Parents such as myself, who bottle-feed their babies, will all experience a host of similar challenges as their babies grow. One of the more common issues to deal with is your baby biting or chewing on the bottle nipple instead of drinking their milk. This can be frustrating, especially if it happens with every feeding session.
There can be a bunch of reasons why your baby suddenly starts chewing on their bottle nipple. The most common of these involve using the bottle nipple to ease sore gums or the nipple flow rate isn’t right. Other reasons can include earache, not being hungry or even being distracted by sounds in their environment.
- Babies biting or chewing their bottle nipples are often a normal part of baby development.
- The nipple could be too hard or uncomfortable.
- Infants at a certain age may be experiencing teething problems and will use the nipple to soothe sore gums.
- If the baby’s diet has started including solid food, they may be less hungry during regular bottle feeding sessions.
- Symptoms of an ear infection could lead to general discomfort and little interest in drinking.
- Older infants may want to play with the bottle or the person feeding them.
- Distractions in the room around the baby may cause the little one to lose focus on the bottle.
1. Baby doesn’t like the nipple
An aspect you will learn very quickly is that your baby decides what bottle type and nipple they will prefer. If they don’t like a bottle or nipple type, you’ll soon find out! This is why I even wrote a separate article on using different baby bottles for babies.
Some babies are more comfortable with silicone nipples shaped like their mom’s breast, such as those from Comotomo. Other little ones don’t have a general preference and can easily latch onto more traditional nipple types.
Your little one biting at their bottle nipple may be an indication that they find the nipple uncomfortable. It may be too big or too small. Keep in mind that this isn’t the flow rate but the actual nipple size.
Solution – Make sure you have the right nipple size
It’s a good idea to have very different bottles and nipples to give your little one a choice. This will make it easy to determine which one they prefer. It’s also essential that you opt for the right size nipple for the bottle you have as well as for the baby’s age.
A bigger nipple may be uncomfortable for a younger baby. Furthermore, the nipple may be too hard or too soft for your baby’s liking.
If your baby is transitioning between breast and bottle, it’s a good idea to consider a bottle type that mimics the shape of the mom’s breast. Some of the more popular brands that offer this include the following:
- Pigeon Nursing Bottle
Here’s something interesting, a startup which created a bottle that replicates the shape of a mom’s breast.
For more clarity on nipple types, consider reading my post about whether or not nipples are interchangeable.
2. The baby’s gums are sore from teething
There’s a phase of baby development that parents often don’t look forward to and that’s the time their babies start teething. For many babies, this starts happening as early as three or four months, but it’s not uncommon to happen earlier or even later.
Babies with sore gums are constantly fussing and don’t want to eat and even getting them to sleep can be difficult! If you’re not sure if your baby is teething, here are a few symptoms to look out for:
- Biting the bottle nipple is a way of relieving an itchy gum
- Drooling more than usual
- Constantly putting fingers or other items in their mouth
- Swollen gums are redder than usual
- More fussing and irritability than usual
- Slight increase in temperature, but not an actual fever (normal temperature for babies aged 0-12 months is 95,8ᐤ F or 36,7ᐤ to 37,3ᐤ C)
- Baby pushing away the bottle but still showing signs of hunger
- Pushing the bottle out of their mouth with their tongue
- Playing with the bottle instead of drinking
Solution – Use teething gel to numb the gums
Fortunately, there are a few easy tips to consider when you want to help your baby deal with the pain and discomfort associated with teething. These include the following:
- Rub the baby’s gums: Use a clean finger or wet gauze to gently rub the baby’s gums. Rub the swollen section as well as the surrounding area as that may also be itchy. This works because the pressure ease’s your baby’s discomfort.
- Use a cool teething ring: Cool a teething ring for about 20 minutes by placing it in the fridge. (Don’t freeze it as this will burn the baby’s gums) Gently place it in the baby’s mouth, and encourage them to hold it themselves. If you don’t have a teething ring close by, you can use one of their bottle nipples. To avoid cavities and bacteria, avoid dipping the ring or the nipple in any sugary substances.
- Use an over-the-counter teething gel: Another popular teething remedy for more painful teething moments is to opt for a teething gel from the pharmacy. Simply apply the teething gel to a clean finger or gauze and then rub it along the whole gum area. Be sure to read the label about the recommendations for the number of times a day you can use this medication as well as the time between applications.
This helpful clip from Dr. Liz Donner shows an excellent teething hack to ease your baby’s discomfort during teething.
3. Your baby isn’t hungry
Sometimes a baby chews on their bottle nipple simply because they aren’t hungry. They may even drink a little and then spend the rest of the feeding session biting on the nipple. While this may not seem like a problem to many parents, other moms and dads feel that their babies need to finish the amount of milk in a bottle they’ve become used to having at once.
Factors such as the introduction of solid food, or a change in their feeding schedule may contribute to their change in appetite. This is perfectly normal as babies get hold and develop new eating habits.
Solution – Offer your baby to keep chewing on the teat and retry when hunger returns
Once babies are four months old, their sucking reflex transforms into a child-controlled action. That means they won’t finish the full bottle of milk no matter how hard you try! Rather than aggravate yourself, let them chew on the nipple until they feel hungry again or until they want to do something else.
Keep in mind that unless your little one is ill, they will let you know when they’re feeling hungry again. Or, they will simply start sucking again as soon as they start feeling hungry.
4. The baby has an ear infection
Another reason babies reject their bottles or bite on the nipple without drinking has to do with a possible ear infection. On average, five out of six children will develop an ear infection before they turn three.
An ear infection refers to a painful inflammation of the middle ear and usually occurs between the eardrum and the eustachian tube, which links the ears, nose and throat. For the most part, babies develop ear infection after a cold where bacteria or viruses cause inflammation or even swelling of the eustachian tube. Common symptoms that will indicate an ear infection include the following::
- Pulling at the ear
- Trouble sleeping
- Fluid draining from the ear
- Biting or pushing the bottle away
Solution – Ways to ease your baby’s ear infection
Ear infection can be quite painful and can also lead to your baby becoming more sick as the inflammation spreads. Babies or toddlers with ear infection will need a bout of antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria causing the infection.
There are also a few measures you can take to ease your little one’s discomfort. Here are a few of the top home remedies that we used with our little one:
- Warm compress: Place a warm, damp compress over your baby’s ear for about 10 to 15 minutes. This will provide temporary pain relief.
- Warm oil: If there’s no fluid draining from your baby’s ear, you can place a few drops of sesame or olive oil into the affected ear. Ensure that the oil is at room temperature before applying.
- Elevate the baby’s head: When your baby is lying in their crib, their head should be elevated to improve sinus drainage. Do not place pillows under your little one’s head as that increases the risk of SIDS. Rather place the pillows under the mattress to create the elevation you need.
5. The baby wants to play instead of drinking
Play is essential for your baby’s overall development. With that in mind, it’s not uncommon for parents to introduce it at a young age. At around six months, many babies become increasingly interested in playing. They may even want to play during feeding time. This is also a perfectly normal response as your little one grows.
Solution – Wait until your baby is hungry enough to eat
If your baby doesn’t want to drink their milk, they may be regarding their bottle as part of their toy collection. In this instance, your little one isn’t going to drink until they feel hungry.
Simply wait for them to be hungry–they will pick the bottle up and drink as soon as they feel hungry, or they’ll start fussing. If your little one seems very focused on playing with the parent trying to feed them, it’s a good idea to get the other parent to try and feed them.
6. The nipple flow is too slow
Bottle nipples have different flow rates to regulate the rate at which milk or formula flows into the infant’s mouth. Depending on the type of bottle and nipple you’re using, there could be a very significant difference in each flow rate.
As your little one grows, they want more milk or formula and their newborn nipple may not not be providing the milk at the speed they want it. When this happens, your little one may bite at their nipple as a sign of frustration that the milk isn’t flowing fast enough.
While nipples have a recommendation for the age they should be used, the reality is babies are different. That means, your little one could become ready for the next nipple size even before they reach the recommended age.
I always recommend that parents look out for baby cues rather than sticking to the ages on the labels. If your baby seems to be eager for more milk to come out of their nipple, it may be time to move up a level, irrespective of their age.
Solution – Find a nipple with a better flow
The types of nipple flow sizes may vary between bottle and nipple brands. That means that a level 0 on a Dr. Brown nipple may be different from that of a NUK level 0. Always check the relevant sizes of your nipple and bottle brands.
Here’s a general baby bottle nipple size that will serve as a guide when you’re considering which nipple to move to.
|General Nipple Level||Baby Age (May vary between babies and brands)|
|Level 1||Newborn (0-3 months)|
|Level 2||Babies 3-6 months|
|Level 3||Babies 6 months and older|
|Level 4||Babies 9 months and older|
7. There are too many distractions
As babies grow, they become aware of their surroundings. That includes noticing sounds such as the radio, TV,,computer, pets, the other parent or even their siblings. Since your baby wouldn’t have learned how to multi-task yet, they go drinking to focus on whatever is distracting them. This means they’ll bite on the nipple, but not drink their milk.
Solution – Eliminate all distractions
This is one of the easier problems to fix, as all you have to do is eliminate the distractions that are drawing your baby’s attention from their bottle. Here are a few tips:
- Take your baby to a quiet room
- Keep siblings and pets out of the room where the baby is
- Switch off any devices making a noise
- Dim the light or close the curtains
- Hold them in their usual feeding position
- Sing a lullaby or talk to the baby so that they can forget about the distraction
- Create a feeding routine and stick to it as much as possible
Why is my baby chewing on the bottle nipple is a common question of concern among new parents. Fortunately, with the possible reasons and solutions I’ve provided, you’ll be able to identify why your baby bites or chews their bottle nipples. By trying a few of these options, you’ll soon get to the bottom of your baby’s new behavior!
If your little one seems disinterested in their bottle, it may be a good idea to read my article about your baby not wanting to take their bottle at daycare. Additionally, knowing why your baby won’t take their bottle from anyone other than mom will also eliminate a few stressful feeding situations!