There are a lot of reasons why parents might want their baby to take a bottle. Naturally, if the baby is formula-fed, there is no plausible alternative, but even for a breastfed baby it can make a lot of sense. Moms need a break every once in a while, so it’s nice if they can leave their baby in the care of someone else to enable this. Further, bottle-feeding is a great way to get dad involved in baby care. Not only will this make him feel included and give mom a break, but it also helps to foster the father-baby bond.
Some parents of breastfed babies may choose to supplement with formula while others bottle-feed pumped milk, and yet other parents formula-feed exclusively. Unfortunately, none of these are necessarily a magic bullet. Like many other baby-related matters, bottle-feeding isn’t always straightforward. Much to the chagrin of well-meaning parents, babies don’t always cooperate. Babies may refuse a bottle if it contains formula or breast milk. ACK! What’s a parent supposed to do?
Luckily, there are solvable reasons as to why a baby might refuse a bottle. And to be very clear, none of them are the fault of the baby or the parent. Babies develop as they do and have preferences just like you and I. Parents are well-meaning and want what’s best, of course, but we can’t be mind readers, so guilt and blame do no good.
Here we review several reasons why babies might refuse a bottle to help prepare you for the birth of your child or to identify what might be going on in your own post-birth situation.
11 Baby Is Too Young
If your baby is breastfed, you’ll know it can take some time for baby to get the hang of the latch. Sometimes, it takes weeks or months for mom and baby to both fully get the hang of it. And oftentimes, everything needs to be perfect to successfully breastfeed.
The nipple from a bottle is very different from your own nipple and requires different skills to master on the part of an infant. As such, getting the hang of sucking on a bottle nipple can also be challenging. If your baby is young and breastfed, if you try to introduce a bottle too early, they may refuse it. Experts suggest the best time to introduce a breastfed baby to a bottle is between 3-6 weeks of age.
If your baby is very young and you’ve tried a bottle without success, don’t give it. Your little one may just be “too” little.
10 Mom's Milk Is High in Lipase
Lipase is an enzyme present in breast milk that helps to break down milk fat, making it easier for baby to digest. Some women have high lipase activity in their milk, which means it goes into overdrive breaking fat down quickly. This is not an issue if your baby is taking milk directly from your breast but when milk is pumped and stored, it can create some unpleasant side effects in the stored milk.
When lipase is overactive and the fat breaks down too quickly, the result can be a foul odor and smell to your milk. Some women describe it as soapy and others say it takes on a metallic smell and taste. While it is not harmful to your baby, they may reject the funky taste.
If you are attempting to bottle-feed your baby pumped milk and they reject it, give it the smell test. If it smells and tastes off, it could be that you have high lipase activity. Thankfully, there is an easy solution. As soon as breast milk is pumped, scald it slightly before storing it, which prevents the rapid breakdown of fat, thereby preserving the pleasant and sweet taste of your breast milk.
9 Refuses Bottle from Mom
If your baby is breastfed and you want to introduce a bottle, have someone other than mom feed them. Your baby might be tiny and brand new, but she is savvy too! She knows that you are the vessel for the really good stuff and can even smell your milk on you.
As such, sometimes a baby’s refusal of a bottle is simply because she wants the real stuff. If baby is hungry and dad or grandma offers the bottle instead of mom, you are more likely to find success.
There is also habit involved when a breastfeeding mom is present. Your baby knows the drill by now and expects you to breastfeed her. If you are removed from the situation by letting someone else bottle-feed, it’s less of a distraction for your baby, too. It’s also a great opportunity for mom to take a break and let someone else try to figure it out.
8 Wrong Artificial Nipple
If you’ve been to the baby “feeding” section of any store, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the selection available for anything and everything. There are choices for bottles, breast pumps, bottle warmers, nipples, sippy cups, utensils, high chairs . . . the list goes on and on.
As with pacifier shapes, there are also a variety of nipple shapes available. Every manufacturer will swear theirs is the best, the most like mom’s nipple, and the most endorsed. The truth is, your baby will likely have a preference. If you plan to bottle feed and baby refuses at first, try a few more times and then consider switching the nipple shape. It’s important to find one that is comfortable and easy for your baby to suck from.
Nipple flow is also a factor. Make sure you choose the “speed” that is right for your baby’s age. Milk from a bottle can flow very quickly, which can be overwhelming to a young infant. Nipples for young infants are designed as slow-flow to control this very thing.
7 Taste of Formula
If you are formula-feeding your baby exclusively or occasionally, you've likely realized there is a vast selection of formula brands available with different base ingredients. As a result, each of these formulas comes with a different flavor and baby may prefer one to the other.
If you taste formula and compare it to your own breast milk, you’ll find that formula tastes different. If a baby only ever tasted formula, this won’t be an issue, but a breastfed baby may not like the taste of the formula you’ve chosen. Babies are naturally conditioned by the taste of amniotic fluid to gravitate towards slightly sweet tastes, and although formula tries to mimic the taste of breast milk, some are more successful than others.
One option is, of course, to feed your baby pumped milk if you can. Another option is to try different formulas until you find one your baby won’t reject. Just like adults, babies have taste preferences as well, so don’t be surprised if your little one wrinkles his nose at formula on his first try.
6 Milk Allergy/Sensitivity
Just like adults, infants can also suffer from dairy sensitivities. If you’ve chosen to formula-feed your baby and they have a milk allergy or intolerance, there will be certain signs if you are using a cow’s milk-based formula.
While they may not flat-out refuse a bottle, you’ll notice things like frequent spitting up, diarrhea, signs of tummy discomfort, eczema, and even hives. The same can happen if a baby is breastfed since what mom consumes will pass through to the baby. These symptoms in a baby can naturally be very stressful for new parents until the cause is isolated, so this is definitely a source to consider.
A remedy for this is for parents to switch to a soy-based formula or something called a hydrolysate formula, and/or mom can eliminate dairy from her diet. Once you find the source of the problem, you may be amazed at how much more settled, comfortable, and satiated your baby seems.
5 Temperature of Liquid
It’s important that the liquid you provide to your baby via a bottle is just the right temperature (warm!) for several reasons.
Firstly, the milk from a mother’s breast is naturally warm thanks to her internal body temperature, so if your baby is breastfed, a warm bottle will more closely mimic their experience of nursing. Secondly, warm milk is comforting and soothing, so babies prefer it. Thirdly, warm milk or formula is easier for baby to digest than cold. And lastly, formula won’t dissolve in cold water.
For these reasons, baby might refuse a bottle if it’s too hot or too cold. Shake well and test the temperature before you offer it to your baby. And never use a microwave to heat liquids intended for your little one. Microwaving can destroy some of the essential good stuff in the bottle and can also cause hot spots, increasing the chance of baby getting scalded.
As your baby gets older, they will become more responsive to their environment, taking in all of the sights, sounds, and smells around them. Some babies even get too distracted to eat.
If you find your slightly older baby is starting to refuse a bottle, it might be because there is too much going on around them while you are offering a bottle. Think about your feeding environment. Is it loud? Boisterous? Are there busy siblings around? Is the TV or radio on? Are they craning to see anything and everything that is going on?
If so, consider quieting things down for them. Take them to a calm spot and try again. If there is nothing more interesting going on, they might more easily get down to business. Having a baby refuse to eat is very stressful for parents and this reason is one of the easier ones to sort out.
3 Baby Is Unwell
Just like you and me, if baby isn’t feeling well, he may lose his appetite. If your little one is feeling under the weather, loss of appetite may be the first indicator to mom and dad. Check for other signs and symptoms and if malaise is present, expect that he may not feel up to eating.
Things to check for include fever, runny nose, diarrhea, tummy discomfort, teething, and pulling ears, etc. Depending on the issue, it might be several days or weeks until his appetite resumes. In general, if your baby is hungry, he will eat.
Of course, if you are concerned, you should take your baby to your doctor or the emergency room. This is particularly true if a fever is present. Fever in young infants is taken very seriously and can be indicative of something very serious. This isn’t always the case but best to err on the side of caution.
You may need to experiment with different bottle-feeding positions in order to find one that your infant finds comfortable. If your baby is very young, the best position to try is having your baby at a 45-degree angle with her head cradled in the nook of your elbow.
If your baby is too vertical or too horizontal, she might find it uncomfortable and refuse to feed. If too vertical, gravity is working against you, and if too horizontal, the milk or formula might flow too fast causing the baby to choke on the liquid.
It is also important to take note of your baby's position as she feeds. If she is positioned with her face sideways or tipped back, she’ll have more trouble swallowing.
Make sure you are comfortable as well. Use a comfortable recliner or rocker and ensure you have the right pillows or supports on hand to make your position optimal. Each individual feed might be short, but multiply this by several times a day and week, and you could end up very uncomfortable.
1 Not Hungry
So this reason might not be all that surprising but sometimes your baby might refuse their bottle simply because they aren’t hungry. Again, if your baby is hungry, he will eat. As parents, we can have a tendency to try to overfeed our babies, particularly when they can’t properly verbalize if they are hungry or not.
If you have ruled everything else out on this list and your baby is still refusing a bottle, then it might be because their belly feels full already. It’s also important to realize that each day might be different from the day before. Baby might eat more one day than the next. This will be somewhat dependent on how active he has been, whether a growth spurt is occurring and how he is feeling. Don’t despair, your baby will be back on track if there aren't any other underlying issues present. Babies have a tendency to let us know pretty clearly when they are hungry.