Bottle feeding your baby

Bottle feeding is when you use a bottle to feed your baby with milk. This could be breastmilk or formula milk. You can also combine bottle feeding with breastfeeding.

Starting bottle feeding 

There are some things to think about before you start bottle feeding. Consider if you’ll use expressed breastmilk, formula, or both. This will depend on your wishes, whether breastmilk is an option, and the needs of your baby. Speak to your midwife or health visitor if you’re thinking about combining bottle feeding and breastfeeding – some babies develop a preference for one or the other.

You will also need to buy some bottles. When choosing which type of bottle to use, it can be helpful to think about:

  • whether the bottles have good reviews from other parents
  • how you plan to wash and sterilise your bottles (by hand, a steriliser, microwave steaming)
  • the age of your baby and the size of bottle they need
  • if your baby needs a specific teat (for example, if they have colic or tongue tie)

The NHS has some information on different types of formula available. You may also qualify for vouchers to help towards the cost of formula.

When to bottle feed your baby 

When your baby is first born you can try on-demand feeding, unless your midwife or health visitor advises you do something else. On-demand feeding is when you feed your baby every time they show signs of being hungry. Every child is different and you will start to recognise your baby’s hunger cues. But there are some general signs that you can look out for. These include:

  • looking or turning their head towards you
  • opening their mouth towards you (‘rooting’)
  • becoming restless
  • sucking on their hand and fingers

As your baby grows, their feeding habits will probably change. You can continue to follow your baby’s cues but if you’re unsure you can check with your health visitor again.

How to bottle feed your baby

Let your baby decide how much milk to drink by positioning the bottle in a way that allows them to pause when they need to. This is called ‘paced bottle feeding’. With paced feeding the flow of milk is similar to breastfeeding where your baby takes natural pauses during their feed.

To bottle feed:

  1. Start by sitting comfortably, and holding your baby so that they are positioned semi-upright, rather than lying cradled on their back.
  2. Support your baby’s head so they can breathe and swallow easily then gently brush the teat over your baby’s lips, waiting until their mouth opens.
  3. Hold the bottle horizontally rather than tipping it up. This way your baby controls the flow of milk by sucking and it is not tipping into their mouth. Make sure the milk fills the end of the teat so your baby isn’t sucking in air.
  4. Check that your baby’s lips form a seal around the teat base, they should roll slightly outwards.
  5. Let your baby control the pace. They will probably take around 15-20 swallows, then pause and rest. When they pause, the flow of milk should stop.
  6. If your baby takes a pause or break when feeding, you can carefully remove the teat from their mouth and use this time to interact with your baby. When they show their hunger cues again, you can bring the teat back to their mouth.
  7. Look for signs that suggest your baby is full. It can take about 20-30 minutes for your baby to feed in this way (but this can be different for each baby), allowing them to stop and start as they wish.

It can take time and practice for a baby to get used to feeding, whether that is bottle feeding or breastfeeding.

Don’t leave your baby to feed alone or with the bottle propped up. This could be a choking hazard and it could increase their intake of air, causing discomfort.

Knowing when your baby is full

When your baby is full they may look relaxed or fall asleep, and their fists may open. Your baby may also show you they have had enough milk by spitting out the teat, turning their head, or if they stop sucking.

These signs can sometimes also indicate that your baby has trapped wind or gas. Try winding them before offering more milk.

If your baby has gas or is spitting up

Whether your baby is being bottle fed or breastfed, they might need your help to burp during or after a feed to help relieve discomfort. Hold your baby upright and close against your shoulder and gently rub or pat their back.

Signs that your baby might need winding could include:

  • wriggling
  • bringing their legs up to their tummy
  • turning away from the bottle or spitting the teat out
  • crying
  • arching their back or straining – but this can also mean they are doing a poo

Your baby may bring a little milk up during or after their feed, which is usually nothing to worry about. It can help to have a muslin nearby in case this happens. It might mean that they are getting too much milk too quickly, so check if the bottle teat is the right size.

If you’re worried about your baby being sick a lot then ask your health visitor for advice.

Some babies might struggle with colic, when a baby cries a lot for no clear reason. Sometimes this is due to digestion or food sensitivities, so speak to your GP if you have concerns.

Sharing bottle feeding with other people

It may be helpful to allow other people to feed your baby with the bottle too. If you have a partner or family to support with childcare, they can share the responsibility. Try to teach them how you do this in a way that’s familiar to your baby. For example, show them the position your baby feeds in, how much milk they have, how long they usually feed for and how you burp them, if needed.

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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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