What To Do When Baby Won’t Take A Bottle

by Julie
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Thinking of what to do when your baby won’t take a bottle when you go back to work? 

It can be quite stressful trying to figure that out. 

The thought of your little one getting hungry and wailing in the daycare or at the hands of another caregiver can make you panic and extremely worried.

That image alone can even affect your milk supply!

So before you go on a tailspin or have a slight nervous breakdown, try out the tips and tricks below to get your baby to take the bottle.

baby drinking from bottle | Anna Shvets from Pexels via Canva.com
Photo credit: Anna Shvets from Pexels via Canva.com

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What To Do When Baby Won’t Take A Bottle

Warm up the milk and/or nipple

Some babies prefer warm milk so try heating their baby formula milk by placing it in a bowl of warm water and leaving it there for a few minutes.

You can also try warming up the bottle’s nipple under running warm water.

Remember to always check the bottle and nipple’s temperature, before giving it to your baby.

Have someone hold the bottle

Let your baby get used to someone feeding them. Especially if you need to go back to work!

Make your spouse, in-laws, or another caregiver, give the bottle.

Better yet, don’t be in the same room when they’re trying to give the bottle as your baby might smell you and cry for you instead.

Give the “bottle holder” your shirt or bra

Your baby might feel calmer and more comfortable with bottle feeding when they can smell you.

Try giving your spouse, grandparents, or babysitter, an unwashed shirt (or bra, if they’re cool with it!) with preferably some scent of milk in it and make them wear it.

Or let them drape it over their shoulder or just keep it close to your baby when it’s feeding time.

Use a pacifier

Make your baby take the pacifier first then swap it quickly with the bottle.

If they’re resisting it, just keep trying for a few minutes but remember to not force the bottle on them.

Try also calming them down before doing this pacifier trick – rock them, go in a dark room with the white noise on, etc.

You can also try to distract them with a toy before switching the bottle with the pacifier.

Stimulate their rooting reflex

Make them take the bottle by letting them open their mouth and prepping them to suck it.

You can do this in a number of ways:

  • by squeezing some milk on their tongue
  • rubbing some breast milk on the bottle’s nipple
  • gently draw a line from their forehead down to their mouth using the bottle

Make them calm (or sleepy) first

Get your baby in a very relaxed, almost sleepy state. 

You can do so by preparing the environment – dimming the lights, turning on the white noise, humming a lullaby, etc.

It’s like you’re getting them ready to go to sleep!

Then when they’re totally calm and even half-asleep, give them the bottle.

If you want, you can also try dream-feeding them.

Try new positions

Cradle them in your arms, make them sit upright, put them in a baby lounger inside their bassinet or crib, make them face you, make them face the window, etc. 

Try out different angles and placements and hopefully there’s one that will get your baby comfy and relaxed enough to take the bottle.

Time it

Some babies just want to be fed at the right time. So try out different timings. 

The best is to give them the bottle after waking up from a long nap. That can be a great start to a newborn care routine.

So give them the bottle immediately before they catch on to what you’re doing!

Enlarge nipple hole

Your baby might be getting frustrated because the milk isn’t flowing fast enough from the bottle. 

You can try using a sterilized needle to make the bottle nipple’s hole slightly larger.

Change bottles and nipples

If none of the tricks above seems to work, try changing the nipple or just switch to an entirely new bottle.

Some babies like a faster flow so get a nipple with 2 holes instead of one (like the Comotomo or MAM). 

Or maybe they’ll like the opposite, a slow flow, which can you get from the Tommee Tippee bottle nipple.

Some prefer the feeling of a latex nipple. 

Or maybe the one that’s bigger on the tip than at the base.

Maybe they like a bottle that’s shaped like a breast, like the Nanobebe bottle.

Spoon or syringe feeding

It might be excruciatingly slow and difficult but some have tried spoon or syringe feeding and had a bit of success with it. At least they got some milk in their baby’s tummy!

If your baby is at least 6 months old, you can try mixing the milk with rice cereal or purees and squeezing it out or giving it one tiny bit at a time.

Use a small cup

You can also try making your baby drink the milk from a cup, instead of a regular baby bottle.

You can use those special-styled cups to make it easier to give your baby the milk.

Distract them

You can also try distracting your baby then quickly give them the bottle once they’re preoccupied!

You can try to distract them using their favorite toy, a book, pointing out the window, using a crib light projector (so they’d look up), or just the regular old TV.

Introduce a sippy cup or straw cup

If they’re old enough, at least 5 to 6 months, you might want to introduce a sippy cup or a straw cup. Some parents had luck with it and hopefully, this method will also work on your baby.

Work towards transitioning them from formula

When transitioning babies from formula to milk, you need to consider their age and readiness for the change. There are also a few other factors to keep in mind. Serenity Kids offers a really great guide on transitioning from formula if you need help with taking this next step.

Additionally, if considering non-dairy milk alternatives, make sure you consult with your child’s pediatrician to ensure your child’s nutritional needs are met. Remember, every baby is unique, so the transition may vary in duration and approach based on individual preferences and needs.

Do nothing – if they’re hungry they’ll eat!

Have you wondered how the daycare and preschool teachers managed the bottle feeding with dozens of children?

Well, it’s because when a baby is hungry, they’ll eventually eat!

And sure, it might take a few days or even a week for them to get used to the bottle. Eventually, they’ll get the hang of it.

Some babies though might wait it out and do most of the eating at night.

But in due course, they will learn to take the bottle during the daytime. Especially if they know you won’t be around for hours to feed them!

FAQ on Bottle Refusal

How do I go back to work if my baby won’t take a bottle?

If your baby won’t take a bottle and you have to go back to work soon, try leaving the room and making your spouse or another caregiver hold the bottle while wearing your unwashed shirt.

You can also try warming up both the bottle and nipple first, using a pacifier to distract your baby, changing the bottle, or the other methods mentioned above.

Is it normal for a baby to refuse a bottle?

Yes, it’s normal for a baby to refuse a bottle, especially if they’ve been breastfed.
They can also refuse the bottle for several reasons – milk might be too cold or warm, milk flow is too fast or too slow, formula milk might have an odd smell or expired. 

Or maybe they’re sick, still full or if they’re already doing baby-led weaning, actually prefer solid food!

More Tips on Baby Refusing a Bottle

Keep it Light

It might be hard to do it but as much as possible, try to make the bottle feeding sessions light and happy for your little one.

They might pick up on your anxiety and become stressed as well, which can lead to them to refusing the bottle.

So keep the mood light, play some songs, and most especially, get yourself (or the other caregiver) in a calm and relaxed state, before giving your baby the bottle.

Babies can wait for you

If you’re going back to work and you’re anxious about your baby refusing the bottle, take note that plenty of babies can go for 8 hours or more without eating.

As they get older, they’ll nurse less often, and have long stretches of time without getting some milk.

Some can wait for hours and will just cluster feed at night!

Always Wait for Cues

Don’t force the bottle or wait until your baby is wailing for the milk.

Try to watch out for the regular hunger cues or signals and offer them the bottle as soon as possible.

Ask your doctor

There might be an underlying medical condition why your baby won’t take the bottle.

Your doctor can help you out or can refer you to a specialist to do further checking and finally recommend the best solution.

The Bottom Line on What To Do When Baby Won’t Take A Bottle

This is easier said than done but here’s something to think about, especially if you’re going back to work – enjoy the last few weeks with your baby.

You only have a few weeks or days to spend the whole day with them so as much as possible, just enjoy that limited time!

It might take a whole lot of crying, but they’ll eventually take the milk from a bottle.

I mean, think about it – how did the babies and other children survive in daycare and preschools then? They all learned to take the milk from the bottle from the daycare and preschool teachers!

So give your little one more snuggles and cuddles, instead of worrying about the bottle refusal. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that everything will work out in time.

Worse comes to worst, your baby will just do reverse cycle nursing. But until then, enjoy your time with your little one.




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