Lori,a friend of mine who is a vet tech asked if I could watch some bottle babies until Monday evening so she could go to a friend's graduation party. She was fostering the kittens for a shelter. So my bathroom is hosting a rubbermaid tub full of furballs this weekend.
She said they were tough feeders (scream! turn face away! scrabble madly with front paws! keep mouth shut!). Been there, done that. It used to distress me, but after about 20 years of it, you get over it. Lori is used to it, too.
You'd think a hungry kitten would want to open his mouth and eat, but oh no! Without mom to sooth them, they can get quite cranky and unhappy.
For basic kitten care, the Kitten Rescue page has good info.
Here is my recipe for turning cranky smelly kittens into happy well-fed purr buttons (if they are strong, wiggly and warm ONLY):
A: Get as much dinner down them as you can. This means taking advantage of every single kitten scream you can to poke that nipple in their mouths and get a little bit of formula in there. (Note: when I say "squirt" I mean just a bare mouthful) Tip the head back, gently open the mouth from the back corner (cut your nails), slide the nipple in, and give a tiny bit of forumla. Do not fight the kitten. If he is seriously fighting you, just give him a squirt, move onto the next kitten, and come back to him. If you fight the kitten, he may aspirate formula, and he will hate being fed. You need to be sure the hole in the nipple is just right so you won't drown them if you press on the bottle.
There are plenty of things you can do in a bathroom (clean your toilet; get a load of laundry going) to make this "not a waste of time." Just keep rotating between screaming kittens as you get set up for the....
B: BATHS! Kitten baths are pretty simple at my house. Dawn dish detergent (the plain kind), lots of clean warm towels (throw them in the dryer beforehand), a small plastic comb to get poop out of the fur, and a hair dryer. I just squirt a little Dawn on the kitten and put them under faucet with nice comfortable warm water running. I keep the kitten's face and head out of the water stream, suds her up, and rinse her off, rolling her back in forth in my hands, making sure the belly and private parts get lots of rinsing to reduce urine scald. The kitten is going to scream. The kitten may poop or pee. But the kitten will be clean! Right before the bath is over, I take a wet wash cloth and wash the kitten's face, chin and chest.
Towel dry (face first after that chin-wash) by rolling back and forth and tousling the kitten gentle in the towel to get as much water off as possible. Making it a nice gentle rubbing massage. You don't have to treat them like crystal but there is a balance between getting all the innards moving by rubbing and rolling gently, and not rubbing too hard. Don't break them!
Blow dry (carefully!). Dryers are noisy but they get the job done pretty quickly with neonates. You need to hold the dryer far enough away so as not the burn the kitten, and turn it off to towel the kitten periodically. Be sure your bare hands are on the kitten at all times. If the dryer is too warm on your hand, it is too warm on the kitten! The plastic comb or a soft baby brush will open up the fur so it dries faster.
C) As soon as a kitten is bathed and dried, give her another dose of food. You can even give a mouthful now and then while drying the kitten if you are fast. You don't want the kitten to sit wet and cold. As you bathe the rest of the kittens, give all of the fussy ones a mouthful of food when you put the next kitten back (in a nice clean bed with nice clean towels).
When all of the kittens are bathed, run the blow dryer over the kittens together in their tub because they are sure to be damp. Be sure the tub will be warm enough when you put a sheet over it for them to sleep. Almost always this will mean using a heating pad beneath it. During very hot weather, you may not need a pad. But it's important to be sure. I have a thermometer I can put right in with the kittens. It's easy to chill or fry kittens if you "make assumptions" about what you "think" the temperature is in an enclosed container--especially damp kittens.
Before you cover up the kittens, give everyone a mouthful of formula again so they go to sleep with the taste of good formula (not soap!) in their mouths. Fussy kittens should get as many drops as you can get in there. Kittens who have eaten well should not be forced to eat more. Wipe their mouths with a tissue or washcloth so formula does not cake and dry on them.
Basically what you want are clean, warm, full, well-massaged, TIRED OUT kittens.
D) LEAVE THEM ALONE in a quiet dark room. Do not jostle them. Do not let people look in on them. This is crucial. Check the temperature once you are sure they are asleep (usually about 20 minutes). Let them sleep absolutely undisturbed for 3 or four hours. (Note: if you have just set up their tub, you may need to quietly check on the temperature a few more times to be sure it's not getting too hot/cold).
E) Be sure you have a clean towel, a towel for your lap to feed the kittens, and kitty wipes (or a warm damp washcloth) before you sit down to feed the kittens next. Lift them out of the tub, current stinky towel and all. Put a new clean towel in, and replace the kittens. Get rid of the stinky towel so you can enjoy your feeding session. Sit each kitten on your lap to feed him or her. Sit them (one by one) on a hand towel or old t-shirt on your lap so they can grab on and feel warm and secure. I guarantee they will eat better than they did earlier. Feed the kitten, massage her with the towel, rub her all over (with special attention to the belly and bottom of course) with kitty wipes. If the kitten is still not sucking down formula in an uninterrupted manner, don't worry. Give her mouthfuls of food as you clean her. If the kitten fusses, just give a mouthful and stop. Again--don't try to fight the kitten. Just squirt, clean, squirt, massage, squirt, put back in the box, and go onto the next kitten. Each time you put a kitten back, give another bit of formula to the fussy ones.
Don't freak out if kittens won't suck on the bottle. Just keep calmly giving fussy kittens a mouthful each time you move to a new kitten. This way, they will all get enough.
The only time this is a pain is when you have a single kitten. You don't have lots of kittens to rotate with so it's easy to get bored and frustrated, and your single will be distressed because he is all alone. In that case you are going to spend more time giving him little bits of formula, and he should be gently stroked, massaged, and breathed on. You will have a very clean bathroom by the time he is full, keeping yourself busy. Which is good, because there is nothing stinkier than a bathroom with neonate kittens in it.
With this particular batch of kittens, only one would settle down and drink in an uninterrupted manner during their first feeding. During their second feeding, every single kitten took the bottle and sucked on it. The key is getting them through one session where they are full, clean, massaged (so the innards are moving) and tired (so they sleep soundly, ready to wake up and eat), and following up with regular meals, cuddling/massage, and a warm clean bed.
NOTE ON BATHS: Only strong, warm kittens should be bathed. If your kitten is cold, underfed, or flea ridden, the kitten must be warmed up in a gradual and controlled manner. Fleas should be combed off rather than washed off. If you take a cold kitten and stick him under warm water, the kitten can get shocked by warming up too fast. In dire situations (maggots, filth, etc.) where a bath is absolutely needed, at least take an hour to warm the kitten up in a dark box with a heating pad.
SECOND NOTE ON BATHS AND FEEDING: Absolutely every kitten rescuer has their own opinion on kitten feeding and kitten baths. If you are confused because you get conflicting information, don't worry about it. That's just how we are. Read as much as you can, and use your brain.