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. The health visitor will take over from your midwife on day 10 after the birth.

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

To get ready to bottle feed your baby, hold them in a slightly upright position and check they look comfortable. If they are slipping or their tummy is squashed, they may struggle to feed properly. Support their neck and head so that they can breathe and swallow easily. It’s also worth checking you’re in a comfortable position.

Feeding can be a chance to connect with your baby, so make lots of eye contact and maintain skin-to-skin touch. To bottle feed:

  • brush the teat of the bottle over your baby’s lips, waiting until their mouth opens (don’t force the teat into their mouth)
  • check that your baby’s lips form a seal around the bottle teat – their lips should touch the teat base, and should roll slightly outwards (like an open pout) to reduce spillage and air intake
  • tilt the bottle so that the teat is full of breastmilk or formula – if the bottle is flat then your baby will be sucking in air, which can cause gas and discomfort

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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