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Why Does a Baby Refuse a Bottle?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 17, 2021

Most babies of all ages will accept a bottle. It can be a helpful way to make sure your baby gets fed on their regular schedule, even when you’re not around. If your baby starts to refuse a bottle or has trouble eating with a bottle, there is usually an underlying cause. With a little trial and error, you should be able to get to the bottom of it.

Reasons Why Your Baby Might Refuse a Bottle

There are a few different reasons why your baby might refuse a bottle. Usually, you can try a few things to get to the bottom of it and get them feeding again in no time. 

Check the temperature. Check to see that the temperature of the milk is just right. Some babies prefer their milk cold while others like it better when it’s a little warmer. 

Check for a block. The bottle's teat is the hole where the milk comes out of. Sometimes this becomes blocked. You can check this by holding the bottle upside down. The milk should flow rather quickly. 

Check the size. Different teats can affect the flow of the milk. If your baby seems frustrated by the milk flow, try switching to a different size teat. 

Check the expiration. Are you using baby formula? Check to make sure that it isn’t expired and hasn't been open for longer than recommended. 

Can’t find anything wrong with the bottle or the milk? Check if it has something to do with your baby:

Are they sick? If your baby has a cold, ear infection, or throat infection it might be painful or uncomfortable for them to eat or drink. If you suspect they’re sick, have your doctor check on them. 

Are they distracted? When you try to give your baby the bottle does it seem like their mind is elsewhere? Sometimes, even television can distract babies from feeding. Ensure you have a peaceful place where you can keep them connected to the moment. 

Are they full? Have you recently introduced your baby to solid food? They may be too full for milk from the bottle. 

Have they lost interest? Is your baby enjoying solid foods? They may just no longer want the bottle, and that’s okay. 

Never try to force your baby to drink from their bottle. Instead, be patient and simply try again later. 

Tips to Help Your Baby Take the Bottle

Reduce attachment. Some babies become very attached to the idea of nursing or taking the bottle only from their mother. Sometimes the mom needs to be in a different room or outside the house before the baby will take the bottle from someone else.

Try different positions. Babies tend to prefer drinking from a bottle in different positions than when they were breastfeeding. Try sitting them on your knee, propped up so they can look around the room. 

Move around. It can help your baby take the bottle if you walk around the room. You might also gently bounce or sway while feeding them. 

Let them latch onto the bottle nipple. Instead of placing the bottle directly into your baby’s mouth, place it near their lip and let them latch onto it. This simulates their natural action while they were breastfeeding. 

Wrap the bottle. Many mothers will wrap a burping/spit-up cloth around the bottle. This reminds the baby of their mom and makes them feel safe to eat. 

Try tasting or smelling your breastmilk. Sometimes the flavor of your breastmilk can change or have a “soapy” taste. This is often due to changes in your diet, especially if you start taking fish oil supplements. Things like this don’t make your breast milk unsafe. They may just make it bad to the taste. 

Try something different. If your baby is refusing the bottle, try giving them your milk with a different vessel. You could try a sippy cup, a spoon, or even a regular cup. You can do this by holding your baby in an upright position on your lap. Bring the milk gently to their mouth, letting them drink at their own pace. 

Other Things to Keep in Mind

If your baby is still refusing a bottle, don’t worry. Most babies will take one eventually.

If you have a routine with your baby where you feed them at the same time every day, it’s okay to change it up. Sometimes your baby may enjoy doing something else like cuddling, playing, or taking a ride in a stroller. 

Whatever it takes, you and your baby will find what works to keep them fed and happy. After all, your baby loves you and knows that you are there to help them and make sure everything is okay. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

babycentre: “Why has my bottle-fed baby started to refuse the bottle?”

IABLE: "Bottle Refusal."

la leche league international: "Bottles and Other Tools."

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