People think that formula feeding is easy, but as most formula feeding moms know, it can be a bit of a struggle, especially if you are feeding a fussy baby. Some babies are happy with whatever formula or milk you put in front of them, and others can be a little pickier. If you’re a mom whose baby can’t stand the sight of their bottle, you may be frustrated and concerned, but there may be more to their scorn than you think. Figuring out why your baby hates formula can actually educate you to some bigger issues.
My sister has twin boys and while one baby thrived on the formula, the other just refused to drink it. He would fuss, cry, and continuously spit up during feedings, so she ended up trying different formulas until one sticked. Whether it was the taste, smell, or composition of the formula that turned him off, he definitely changed his feeding behavior when his formula was switched.
So while some babies can tolerate and enjoy certain formulas, others may be more sensitive. As a parent, all you can do is keep offering different options, and keep an eye out for signs of poor nutrition. If your baby is having any kind of allergic reactions, including rashes, weird stools, or vomiting, or if they aren’t gaining weight properly, you should definitely let your pediatrician know. You can also consult with a nutritionist who can guide you on the healthiest and most suitable formula options for your baby.
In the meantime, here are some ways to decipher why your baby may be shunning their formula and fussing when you feed them.
If you have recently switched from breastfeeding or breast milk to formula, taste and smell may be the reasons your baby hates feeding. Parenting Science explained that babies are equipped with all five senses of taste — they can taste sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness, and umami.
Breast milk has 10 times more glutamate than cow’s milk, which falls under the umami (protein sensing taste buds), explained The Guardian, so babies might taste the difference when you switch to formula. Babies can also smell the difference between breast milk and formula, noted Parenting Science, so it might take a while for them to get used to the change.
Around 20 percent of babies may not be able to tolerate the lactose in cow’s milk formula, explained the Mayo Clinic, and they can even be allergic to the proteins it contains. In an email interview with Romper, Anita Mirchandani, M.S. R.D. C.D.N, a clinical nutritionist and registered dietitian at Yummy Spoonfuls, says that most formulas are made with cow’s milk, and if your child doesn’t respond well to their formula, they may not be able to tolerate cow’s milk.
According to Parents, babies who are intolerant of cow’s milk will be fussy, gassy, bloated, and have loose stools. The article noted that when babies have allergies to cow’s milk, you may see hives, vomiting, or blood in stools. If you suspect that your baby is unable to tolerate cow’s milk formula, let your pediatrician know. There are alternative formulas, like soy-based formulas that are lactose-free, and protein hydrolysate formulas in which proteins are partially or extensively broken down into smaller sizes that baby can tolerate.
It may seem like your baby is refusing to drink formula because they hate it, but if they are getting older, it just might be that they’re too distracted to drink. According to Sleeping Should Be Easy, sometimes babies will find more excitement in exploring their surroundings than drinking, so you should avoid loud or distracting rooms to feed them in.
Baby Care Advice also noted that if your baby has had a negative, stressful, or painful experience with feeding (like acid reflux or an allergy), it might trigger anxiety when they see the bottle. In this case, you may want to distract them while feeding, keeping their mind off of their aversion. You can even try using a different bottle, or try a sippy cup if they are old enough.
If you have recently introduced solids into your baby’s diet, they may not want to feed as much as they did before. According to Baby Center, if your baby has started solids, they may just be too full to drink. So the fussiness you see could just be attributed to a full belly. If this is the case, the article suggested trying to feed your baby again a little while later. Hopefully by then, they will have more of an appetite and fuss less when drinking.
No one feels like eating when they’re sick, and babies aren't different. Baby Center mentioned that if your baby is fussing at feedings, it could be because they have a cold, a sore throat, or an ear infection. If you see that your baby is feverish, congested, coughing, or just generally fussy, they may be feeling under the weather. If this is the case, it’s important to make sure they're drinking enough to stay well hydrated, and definitely keep your pediatrician in the loop.
If your baby is fussing at feeding time, it could be that they aren’t happy with the flow of the milk. Baby Care Advice noted that if your bottle’s nipple is not the right size and speed for your baby — too short, too long, too fast, or too slow — your baby might get frustrated with feeding. Swapping out the nipple for the correct size and speed may be the solution to your baby’s feeding fuss.
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