Babies may suddenly refuse their bottle for a variety of reasons. Preference for breast milk, changing formula, nipple flow, appetite, feeling sick, or being overstimulated by distractions are just a few causes. Read further for some solutions and tips for preventing the infamous bottle strike!
You follow the same routine when feeding your baby from a bottle that you always follow. You get the bottle ready, cradle your little one in their favorite position, and offer them the bottle.
Suddenly your child has pursed lips, turns their head away, or even batts the bottle away with those little hands.
Your child is refusing to be bottle-fed. This “bottle strike” could go on for a few hours, or it could continue for days at a time.
Bottle strikes are common for babies under a year old, and can be very frustrating for parents.
Your little one may be more intelligent and stubborn than you realize, but thankfully hunger is the best negotiation tactic! So, the upper hand in the battle against bottle strikes belongs to you.
Why Bottle Strikes Occur
Babies have many needs and feelings that they learn to communicate with their parents or caregivers, despite their inability to speak.
These needs and emotions also change as they grow up and go through different stages of development. Several underlying factors might affect your babies’ sudden refusal of the bottle.
1. They Want the Real Stuff
Even if refusing bottles is a new behavior for your child, don’t check this one off your list. Transitioning from the breast to the bottle could still be the culprit.
Around 2-4 months, babies become more perceptive. They begin to develop facial recognition and evaluate what is going into their mouths during feedings.
Moms, your little one may have just made the startling discovering that the bottle is not you. Babies also have a great sense of smell, so they are likely to smell mom’s breastmilk.
If mom is the one providing the bottle when their little one refuses the bottle, it could be their baby’s way of communicating that they want “the good stuff.”
Imagine going through a drive-through and ordering a regular burger. Once you bite into it, you realized you must have received the veggie burger from someone else’s order.
That is how babies who have been breastfed before might feel when given a bottle. The bottle might fool them at first, but they will eventually figure out the difference.
Finally, your baby might have always known the bottle was not you but just decided to let you know.
Like us, their feelings fluctuate, and their bottle strike might be because they need a little more TLC (tender loving care) than normal or be in a growth spurt, and this is your little one’s way of letting you know.
2. They Need a Different Nipple Flow
I wish I could say that different bottle and nipple designs were just clever marketing scandals by those in the industry, but nipple designs affect milk flow and might cause your baby’s refusal to drink from the bottle.
If you are currently using a slow flow nipple, they may be getting frustrated with how slow the milk is coming out.
We all know the feeling of frustration (and cheek pain) when a milkshake is just too thick to get through the straw.
However, we can problem solve by moving the straw around or taking the lid off. Babies can’t do that with their bottle.
A fast flow nipple could also be a problem. Babies may also refuse to drink from a bottle due to being overwhelmed if the milk is flowing faster than they were used to. This might be from being comfortable with a slow flow nipple or from breastfeeding.
3. They Are Not Hungry Enough
When it comes to feeding your baby, they will eat when they are hungry. They might be refusing the bottle simply because they are not hungry or not hungry enough.
Their appetite may vary day to day depending on their activity level or stage of development. Like us, they will eat almost anything (and through any means) when they are hungry enough.
I am sure we can all think of a time when we ate something we would never eat again simply because we were desperate.
Our taste buds also have the magic ability to trick our brain into thinking something is tastier the hungrier we are.
Babies are the same way. They will end the bottle strike and drink from a bottle once they are hungry enough, regardless of the bottle or its contents.
4. They Are Conducting Quality Control
A straightforward reason for your little one’s sudden refusal of their bottle could be due to the bottle’s contents.
If bottle-feeding your baby with formula, the formula to water ratio could be off, the formula could be expired, or a recent change in the brand or type of formula may be the issue.
If bottle-feeding your baby breast milk, extra lipase in the milk or the freezing and thawing process might be altering the milk’s flavor.
Regardless of whether you are feeding your baby breast milk or formula in a bottle, the temperature may be the issue.
Room temperature, warm, or cold milk are all fine for your baby to drink from a bottle, but they may have a preference based on previous experiences or personal preference.
In many cases, your little one might be protesting a change in the temperature of milk they are used to receiving.
For example, breastfed babies might prefer warm milk because the breast milk they were used to receiving was warm due to mom’s body heat.
5. They Are Not Feeling 100%
Your child’s refusal of the bottle could mean that they are not feeling one-hundred percent. Like adults, babies can lose their appetite when they do not feel well.
A few causes could be due to a cold or tummy troubles. Teething also fits in this category since it causes discomfort.
Teething discomfort can be amplified by the sucking motion required for drinking a bottle.
6. They Are Over/Under Stimulated
Both overstimulation and under-stimulation can lead to refusing bottles.
Overstimulation means that your baby is too distracted by everything going on around them to focus on drinking from a bottle.
Under stimulation can also cause a baby to refuse to drink because they are too bored.
Even as adults, many of us prefer white noise in the background to help us focus, increase our productivity, or fall asleep.
Ways to End a Bottle Strike
Have Others Try Feeding Your Baby
Moms, if you are the one offering your baby the bottle, have someone else try to offer them the bottle instead. You may have to leave the room, or the house, for your baby to compromise and drink from a bottle.
Try a Variety of Nipple Flows and Bottles
Begin with a slow flow bottle nipple (best for preventing acid reflux and spit-up), then go up to medium flow, and finally fast flow if baby still refuses to drink.
You may also want to try a bottle with a skin-color nipple if your baby is relying on visual cues. Another option is putting the milk in a sippy cup to bypass the bottle entirely.
Offer Bottles when Hungry
Offering your baby a bottle once they are already full is likely to result in a poor outcome. Offer the bottle when you think they are on the verge of hunger.
If you are bottle feeding and introducing solid food, make sure you offer the bottle first before filling up on new foods (often more exciting).
If your baby initially refuses the bottle, offer the bottle a little while later, and hopefully, they will accept. Don’t ever force it.
Conduct Quality Control and Experiment
Try different temperatures, use precise formula and water measurements, make sure it is not spoiled, and then try different formula types or brands with the guidance of your pediatrician.
If using breast milk, make sure you are using correct storage procedures, and if it smells or tastes soapy, the breast milk likely has too much lipase (an enzyme).
It can be scalded after expression to eliminate the excess lipase from the breast milk and then be stored like normal.
Wait it Out
If your baby refuses a bottle and you have reason to believe they are not feeling one-hundred percent, the best thing you can do is wait for the storm to pass and keep them as comfortable as possible.
Do this by keeping the baby elevated with the bottle if congested, freezing milk into popsicles, or using a syringe to drip-feed if the baby is teething.
Most importantly, continue offering a bottle as often as possible to keep them hydrated until they feel better.
Switch Up the Scenery
Whether under stimulation or overstimulation causes sudden refusal, offer the bottle in a different environment, and see if it makes a difference.
If you were feeding your baby in a loud, distracting setting, try a quiet, secluded one where your baby will be able to focus on bottle-feeding.
If a calm environment does not seem to be working, try feeding your baby outside or in a setting with more stimulation.
Bottle fed babies will probably do better drinking from a bottle in different locations than breastfed, especially when you first introduce a bottle.
Try Different Feeding Positions (upright, cradle, lap, angled)
If you breastfed your child and are still using the same feeding positions, give feeding positions common for bottle-fed babies a try.
You may also try walking around while bottle feeding your baby to see if that helps.
Avoiding a Bottle Strike
Bottle strikes are very common for little ones to go through at some point or another.
There is no surefire way to prevent bottle strikes, but these tips may help you dodge this stressful and frustrating event.
Introduce a Bottle Around 4-Weeks Old
Introduce a bottle filled with breast milk once a day when your baby is about 4-weeks old. Introducing this sooner may cause nipple confusion.
Once they notice a bottle is different than mom, they will already be accustomed to both. Babies bottle fed from the beginning are less likely to refuse one as they grow up.
Breastfeed, and formula feed your baby.
Using formula instead of breast milk twice a week will ensure that your child will be bottle-fed those two times you set aside to formula feed.
This is also an excellent chance for dads to join in on the special bond formed while feeding their baby.
In the event of a bottle strike, the most important thing you can do is to remain calm. Babies can sense frustration, and getting frustrated will not help solve the problem.
Your child is not refusing a bottle to frustrate you; they are most likely frustrated as well.
The tricky part is that there are several reasons they might be refusing to bottle feed. Often, making both the problem and the appropriate solution harder to pinpoint.
The good news is that there are several techniques you can try to remedy the situation and end the bottle strike.
If you are reading this article pre-bottle strike, you may want to introduce a bottle early to increase your little one’s feeding flexibility; therefore, decreasing the likelihood of a bottle strike.