Is your baby refusing bottle feedings, even if he had always taken to them? Discover the 9 things you need to try to end the bottle strike once and for all.
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 eight-months-old, the bottle strike happened. He no longer sat still long enough to finish a bottle, pushing it away or simply playing with it, hoping that would “pass” for drinking. And he preferred to be up and about, not sitting in one place finishing his meal.
Expected as predicted, he’d get hungry later on, whether during the day or even at night. He’d cry in the middle of the night hungry for milk, or wake up cranky from a nap because of an empty stomach.
How to stop your baby’s bottle strike
A bottle strike is common, especially at that age when babies are more mobile. They’re 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 did during the early stages of infancy.
If your baby is going through the same bottle strike, don’t worry. I experimented with a few ways to put an end to it with success, and I hope they can work for you too. In fact, take a look at one mom’s story after trying these tips:
“The last couple of days I have seen a real change in him. He had 880ml yesterday which he hasn’t done in a month. Hopefully he can keep it up. I will keep you posted. Thank you kindly!” -Sarah
1. Offer smaller amounts of milk 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, offer smaller amounts more frequently.
After all, we adults break up our calorie consumption throughout the day, too. Rather than sitting down for three large meals, we take regular 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.
This doesn’t establish the habit of sitting at the table for meals unfortunately, but if he prefers to snack on the go, frequent feedings may be a temporary solution to look into.
Either way, fill the bottles in smaller amounts so you don’t waste the milk, adding more as needed.
If you pump, divide your usual amount into two bags to avoid wasting excess milk he doesn’t drink. 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 he 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 your baby would rather explore than drink his bottle. Take away the temptation and instead offer the bottle in a boring room.
This could be his bedroom after a nap when his environment is still dark and quiet, or find a subdued room in your home that lends itself to a calm mood. Avoid bright, loud rooms especially with other people that might distract him from finishing his bottle.
Take a look at my video below for more tips:
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 may capture his attention so much that he continues to drink the bottle without a fuss.
You might offer the bottle in your backyard, in a different bedroom than where you normally do, or in his high chair. Any place that you don’t usually give his bottles might be enough of a change to draw his curiosity and allow him to finish his milk.
I noticed that my baby was more likely to finish a bottle when I sat with him outside on our patio. The new environment plus being outdoors curbed any resistance and instead encouraged him to drink.
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. A quick fix? Mix it up by offering solid food during the day. Not only will solids help supplement the calories he may be lacking, but they can also add the variety of flavors he craves.
If you already offer your baby solids, give it to him along with his milk. He can either drink milk with his meal or drink it before the meal. That way, he can associate different tastes with the experience of drinking from a bottle.
5. Change the nipple flow of the bottle
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Bottle nipples come in different 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. 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 currently use.
6. Offer the milk in a sippy cup
Another option is to transition your baby to drinking from 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:
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.
He might be struggling to finish his daytime bottles when he’s also eating so much at night. After all, you and I don’t eat throughout the night, and instead take our calories during the day. At some point, so can your baby.
Help him drop 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 those wake up times and wake your baby to feed. This helps break the association between crying and getting milk. Don’t wait for him to wake up to cry for milk.
- Reduce your baby’s milk intake at each feeding. Let’s say he typically drink two 5-ounce bottles at each wake up time. Now, you’ll offer two 4.5-ounce bottles.
- Give extra milk the next day. Then, increase the amount of milk he gets by the same amount you had reduced the night before. 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 even more the next night. Wake him up at the same times, but decrease the amount of milk you offer by another half an ounce. Now you’ll offer two 4-ounce bottles at those wake up times.
- 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 the reasons for the bottle strike
Life happens and can disrupt our days. Is your baby unwell or teething? Is he going through a curious stage or one where he demands independence and autonomy? Maybe the whole family is going through a change, like moving to a new home or going back to work.
Think about possible changes in your life and how they can be affecting his 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 napped. So when things don’t go according to plan, I get frustrated and wonder why they 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.
This is why we need to 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, or bring it up at his next appointment and see whether he’s growing and gaining enough weight.
Reader suggestion: Experiment with the temperature of the milk
SSBE reader Ashley pointed out that babies can 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 bottle strike can be frustrating and worrisome. You wonder whether your baby is gaining enough weight, and the change of schedule becomes a hassle to your day. Sometimes you even think this is his way of “testing” you, and feel even more determined to win the battle.
But that’s rarely a successful way to do it.
Instead, find different ways for him to take the bottle, from feeding in different rooms to eliminating nighttime feedings. See if you have better luck offering milk in smaller amounts, with solids, or in a different cup.
And most importantly, let go of the control you might be forcing on him. While you can decide when and what he eats, ultimately, he decides how much—even if that means he goes on a bottle strike once in a while.
Get more tips:
- Baby Refuses to Eat Solids? Simple Hacks for Easier Mealtimes
- Weighing the Real Pros and Cons of Baby Led Weaning
- Want the Best Transition Sippy Cup? Start with These Options
- 6 Steps to Wean Night Feedings
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