Baby Playing with Bottle Instead of Drinking – Reasons, Solutions

Balint Horvath, PhD

Writer, parent, and veteran of baby feeding battles.


My little one went through a stage where she would continuously play with her bottle rather than drink her milk. At first, I found this quite frustrating, but after some research, I discovered that there are actually a few common reasons for it. Fortunately, there are also a bunch of solutions that will help you understand and deal with a baby playing with a bottle instead of drinking.

There are several reasons why your little one may be playing with their bottle when they’re supposed to be feeding. A few more common reasons can be as simple as your baby not feeling hungry or wanting to play. Furthermore, there could be more urgent issues such as your little one feeling sick or teething. 

Key takeaways

  • There are a few common reasons why your baby plays with the bottle instead of drinking, the most common being that the baby could be overtired, teething, or even adjusting to a new nipple. 
  • Less serious reasons could include the baby simply wanting to play with you or being distracted by siblings, pets or even the TV. 
  • Solutions to getting your baby’s attention back to the bottle include avoiding distractions, changing the feeding schedule or soothing aching gums. 

7 Reasons your baby plays with the bottle instead of drinking

New parents may draw little comfort from learning that it’s perfectly normal for their little ones to start playing with their bottles during feeding sessions. The various common reasons for this depend on factors such as where your baby is being fed, by whom and what developmental stage they’re at. Here are a few of the more common reasons to consider. 

1. Your baby is tired

Feeding sessions are usually determined by a routine that you’ve spent months perfecting. For the most part, feeding usually takes place just before a nap or sleep time. Or when they’re very small, night-time feeding normally happens which I wrote about previously. To have your baby reject their bottle in those moments by playing with it can be frustrating. 

Here are a few signs that being tired is the cause of refusing the bottle:

  • Slowed activity
  • Constant yawning
  • Older babies may appear to become hyperactive. 

2. The baby doesn’t feel hungry

As babies grow, they often start feeling hungry at different times than those that you have established as specific feeding times. While some babies stick to their created routines until toddlerhood, others are less predictable. Some signs of a baby that’s not hungry are listed below:

3. Your baby might be teething

Teething is often the leading reason why babies refuse their bottles. This is because their gums are sore and sensitive. Signs that teething may be to blame include the following:

  • Swollen or extra reddish gums
  • Chewing the nipple in an attempt to soothe sore gums
  • Playing with the bottle 
  • Excessive drooling

4. The baby might not like the nipple

If you’ve recently changed the bottle’s nipple, the little one may still be adjusting to it. This may have to do with the texture of the nipple or the flow rate. They might be even biting on the nipple which could be a sign that your baby doesn’t like the nipple. They may take a few feedings to get used to the new nipple. 

5. Your baby could be sick 

Sometimes refusing to take their bottle could mean that your little one is feeling sick. If you suspect this might be the issue, look out for telltale signs such as fever, sweating, or even diarrhea. 

6. Your baby feels like playing

Older babies might simply be in the mood to play, especially if they’ve discovered how much fun it is! They may simply have started to understand that you will feed them when they fuss, so that leaves all other times open for playtime. Since their bottle may have been a part of their little life since the beginning, they find it to be a comfortable object to play with. 

My daughter (Amelia) continued playing with her bottle especially after I had some play sessions with her, instead of drinking what’s inside. Or she even played with an empty bottle’s nipple.

7. Your baby is distracted

Some babies are easily distracted. It can be anything from siblings playing nearby, the other parent talking in the room, bright lights from the TV, toys or even pets strolling around the area you want to feed the baby. 

Since babies are able to see further around the 4-month mark, they are easily distracted by their surroundings. Babies that are distracted will constantly turn their heads in the direction of the thing they’re distracted by.  

Solutions to your baby playing with the bottle when feeding

The good news is, there are a bunch of solutions that will reduce the chances of your baby playing with their bottle when they’re supposed to be feeding. Depending on their age, you may have to adjust their feeding schedule. Consider these solutions.  

Eliminate all distractions

The best potential solution to start with is to eliminate all distractions. Opt to feed the baby in a room away from other children, the other parent or even the TV. That may mean moving feeding time from the living room to a more quiet bedroom area.  

Try a different nipple

The second easiest solution to try is to change the bottle nipple. It might be time to adjust the flow rate or opt for a nipple with a different texture.  Keep in mind that not all babies are the same and may not stick to the recommended flow rates. It’s perfectly normal for babies to stay on a slower flow rate or move up to a faster nipple before they’re supposed to. 

Soothe teething before offering a bottle

Most babies start teething between 4 to 6 months. Since the two bottom front teeth are the first to appear, they can be easy to spot. If you know your baby is teething, it’s a good idea to soothe those aching gums before offering your little one their bottle. 

Try these simple tips to soothe itchy gums:

  • Give them a cooled teething ring to suck on
  • Rub the offending gums with a clean finger or wet gauze
  • For severe teething issues, use an over-the-counter pain medication

Feed your baby when he or she is hungry

If your little one doesn’t seem to be suffering any symptoms, they may just not be hungry when you want to feed them. In this instance, you should consider changing their feeding time. Start by delaying their feeding time by 20 or even 30 minutes to see if they start fussing. That will help you create a new schedule. 

If your baby is tired consider feeding after a nap

Older babies are more active during the day. This means they’re more likely to get tired earlier than usual. If your baby seems tired or cranky and refuses their bottle, it’s a good idea to put them down for a short nap before feeding.  

Let someone else try feeding your baby

Your baby may just want to play with you during feeding time. While this is great for bonding, your little one does need to eat! You may try to let someone else feed your baby, instead of mom. You can switch feeding times with your partner, family member or older sibling. 

Be sure to spend some time playing with your little one afterward. That way they’ll see that they can still play with you around feeding times. 

Here’s a helpful clip to help you with a few tips to bottle-feed your baby.


Getting your little one into their first feeding routine can be frustrating. And, just when you think you have it narrowed down, they grow a little older and start changing the routine by playing with their bottle! The good news is that there are a few solutions that you can try to get feeding time back on track.

Photo of author


I’m Balint, founder of this site and a father (and dad) to a baby-turned toddler. I found the world of babies so fascinating that I started a blog dedicated only to that topic. By the way, I studied physics, engineering (PhD, MSc), and therefore I do a thorough research when I write about something. Since it’s a blog, of course I also write about my personal experiences.

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