Why Is My Baby Refusing Their Bottle?

Bottle strike? We’ve been there

Emily Polash
Written by Emily Polash Updated on August 25th, 2021

When it comes to bottle strikes and refusing to take a bottle, my babies put me through the wringer. It can make you feel helpless, hoping that you’ll turn the corner soon but knowing that it’s largely out of your control. Most babies go through a bottle strike at some point during their first year, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when it’s your baby.

While mine preferred nursing, we’ll cover the many reasons why your baby could refuse to drink from a bottle. I’ve tried every trick in the book and every bottle on the market, and here are my favorite tips for getting your baby back on the bottle.

Reasons why

As moms, we often like to know the reason behind something because it helps us to face the problem more effectively. You know your baby best and may already have an idea of what’s causing the issue, but here are a few reasons why babies commonly refuse their bottle.

  • They prefer the breast. It’s very common for breastfed babies to prefer nursing over a bottle of expressed milk or formula. Some babies may take the bottle at first, and then later refuse it. Others will hold off on eating during the day at daycare, and cram in extra nursing sessions in the evening and through the night. Obviously, this can be unsustainable for a lot of reasons and puts all of the feeding responsibility on your shoulders.
  • They’re not as hungry. If you’ve introduced solids or baby-led weaning, your child may be filling up from meals and snacks.
  • They need a new nipple flow. Babies can easily get frustrated with slow flow nipples, so try out the medium or fast flow, depending on their age. 
  • They’re teething or sick. Teething is a big part of the first two years of your baby’s life, and unfortunately, that can mean bottle refusal. Teething, ear infections, gas, or being sick with a cold or stomach bug can all cause a lack of appetite, and lying down to eat is hard with a stuffy nose, ear infection, or painful gums.
  • Your baby is distracted. This is a big one, especially once you hit about 6 months. Babies are nosey, and they love to know what’s going on. Conversations, the TV, older siblings, or even the dog are much more fun than a bottle.
  • The temperature or taste of the formula or breast milk. Your baby may have a changing temperature preference, or your thawed breast milk may taste soapy from excess lipase.
  • Changes in routine. If you’ve started back at work, moved them to a crib, or they have a new caretaker, this can all cause disruption to your baby’s feeding schedule. As mentioned above, many babies will reverse cycle when mom starts back to work, which means they will eat mainly at night and less during the day. 1Reverse Cycling

Related: How to Safely Sterilize Baby Bottles

Things to try

Whether you have an idea of the reason behind your baby’s bottle strike or not, it’s time for a few tried and true tricks to get your baby to take a bottle.

  • Offer less milk more often. One of the most frustrating parts of bottle strikes is the wasted formula or breast milk. Instead of making them a full bottle every few hours, try offering a couple of ounces every hour or two.
  • Watch how much solid food they’re getting. This one can be a little tricky, so play around with it. Breast milk or formula is ultimately more important than solid foods in the first year; however, if they really won’t take a bottle at all, you don’t want to take away the nutrition they are getting. You can see if cutting back on how much solid food they’re eating makes them more likely to take a bottle or offer the bottle before solids.
  • Experiment with timing. Will they drink a couple of ounces when offered in the high chair with solids? When they’re still sleepy from waking? Find the sweet spot when they’re hungry but not hangry, and consider feeding on demand instead of by the clock.
  • Have another person feed the baby. Try to have your partner, parents, or nanny feed the baby instead of you if possible. You may even have to leave the room or house entirely. (Oh darn!) 
  • A quiet or new space. If you have other kids or even animals, it can really help to find a quiet, dark space to feed the baby. This may also be impossible if you have a toddler running around, but squeeze it in when possible. Somewhere new like the porch, backyard, or a different bedroom can also do the trick. 
  • A different position. Try facing them out or sitting them up to eat, especially if they’re teething or sick. Rock them, wear them, or walk around instead of sitting still. As they get older and more active, you may have to get a little creative.
  • Try a different nipple, bottle, or a sippy cup. While you don’t want to spend a bunch of money on bottles they won’t end up using anyway, it also can’t hurt to try out a different bottle or two. If you’re breastfeeding, there are plenty of bottle options that mimic a mother’s breast. They may be ready for a sippy cup, which will have a faster flow or a bottle nipple with a faster flow.
  • Experiment with temperature. When teething, some babies prefer a colder temperature. If your baby is used to nursing, keep the bottle lukewarm. Make sure that any thawed breast milk doesn’t taste soapy from excess lipase, and that your formula hasn’t gone bad. Another tip: make sure you’re washing bottles thoroughly and not leaving any actual soap or milk residue behind.
  • Wean from night feedings. As we all know, easier said than done. You can try shortening each night feeding by giving three ounces instead of four, for instance, and gradually decreasing. Here are a few tips from BabyCenter, if you’re interested in trying to night wean.
  • The old switcheroo. If you have a stubborn breastfed baby, you can start out nursing, and try to slip a bottle in their mouth once you’re a few minutes in.
  • When all else fails, just keep trying. At the end of the day, babies (and kids) will do things in their own time. A healthy baby will not starve themselves, and you usually just have to wait them out. If your breastfed baby refuses a bottle, keep trying and keep offering, even if it seems like it’ll never happen.

Consult with a doctor if you feel like this isn’t just a bottle strike, but that your baby is sick, in pain, or if it’s becoming a long-term struggle. Bottle strikes in conjunction with vomiting, fever, difficulty breathing, or incessant crying warrant a call to your pediatrician. 

Wrapping up

While it is incredibly frustrating, do your best not to let your panic or frustration show. Your baby will sense your weakness and fight to the death. And they will win. Instead of making it a power struggle, remember that your baby’s first year is ultimately a tiny, sweet (and yes, very hard!) part of their childhood. 

The days of bottles and breast milk are brief, and in retrospect, I absolutely stressed too much about how much my babies ate or didn’t eat. Before you know it, they’ll be surviving on pretzels and yogurt, and all will be just fine.

Emily Polash
Written by Emily Polash Updated on August 25th, 2021