When Your Baby Won’t Take a Bottle (A Respectful Solution)

The respectful relationships we strive to build with our children are as complex, nuanced and challenging as any other interpersonal connection in our lives. Every parent’s journey is unique and original, and the experiences they share can be a valuable learning tool for others. That is why I so eagerly embrace opportunities to share the specifics of parents’ personal processes, struggles and successes. 
So, thanks again to all of you who have allowed me to share in the past, and to Fernanda for this recent message exchange:

Hi Janet, I’m hoping to find a respectful solution to help my baby (8 months) take the bottle again. She used to drink occasionally from it, and she eventually got up to a few bottles a day. Then one day she stopped. I’ve tried and considered everything (temperature, levels of fatigue, levels of hunger, sippy cup, open cup, you name it). I go back to work soon, and I’m afraid that she won’t receive the proper nutrition. We use the baby led weaning, and she doesn’t really eat that much. I am also scared that in order to compensate for the missed nursing sessions during the day she will cluster feed evenings and nights. I have two other kids to tend to, and one of them still very young. While I’m still at home and available, I’d like to know she is able to take formula milk from others, but it’s just not happening. I am failing at every try. Hope you have some suggestions for me.


ME: Talk to her about it. Hear whatever feelings she has and confront them honestly. Share with her what needs to happen, but mostly just acknowledge and hear her feelings.

FERNANDA: I truly do. I tell her I know she doesn’t want to take the bottle, and I explain the reasons why it’s important, but I’m afraid her nutrition will be affected.

ME: Spend more time hearing the feelings and don’t do more explaining. “You are saying a big ‘no’ to this! This way of drinking feels different to you.” If it’s formula: “And it also tastes different, doesn’t it?” Very calmly and patiently hold that space for her. You have to be trusting and calm. Believe in her ability to do this and give her time.

FERNANDA: Thank you, I will try phrasing it like that.

ME: You’re welcome. And you could certainly say more if she continues resisting and expressing her displeasure. This is about really allowing her to share all her feelings and being comfortable with that — so comfortable that you are actually encouraging her to share her resistance. You’re not just saying words.

FERNANDA: OMG Janet. She just had two ounces with me. I held her and said the words you mentioned. I told her she didn’t like it and she felt it was different. I said, “I listen to you and know this is not what you want.” I kept repeating and allowing some crying time. And then she just took it and drank it all. You just saved my sanity. I will try to do this once a day and will then teach my husband and our baby sitter to follow the same guidelines.

ME: Woohoo! You are now communicating person to person. That’s why it works. She wants to be understood and allowed to have her opinion. She has a right to share how much she doesn’t like this idea and that she doesn’t want to try something different, right?

She just wants to be able to tell you that. And you’ve heard her. This is actually the secret to parenting. So, now you have it. 😉


To learn more about this respectful approach to infant care, I recommend:

Your Self–Confident Baby by Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson

Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect by Magda Gerber

Pikler Bulletin #14 by Dr. Emmi Pikler

My book: Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting 

And these blogs:






My posts, especially When We Need Our Child to Cooperate, How Respect Makes Parenting Easier, and How to Talk to Your Newborn

My youtube channel

(Photo by Donnie Ray Jones on Flickr)

1 Comment

Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. What about a 5month old? They obviously can’t talk yet. .. She just turns her head and refuses the bottle. I have tried 4 different kinds. She will refuse it and then nurse just fine. She does take it sometimes but frequently won’t or will only take a few ounces out of it. She is already going to the sitters during the day.

    Thanks in advance!

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