What to Do When Baby Refuses a Bottle

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on January 17, 2014
3 min read

Not all babies take to a bottle right away. Try these tips to turn your feeding problems around.

If you're calm and relaxed, your baby may be more receptive to the bottle.

"Babies are sensitive creatures and pick up on stress in mom and dad," says Megan L. Shope, a certified doula supervisor.

Create a space that's relaxing and comfortable for both baby and you. Dim the lights. Sit in a comfortable chair.

"We enjoy a nice atmosphere when we're eating, and so do babies," Shope says.

"Ideally, a baby needs to be alert and just hungry enough to be interested, but not so hungry that baby will become frustrated and upset," says Melanie Potock, MA, a pediatric feeding specialist in Longmont, CO.

Look for hunger cues. Give it a try when your baby is hungry but not starving. A frantic baby and a sense of urgency make it harder.

"Proper positioning for bottle-feeding is essential to success," Potock says. The best way to hold your baby is slightly upright and snuggled into your arm. Make sure your baby's head, neck, and body are in a straight line.

Bring your baby's hands toward their belly, and tuck their elbows into their sides. You can also give your baby a footrest, like a pillow or even the crook of your elbow. Pressing in with their feet and bending their knees will help them feel more stable.

Try a technique that makes use of a baby's natural sucking reflex. Potock suggests taking these steps:

  1. Touch your baby's lips with a gentle yet firm touch of the bottle nipple.
  2. Roll the nipple into their mouth.
  3. Gently press the nipple down onto the center of their tongue.

Your baby will instinctively curl the sides of their tongue around the nipple. "The lips should close, and baby may take one or two sucks before pulling away," she says.

If it doesn't work right away, be patient. "This is a new skill and will take time."

Babies can be picky about nipple shapes and sizes. You might have to try a variety of nipples before finding one that works best.

"Luckily, there are many different bottles on the market, so a parent has lots of choices," says Dyan Hes, MD, of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York.

Potock recommends cylindrical nipples with a base that's wide enough for baby to keep a successful latch with no liquid dripping from their mouth.

If your baby uses a pacifier, try a nipple with a similar shape.

Try different flow variations. A baby who's getting too much milk too fast may get overwhelmed. If it's coming out too slowly, your baby may get frustrated.

You can try a small medicine cup or sippy cup, even if he's very young.

Let your baby explore the nipple with their mouth. But don't push it past the gums. That can irritate and frustrate your baby.

If your baby gets upset or doesn't eat after about 10 minutes, take a break. It's better to leave on a happy note than end with bad feelings about feedings.

"Many times babies who are struggling to take a bottle, especially breast-fed babies, will not take it from mom," Shope says. The baby might resist even if they hear or smell mom nearby.

Let dad try to bottle-feed the baby, preferably in a different room.

"Often if the father, or anyone but the mother, offers the baby a bottle, he or she will take it," Hes says.

Keep trying, and don't give up too soon. It may take a few days before it clicks.

But if your baby continues to have difficult feedings, loses weight, or isn't progressing, talk to your pediatrician.