it’s common for infants to catch quite a few illnesses in their first few years, and all this sickness can put them off their food.
Don’t try to force your baby to have more of their bottle than they want, but instead make them as comfortable as possible and wait the illness out.
You might find they want to eat little and often, so if this is the case stay patient and offer them a bottle more frequently to make up for their smaller feeds.
If you are still breastfeeding then it’s a good idea to offer your baby the breast more often when they have a cold, because your body will produce antibodies in your breast milk to help your baby fight off their illness.
6. Uncomfortable Equipment
Babies are sensitive to how quickly milk flows into their mouths, and if the flow is too fast, they may fight their bottle even if they are hungry.
As we covered in another article on breastfeeding, if the letdown (or release of milk) from your breast is too forceful, your baby is likely to complain, and this can lead to an uneven milk supply if you’re breastfeeding.
Feeding from a bottle is no different in that regard, because if the nipple is too fast, or too slow for that matter, your baby may be frustrated and therefore cry, kick, squirm and generally fight their bottle despite their hunger.
Try experimenting with nipples of different lengths, shapes, materials and speeds to settle on one that works for your little one.
7. You’ve Started Weaning
Another reason why your baby might be fighting their bottle feeds is if you’re started weaning them off the breast.
Feeding from a bottle is very different for mom’s breast, and to your baby the former doesn’t really compare.
Especially when you consider the added comfort that breastfeeding provides your little one.
This is a hard one to solve, because a lot of breast fed babies will often refuse a bottle while they are still being breastfed.
Although it may lead to some wastage if your baby doesn’t drink the full bottle, try pumping your breastmilk and offering it in a bottle.
Stay patient when you’re both breastfeeding and bottle feeding your baby, and don’t put too much pressure on how much milk they drink from the bottle.
As above, it’s also worth experimenting with different nipples in the hope that your baby will like and settle on one.
8. They Prefers Different Temperature Milk
It’s perfectly safe to give your baby cold formula and cold breast milk, and for some parents this is a much more convenient practice than warming up each bottle.
But some babies have a strong preference for warm milk, and will simply refuse cold or room temperature milk from a bottle.
The obvious solution to this is to warm up your baby’s milk either using a bottle warmer or with some hot water and a bowl.
Just be aware that you should never heat up your baby’s bottle using a microwave, because heating this way could create hotspots in the liquid, which could burn your child’s tongue, lips or mouth.
9. They Are Now Eating Solids
From around the age of 6 months babies typically move on to solid foods, and by the time they are 7 or 8 months they might be eating various food groups including meat, vegetables, fruit, yogurt and cheese.
While baby often tends to be very bland to adults given the lack of salt and its target audience, there’s a good chance this new type of food is exciting to your little one, and their fussiness might be an indication that they would prefer to eat solids rather than have their bottle.
this does mean your baby has a reduced appetite when it comes to their bottles.
If your baby’s nutritional needs are being met, you may need to reduce the amount of milk you give them, especially compared to their pre-weaning days.
10. Not Hungry
When your baby is very young their stomach will be tiny – at birth it will be as small as a toy marble!
Even as they grow, it doesn’t take much to fill up a baby, and many parents make the mistake of believing their child is hungry even when they aren’t.
Make sure you don’t mistake the signs of hunger with something else.
It’s common to confuse fussiness, stress or the desire to be comforted with hunger, so in these circumstances it’s only natural that your baby will fight their bottle and squirm or cry when offered their bottle.
From birth to 5 months old, experts recommend looking out for these signs that your baby is hungry:
- Fists moving to mouth.
- Turns head towards breast or bottle.
- Becoming more alert and active.
- Sucking on hands or lip smacking.
- Opening and closing mouth.
While from 6 to 23 months, signs of hunger include:
- Reaching or pointing to food.
- Getting excited when they see food
- Using hand motions or sounds to let mom or dad know they are still hungry.
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