Your baby, who had always taken to bottles, is now going on a bottle strike. Here’s what to do if your baby suddenly refuses to drink from a bottle.
It happened out of nowhere. All this time, my baby had been taking his bottle like a champ. It didn’t matter whether he was drinking expressed breast milk or formula—like clockwork, he’d finish a whole bottle with no problem.
But around seven-months-old, the bottle strike happened. He no longer sat still long enough to finish a bottle. He’d push the bottle away, or simply play with it, hoping that would “pass” for drinking. And he preferred to be up and about, not sitting in one place finishing his meal.
The trouble was, he’d get hungry later on, whether during the day or even at night. He began waking in the middle of the night, hungry for milk, or wake up cranky from a nap because of an empty stomach.
What to do when your baby goes on a bottle strike
It’s common for babies to go on a bottle strike, especially at that age when they’re more mobile. They’re more interested in their ability to crawl, sit and touch everything in sight. Their bodies also don’t grow as fast and don’t need as many calories as they initially did during the early stages of infancy.
If your baby is going through the same thing, don’t worry. I tried a few ways to end the bottle strike, and I hope they can work for you too:
1. Offer smaller amounts more frequently
With your baby more mobile and curious about his environment, drinking may not be his priority. Rather than sitting him down for a long period of time to finish a bottle, try offering smaller amounts more frequently.
It’s sort of like how adults break up our meals. Rather than sitting down for three large meals, we break it up into smaller meals and snacks throughout the day.
See if your baby will take to that schedule. You might offer half the amount you usually do, then reserve the other half to drink with his snack. If he continues to refuse even that, you may even want to keep the bottle nearby and offer it a few minutes at a time.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t establish the habit of sitting at the table for meals, but if he prefers to snack on the go, this may be a temporary solution to look into.
Either way, you’ll want to measure the bottles in smaller amounts so you don’t waste the milk. For breast milk, measure just the amount you need. If you’ve been pumping into bags, divide your usual amount into two bags so you don’t waste it. For instance, if you usually fill a five ounce bag, fill two 2.5 ounce bags instead.
The same is true with formula. Don’t fill a whole bottle your baby won’t finish any time soon. Instead, measure about half what he normally takes and make another bottle when he finishes the first.
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2. Offer the bottle in a boring room
With so much to see and do, no wonder babies would rather explore than drink their bottles. Take away the temptation and instead offer the bottle in a boring room.
This could be their bedroom after a nap when it’s still dark and quiet. Find a subdued room in your home that lends itself to a calm environment. Avoid bright, loud rooms especially with other people that might distract your baby from finishing his bottle.
And if that doesn’t work…
3. Offer the bottle in a new environment
If the boring room doesn’t work, do the opposite and feed your baby in a new room. The novelty of feeding in this unfamiliar place or way may capture his attention so much that he continues to drink the bottle without a fuss.
A few ideas include giving the bottle in your backyard or patio, in a different bedroom than where you’re used to, or in his high chair. Any place that you normally don’t give his bottles might be enough of a change to draw his curiosity and allow him to finish his milk.
4. Introduce solid food
If your baby has been drinking the same formula for months, there’s a good chance he’s getting tired of it. Mix it up by offering solid food during the day. Not only will solids help supply the calories he may be lacking, but they can also add the variety he craves.
If you already offer your baby solids, try giving it to him along with his milk. He can either drink milk along with his meal, or drink it before or after the meal. He may begin to associate different tastes with the experience of drinking from a bottle.
5. Change the nipple flow
Bottle nipples come in all sorts of shapes, material and flow. What once worked for your baby in the early months may not be cutting it now. For instance, a slow flow nipple could make it more difficult for him to suck appropriately. Or perhaps you’ll have more luck with the brown nipples instead of the clear.
Experiment with changing the nipple shapes, material and flow to see if one works better than what you have.
6. Give milk in a sippy cup
Another option is to transition your baby to a sippy cup. He may or may not already be drinking water from a sippy cup, but offering his milk in one could encourage him to drink more of it.
Start with transition sippy cups to make the move from bottle to cup smoother. A few to try are:
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7. Wean your baby from nighttime feedings
Ask your child’s pediatrician if your baby is able to sleep through the night without feeding. If so, consider weaning him from them.
You and I take in our calories during the day, and we don’t eat at all while we sleep. At some point, so can your baby. It’s hard to consume so much during the day when you’re also eating at night. Help your baby drop the nighttime feedings to encourage him to take in his calories during the day.
Here’s a quick summary of how to do that:
- Record when your baby typically wakes up for the night. For instance, he might wake at 11pm and 3am.
- Set your alarm 30 minutes before the wake up times. Don’t wait for him to wake up to cry for milk. This helps break the association between crying and getting milk.
- Wake the baby to feed. At those designated times, feed your baby the same amount or time you usually do. Give him milk at these set times, even if it means waking him up to do so.
- Give extra milk the next day. Increase the amount of milk he gets by the same amount you had reduced. If he had two bottles reduced by half an ounce each, add half an ounce to two of his bottles the next day.
- Reduce the amount the next night. Wake him up at the same times, but decrease the amount of milk you offer by half an ounce. If he typically drinks 5 ounces each feeding, offer 4.5 ounces instead.
- Continue to repeat every night, reducing the milk by half an ounce each night until it’s so little you don’t need to bother waking him up.
Ideally, your baby will begin to eat less at night and more during the day.
8. Find reasons your baby is refusing the bottle
Life happens and can disrupt our days. Is your child unwell, or perhaps teething? Is he going through a curious stage or one where he demands independence and autonomy? Maybe you as a family are going through changes, such as moving to a new home or going back to work.
Think about possible changes in your life and how they can be affecting your child’s willingness to drink from a bottle. Often you’ll find that once that change has settled, he’ll go back to taking his bottles again.
9. Let go of control
I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to let go of control. I have things planned, down to the ounces of milk my babies took or the times they nap. So when things don’t go according to plan, I get frustrated and wonder why kids don’t do the things they’re supposed to.
Except even adults don’t work that way. You and I don’t always have the same appetites day by day.
Instead, let go of the control. We shouldn’t impose our plans on kids when they’re not ready or willing to oblige. Take it week by week and see if he takes the bottle then.
If you’re worried, give his pediatrician a call to voice your concern and see what she says. Bring it up at his next appointment and see whether he’s growing and gaining enough weight.
More than likely, he is. His bottle strike may be his way of signaling he doesn’t need as many calories, or that he’ll pick it up again at a later time once he’s explored enough.
Reader suggestion: Experiment with the temperature
SSBE reader Ashley pointed out that babies have a preference for milk temperature. Some babies are fine with cold, while others like room temperature, and still others like their milk warm.
Depending on your current temperature, see if your baby will take to a different temperature. If you’ve been giving room temperature formula, for instance, you might test to see if warm formula makes a difference.
A baby refusing the bottle can be frustrating and worrisome. We wonder whether he’s gaining enough weight, and the change of schedule becomes a hassle to our day. Sometimes we even think this is their way of “testing” us and feel even more determined to win the battle.
But that’s rarely a successful way to do it. Find different ways for your child to take the bottle, from feeding in different rooms to eliminating nighttime feedings. See if you have better luck offering milk in smaller amounts, and try offering it with solids or in a different cup.
And most importantly, let go of the control you might be forcing on your baby. While you can decide when and what your child eats, ultimately, he decides how much, even if that means going on a bottle strike once in a while.
Get more tips:
- 7 Easy Ways to Transition to a Sippy Cup
- I Don’t WANT to ‘Cherish Every Moment’: What I Won’t Miss about Parenthood
- Baby Items that Make Life Easier
- How to Get Things Done with a Baby
- What to Do when Your Baby Needs to Be Entertained Constantly
Tell me in the comments: What is your best tip when your baby rejects the bottle? What has been your biggest frustration?
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