If your baby refuses to take milk from the bottle, there are several possible reasons. Some of these reasons relate to the milk and some relate to the baby.
It may be the temperature, the rate of flow or the taste of the milk. Babies vary in how cold or warm they like their milk, with some preferring it fridge-cool and others liking it warmed to body temperature. Could it be too hot, or too cold? Is the teat blocked? Test for this by turning the bottle upside down -- it should drip quickly. Or it might be that your baby is ready for a teat with a larger hole and is getting frustrated. Also, check the expiry date on the powder and that it has not been open for longer than the recommended time. Check that the milk has not acquired any smells, for example perfume or onions, while you mixed up the feeds.
If your baby usually has only milk and refuses it (or if he has milk and solids but is refusing to eat or drink either), then it may be a sign of illness or discomfort. Common causes are colds, viral infections, ear and throat infections (which can make sucking painful), and oral thrush. Oral thrush is a fungal infection that causes a baby to have white patches on his tongue and inner mouth, which can be sore. All of these conditions are easily treated, but if a young baby refuses two consecutive feeds, it is important to get advice from your doctor or health visitor. You could try giving your baby a drink of cooled boiled water, which will help to maintain hydration, but still seek advice as to why he is refusing milk.
If he is taking his solids well but refuses his bottles, there are several possibilities:
• He could have less of an appetite than usual because he is slightly unwell -- if you are worried, talk to your doctor.
• As babies reach 4-5 months, they are very easily distracted during feeds. Even the TV or another child can be enough to take his attention away from food, so try to find a peaceful place to feed him.
• If you have recently started solids, it may be that he is eating too much solid food and does not have enough appetite for his milk.
• He may be enjoying solid foods and finding milk less attractive and maybe ¿boring'.
A very common situation is the healthy baby who eats solids with gusto and then refuses point blank to take his bottle. He will then take more solid food if you offer it! The golden rule is to stay calm, and never try to force a baby to feed when he is resisting, as this can lead to long-term problems.
Try to give him his milk first and solids second, or give him his solids and try with his milk an hour later. If he still refuses, then give an extra course of something made with milk, for example cereal, yoghurt, rice pudding, custard, or a milky desert. At the end of the meal, offer a bottle or cup of cooled boiled water and he will take any extra fluid that he needs.
From the age of about nine months, a baby needs the equivalent of 500ml-600ml (about a pint) of milk to obtain the necessary calcium -- but this can also be obtained from dairy foods such as cheese and yoghurt. Many babies at this age will only have a bottle of milk in the morning and at bedtime, and water during the rest of the day.
You could also try offering him the milk in either a toddler beaker or an adult cup. It might be messy, but sometimes the novelty of drinking like Mummy can work.
If your baby is 10 months or older, you could try changing to a brand of growing-up milk if you have not already done so, as some brands are flavoured with vanilla. I would be wary of using flavours for the milk such as tea, coffee, cocoa or milk-shake syrups, as these may result in your baby having caffeine or additives which are better to avoid.
It would be advisable to give him vitamin drops for the days that he is not taking any milk.
If you try these solutions for four or five days and he still refuses his milk, then talk to your health visitor. She will be able to advise you as to whether or not his diet is adequate. Very occasionally babies need calcium supplements if their milk intake is low.
Babies seem to sense when their mother is anxious, so as long as you know he is not ill, and he is getting the nutrients he requires, then try not to worry; he will probably start taking it again when you least expect it.
Reviewed March 2006
The information above is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.