Bottle refusal, clinginess, oh boy
February 10, 2020 7:36 AM   Subscribe

My mainly bottle fed 8 month old has started refusing bottles. She’s also extremely clingy and afraid of strangers and new places. I’m at the end of my rope. Help.

Two pronged issue:

1. My previous question was about dealing with my now 8 month old while on maternity leave. I got a lot of good suggestions about getting out of the house.

I thought I found ourselves a nice routine — gym with childcare, play group at library, etc, but my previously extroverted easy-going baby has developed an extreme stranger and separation anxiety. It’s beyond normal developmental anxiety — I see other babies her age. She cries when we are out of the house no matter what. She plays happily at home but cries if I leave her alone or turn my back. It’s been like this for well over a month.

2. We had breastfeeding difficulties from the start, and settled into a rhythm where I pump and give her bottles during the day, and she nursed when she’s asleep (because she refused when awake). Not ideal, but it’s worked out. In the past month, she’s started to refuse the bottle when she’s clearly hungry. We need to either catch her at a time when she’s receptive to it, or wait till she cries herself into a nap and then give it to her. This is super stressful. She ends up getting half or more of her milk at night (between bottles and nursing), and seems cranky because of hunger all day. She’s eating solids, but in small quantities, so we can’t push those either.

Result: I can’t really leave the house comfortably because she cries in the car seat or stroller out of hunger and won’t let me help her, and once I get to the destination, she clings and cries out of anxiety. Gym daycare is her crying and fussing all through while I rush my workout. Playgroups — well, it’s not play if she’s miserable, so what’s the point? I’ve tried getting a sitter at home so I can nap once in a while, but she cries nonstop with her (even after seeing her multiple times), refuses to feed, etc, so it’s not very restful for me.

I don’t know what happened. It used to be relatively easy to feed her and keep her happy. She used to love new places and people, and was generally so much easier to handle.

Some factors that have coincided with the behavior changes:

- We moved cities — new house, new weather.

- She used to go to daycare, which she loved, and is now home with me all day.

- She started solids, which frequently constipate her, no matter what we give her. Prunes resolve it eventually, but I feel like she’s periodically in discomfort. (Her quantities are still small and she gets the same milk intake as before.)

- She’s started crawling and babbling animatedly.

You are not her pediatrician, but because of the move, we haven’t been able to see our pediatrician, and the new one doesn’t have appointments available for some time.

Any suggestions? I’m exhausted and miserable.
posted by redlines to Human Relations (18 answers total)
(Should also add that we keep thinking she’s teething, but she hasn’t got a new tooth for the entire month that this has been happening.)
posted by redlines at 7:49 AM on February 10

An 8 month old does not get anxiety. That is you putting your anxieties on her. Really. Babies are babies. They don't really know any better.

They do, however, experiment with power. What is in their control or not. Hence the 'I'm not going to sleep' or your now issue of "I'm not going to drink that bottle."

First, find a pediatrician that will see you. A new family, if they're too busy to get you in for a new patient intro, find one that is. They will help with questions around the solids and constipation, and solutions around that.

I am not minimizing any of your stress or anything. Goodness, the first one was super-stressful,m and still we were stressed with the third.

Teething seems early, but possible.. get an ice ring toy for you to chew on.. even if she sin't teething, it could be a good distraction and help get her back on the bottle.

Kids WILL try and change your schedule to theirs. They don't know any better, except what they want. You just have to stay steadfast. It will take time, and heart-rending crying and sleeplessness for a week or so as you retrain her behavior. This will happen multiple times.

But, I would not try to sneak her to feed when she's sleeping. Stick to your schedule. If she doesn't want to eat, then she waits until the next feeding. They DO get hungry and will eventually conform to your schedule.. unless they learn that if they cry for long enough and scream bloody murder that you will come running and reward them for it.

You will NOT break your child if they cry. You will not break your child by making them do what is right. She is starting to gain awareness, which is an awesome time, but it comes along with them becoming devious little monsters (said with love).

She isn't anxious. She is reacting to you. They're like dogs at this stage.. basically looking to you for clues, and reacting appropriately.

Take. A. Breath. Things will be OK. Get her to the pediatrician (find a new one, ask at a money and me group, or whatever kid=gathering things you are finding in the new area).

She will cry. You will worry she's starving. But, once they're hungry enough, they will eat. Get a schedule and stick to it, even if she doesn't. I know this is a hard, terrible time, and we think we are failing as parents, but you aren't. You're doing great.
posted by rich at 7:59 AM on February 10 [10 favorites]

Oh, and don't compare your baby to other babies. They're all different, and all will develop differently and at different times. 'Documented' stages are averages, and don't conform to individuals. We always see others babies and think "why are they so great and mine is broken?"

You're not with that other baby 24-7. Don't do the compare game. It will only drive you crazy.
posted by rich at 8:01 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]

8 months is the classic noted start of separation anxiety in babies... it’s a major developmental step and not just you putting your anxiety on your baby. Maybe your baby is experiencing it stronger than some, but you are not making this up.
posted by Swisstine at 8:13 AM on February 10 [13 favorites]

I agree with rich's commment(s) and am glad they were bold enough to say them flat out.

Babies cry, you aren't a bad parent if they do. A crying baby does not a bad parent make.

Babies are also smart enough to manipulate you with crying once they get to a certain point. Do your best then trust your instinct to do self care without guilt.

I will also second that teething sucks and you will feel bad for them but if you can limit/compartmentalize that and keep it from making you feel like you're a bad parent then that's more healthy than blaming yourself.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:18 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]

Are her cheeks rosy at all? My niece started teething early, right around 7-8 months. It impacted her bottle feeding a bit.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 9:00 AM on February 10

As I said, it’s unlikely to be teething. She has three teeth already, didn’t have the same symptoms when they came, and no teeth seem to be breaking out during this difficult period.
posted by redlines at 9:16 AM on February 10

Thanks for the teething clarification. A final anecdotal consideration: Our kiddos didn't really differentiate between teething eruptions specifically per tooth and just a general period of discomfort and crying until all the teeth were up and out. Also the back teeth (which I think came in later) were a definite different/worse time and took longer before you could 'feel' that hardness/pre-eruption gum texture. It sucks.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:22 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]

Another thing to keep in mind: at least one sleep book I read mentioned that night feedings, particularly nursing direct from the boob can come from baby going "I want to have fun during the day and not waste time eating!" combined with "I get the good stuff and snuggles with mom at night!"

She might also be crabby during the day due to bad sleep (because feeding at night) rather than hunger.

So my inclination would be to echo rich's comments, and do your best to get her on a schedule; I would particularly try to cut out the night feedings; at 8 months she should be big enough to go the night without eating (but IANYP, obviously). I know that might be hard, particularly if that's the only time you're nursing her (and thus, you might not want to give that up, too!)
posted by damayanti at 9:26 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


DISTRACT for as long as it takes to start doing the thing you need/want to do, sometimes once the car is moving they're fine it's just the boring waiting before the movement that sucks

SNACKS to elongate the time you can keep doing the thing, these can be drawn out as long as possible

A) Distraction
- a car seat toy like this one to distract for as long as it takes for the car to get moving
- chewy things, always chewy things while they are in the "everything goes in the mouth" stage, keep a handful of them in your bag
- books on strings to clip to the pushchair/car seat
- music for the car that the kid likes, in our case she loves Hey Duggee so it's the Hey Duggee soundtrack

B) Snacktion
- a small tupperware of raisins/dried mulberries
- fruit leather
- these things omg
- an empty ice cream cone
- plain breadsticks
posted by greenish at 9:46 AM on February 10

I can't imagine any child that young refusing a bottle, when they're clearly hungry, out of a desire to manipulate. I can see them swiping it away towards the end when their belly is full and they are bored but not refusing one from the outset. I would look for a physical cause right away or she's likely to lose lots of weight.

So, first off, I would call the pediatrician's office again and say that you need to see a doc because of her refusing to eat. The lead time to get in for a "get to know you" appt and one for a real issue are totally different so they might be able to get you in today or tomorrow. If they can't get you in this week, start calling around to other doctor's offices. I've found that going to a group practice means that I can get in a lot quicker than when I used to go to one where it was only one doctor.

Until you get to the doctor, you can try a few things:
- Try a little bit of yogurt every day for the constipation. If she doesn't like it plain (and you don't want to go with the ones with added sugars), you can add some applesauce or banana to sweeten it up a bit.
- Even though you think it's not teething, give her some Advil and observe how she does for the next few hours
- write everything down for the next few days: meds given, food diary (offered and eaten) with times, diaper changes. That will give your doctor lots of good info.

And, finally, here's an example of a physical cause of lots of crying. I'm not saying it's what's going on with your daughter but it's something that made me crazy and had a very simple physical cause: My daughter started having weird bouts of crying that I thought were night terrors because they were so intense. Then she started doing it at other times and finally I got a glimpse of a certain spot in her mouth (when she was screaming) and she had one of those sores, like when you hit yourself in the gum with a toothbrush. Some topical pain reliever plus tylenol stopped it from hurting long enough for it to heal and she was back to her happy self.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:52 AM on February 10 [6 favorites]

How long ago did you move? She may still be adjusting to that. Her old daycare is gone, her old room is gone, and now she wonders if you'll be gone too. Try to stay calm.

Is she feeding herself solid food? Or are you feeding it to her? Let her feed herself some of the time, food in very small pieces she can pick up off the high chair tray and put in her mouth. Or some of those suck it out of tube baby foods.

Last year when my youngest granddaughter was around that age she got constipated a lot until her mom noticed that the teething biscuits she was giving her were full of rice. Once she stopped that she was fine.
posted by mareli at 9:52 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]

Aargh this stuff is so hard! Have you tried a cup? I think mine were using one a bit like this one at that age.
posted by caoimhe at 12:14 PM on February 10

No particular advice but wanted to say this stuff is so so hard, you are doing the best you can and your child is very well loved. Moving is stressful for everyone. Hang in there, this won’t last forever.
posted by Concordia at 2:45 PM on February 10

Flower essences like Bach Rescue Remedy or Alaskan Essences' Soul Support can give everybody in the house some ease. Either drops in water or spray.
posted by Mesaverdian at 6:15 PM on February 10

This sounds hard and I am sorry you are dealing with it. My paltry advice is twofold: set small, manageable goals for "adjusting" the situation so you don't become locked in a status quo you don't want; and try pear puree for the constipation. Pears REALLY clear out my kid and are more enjoyable, it seems, than prunes.

What I mean by the small manageable goals is that you need to convince yourself you can leave the house as much as you need to convince the baby. I have been there -- I have felt trapped and the more I analyzed the situation the more trapped I felt. So, one day just go somewhere simple with her -- like a pet store or something (insert whatever random but possibly interesting activity of your choice). If she cries, that's ok. If you have to turn around and get back in the car after 5 minutes, that's ok. You just need to do it. And keep doing it. And get a bit bolder. It's fine if neither of you are happy doing it, but you really can't capitulate because you both need out of the house. You can try a similar "baby step" approach to fixing the feeding situation which, let me say, sounds quite awful for you. Tackle one small problem, and then keep building.

A lot happens around 8 months so you may find some things resolve themselves on their own, or only with a little effort on your part.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 7:12 PM on February 10

Separation anxiety is normal at this age, but you know your baby and you know when her distress is extreme beyond what is expected. Her refusing to eat seems like a more worrisome problem, and problems with sleeping/eating probably make her cranky, worsening the separation freak-out.

I think no one on the internet can solve this for you, you really need to see a doctor. She may have a food intolerance, the constipation may be causing her pain, or something else. Call the doctor’s office again and tell them it’s urgent.
posted by mai at 7:36 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]

Another vote for trying a colourful sippy cup or straw cup (one that doesn't involve creepy non-spill valves that want to get full of mould when you're not looking)
posted by slightlybewildered at 7:37 PM on February 10

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