Baby Won’t Take a Bottle at Daycare (What To Do About It!)

If your baby is refusing a bottle at daycare, don’t worry – it’s pretty normal and happens to almost every baby at some point. Figuring out why the baby won’t take a bottle is the first step, and it can be for a variety of reasons – or even a combination.

It can be alarming if your baby stops taking a bottle at daycare, but caregivers should be willing and able to work with you to find a solution. It is especially common for breastfed babies to be resistant to the bottle in the beginning; other reasons may include bottle malfunctions, teething, positioning, or even milk temperature or quality.

Don’t freak out if your baby stops eating at daycare. It may take at least two weeks before they settle into a routine, but it will happen. Keep reading to find out more about getting your baby used to feeding at daycare and some tips on how to ease the transition.

What to do if your baby won’t take a bottle at daycare

When your baby transitions to daycare, it will no doubt rock their world and lead to behavioral issues. Just think about a brand new environment – new people, new smells and sounds, lots of distractions, and no mom or dad! Even something as simple as having a new person holding your baby can stress them out.

Though there isn’t a lot of research, most studies focus on breastfeeding moms who report that the transition to a bottle at daycare can cause distress. Anecdotal evidence from baby blogs indicates that formula-fed babies have the same issue. Most moms report that their baby initially refused a bottle at daycare – both breastfed and formula-fed – for the first two weeks.

Here are some tips that can help ease the transition:

  • Feeding plan – Create a detailed outline of your feeding routine and preferences.
  • Feeding routine – Use the same process for feeding at daycare as you do at home.
  • Communicate with the caregiver – Talk to your caregiver about your concerns and ensure that they use your feeding plan.

After two weeks

If you’re past the two-week window, there might be a larger issue at work than just whether or not your baby is still adapting to being at daycare.

Babies may refuse to eat at daycare for a variety of reasons, including that there are changes still being made that are keeping your little one from establishing a routine, they may be hitting a developmental milestone that makes them fussy and more difficult to feed overall, or it may be an issue with the bottle, nipple, or milk.

It can also be difficult to get to the root of the problem because it’s possible there is more than one reason your child is rejecting the bottle:

  • Disruption to the daycare schedule – If your baby used to eat at daycare but has stopped suddenly, you may want to ask what has changed there. Even though your little one’s schedule may look the same to you – same drop-off time, same pick-up time, even the same room – there may be differences during the day that are making it difficult for them to adjust to the day.
  • Bottle or nipple issues – Your baby’s bottle (or the nipple) may need to be replaced or cleaned, or it’s possible that your baby is rejecting the bottle simply because the detergent is different from the one you use at home. If you are bottle-feeding for the first time, you may be finding out that not all babies like all types of bottles or nipples and sometimes you need to experiment to find the right fit.
  • Ready for a sippy cup – At around 5-6 months, your baby may start to prefer a sippy cup over a bottle. At this point, you should try to synchronize the transition and introduce your baby to the sippy cup at home as well as at daycare.
  • Formula preparation – Your baby may reject their bottle if the formula tastes different than they get at home. Brand, temperature, water type, and preparation variances can change the flavor in ways that your baby may not enjoy.
  • Pumped breastmilk preparation – If your baby is used to nursing, they may not be excited about being given stored breastmilk.
  • Teething – Babies may reject the bottle when they start teething. Check for swollen gums and excessive drool, and be ready to make some milk pops.

If all else fails, talk to your baby’s pediatrician. Or if you’re extra worried, contact your pediatrician or nurse for reassurance and a professional opinion. If you’re a breastfeeding mother, a lactation consultant may also be able to offer guidance.

When should I talk to my baby’s caregiver?

Communication with your daycare provider is crucial to a positive experience. There are very clear state standards set for feeding in care facilities, so first be sure you are aware of those regulations.

Most regulations address feeding on demand, holding babies while being fed, and emphasize knowing hunger cues. In addition, most have strict rules regarding carrying, propping, and sleeping with bottles.

While regulations are a positive step, we have no way of knowing if they are being followed. Make yourself familiar with your state’s regulations and your daycare provider’s policies.

What is a feeding plan?

A feeding plan details your feeding routine and preferences puts both you and the daycare providers on the same page about what works best for your baby. There is no limit to what yours can include, so be specific to what your baby prefers or just describe step-by-step what you do at home.

Your feeding plan lets you indicate everything from your baby’s preferred position to milk temperature, from burping technique to a specific time schedule. If you prefer feeding on demand, be sure to describe your baby’s feeding cues.

As of 2016, 41 states required feeding plans due to issues with overweight babies. Here is an example of a feeding plan template from the University of North Carolina.

What is a feeding routine?

You already know that your baby thrives on routine, but you may not think about how important is it to establish elements of a feeding routine that can transfer from home to daycare.

A feeding routine means using the same series of steps each time your baby eats. Babies constantly experience new things in their world, so creating a feeding routine will help your baby eat in this new daycare environment. 

Start your baby in the same position at home – and make sure it’s in your feeding plan. If the position preference changes, be sure to notify your daycare provider.

It can also help to create an environment similar to home by appealing to all of your baby’s senses. Bring something that smells like mom or dad like a blanket to cuddle in during feeding for scent and comfort. Even something like a sound machine played at feeding time or a certain calming song or book can establish a routine.

Is the bottle or nipple the problem?

A bottle malfunction or issue could be the problem and it’s easy to fix, but hard to diagnose if you aren’t there.

Check for proper nipple flow and that the bottle is assembled correctly and has no cracks. Be sure that you are using the same bottle at home and at daycare. Also, check cleaning practices – something as simple as a scented dish soap at daycare could create distress for your baby.

If possible, it may be easier to switch out a previously loved bottle with a new one of the same style.

Should I try a new bottle or nipple?

Some babies are very particular about their bottles and nipples, especially if you are breastfeeding at home. It can be an uphill climb until you find the right bottle, but trying to figure this out before daycare is a great idea. If you can’t find the right bottle in advance, you can always send several options to daycare.

If you’re breastfeeding, try bottles that most closely resemble the mother’s nipple. Practice at home by having your partner or another close person feed the baby with mama out of the room. Your baby may be ready to upgrade to a high-flow nipple if they are older, and breastfed babies may get particularly fussy if the flow isn’t comparable to mom’s nipple. 

Using the pinky trick also helps with nipple confusion; you let the baby suck on your pinky first and then slowly substitute the nipple.

Is my baby ready for a sippy cup?

If your baby is 5-6 months old, it might be time for a sippy cup!

A sippy cup increases the flow and requires a different kind of sucking technique. It also gives your baby autonomy, which older infants love.

Practice at home with some water until they get used to the new technique.

Is there a problem with the milk?

Your baby may be rejecting their bottle because the milk or formula has gone bad or simply doesn’t taste as good as they expect.

If you’re breastfeeding, be sure that the daycare providers know how to thaw and acclimate the milk to your baby’s preferred temperature. Demonstrate this for them if need be, as it is easy to overheat or underheat breastmilk, especially when they don’t know to stir it and check it before offering it to your baby. Be sure that it hasn’t soured. 

Another option may be to offer formula instead of breastmilk when at daycare. Be sure your formula hasn’t expired and that they aren’t using leftover formula from previous days.

Should I premix the bottles at home?

Getting the right ratio is key to a happy baby who gains weight over time.

Even the water that you use may alter the flavor, so either mix your formula at home or provide pre-measured portions of water and formula for your daycare provider. 

Also check to be sure that they are giving your baby the formula you provided.

Could teething keep my baby from eating?

As surprising as it may be, your little one may be sprouting their first tooth! According to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, teething usually begins around four months and can last until eight months for front teeth alone! Overall, however, the entire process lasts for 30-36 months, and that’s a long time to deal with swollen gums.

The sucking technique required to drink from a bottle can be painful when gums are inflamed and sensitive, so be ready to adapt when the telltale drool begins to hang from your baby’s mouth. Some parents swear by milk pops, which involve freezing breastmilk or formula on a pacifier. 

You can also supplement by using a syringe and slowly feeding the baby bit by bit to avoid painful sucking.

How can I help my breastfed baby take a bottle?

Babies who are exclusively breastfed may not want to take a bottle at daycare. Your best bet may be to start using a bottle at home as well, at least some of the time.

Some parents swear by the pinky trick when transitioning to a bottle: let the baby suck on your pinky first and then slowly replace it with the bottle nipple. 

You can also try the syringe method. Allow the baby to suck on your pinky while slowly dispensing milk through a syringe. Then gradually replace the pinky with a bottle’s nipple.

When should I talk to my pediatrician?

If you’ve tried the above tips, it might be time to have a conversation with your pediatrician about other issues that may be at play, especially if your baby starts to refuse the bottle at home. It can also give you peace of mind to call and check, so trust your gut!

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