Bottle Feeding Your Baby – Tips and Information
Once you have made the decision to bottle feed your baby there are lots of things to consider in order to help your baby stay safe and healthy. Firstly, you should choose an infant formula milk powder, then you should gather together all the equipment you will need, and then you can consider how to bottle feed in the safest and most comfortable way.
The different types of formula and bottle feeding equipment
Most formulas are made from cows’ milk that has been processed in order to meet the particular nutritional requirements of infants. However, there are alternatives to cows’ milk formulas, including goats’ milk formulas. Furthermore, formulas can come as a dry powder that you mix with water or as a pre-prepared liquid formula that is sold in either bottles or cartons.
Choosing the right formula for your baby is an important consideration and our article “Which formula should you buy?” goes into much greater detail to help you come to a decision.
Deciding to bottle feed your baby also means you will need to buy bottles, teats and sterilising equipment. There are various options available and our article on bottle feeding equipment explains what you’ll need and the different methods for sterilising the equipment.
Bottle feeding a newborn
Newborn babies will generally have no trouble working out how to latch on to the teat. They will usually only take between 60 to 90 ml (2 to 3 ounces) per feed. Newborns will feed every three to four hours, with the amount they consume increasing gradually as they grow and develop.
As a guideline, babies typically require 150 to 200 ml of milk per kilo of their weight each day until they reach six months old. (1)
By four months old your baby may be consuming around double the quantity he did when he was a newborn, although he will have eased off a little on the frequency of feeds.
You can introduce the bottle pretty much as soon as your baby is born, but if you want to breastfeed alongside using bottles, you should wait a few weeks as “nipple confusion” may interfere with your baby’s ability to successfully breastfeed.
However, waiting more than three or four weeks to introduce bottle feeding alongside breastfeeding runs the risk of your baby rejecting bottles in favour of the familiar comforts of the breast. So, it can be a fine balancing act to combine bottle and breastfeeding.
Creating the right conditions for bottle feeding
Ideally, you should try to find somewhere quiet, calm and comfortable for you to bottle feed your baby. Get this right and feeding time can actually be a welcome relief from the stresses of the day. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your baby is likely to be.
Bottle feeding your baby is a wonderful opportunity to bond with your baby and also provides bonding opportunities for partners as well.
Getting the right temperature for formula milk
Some baby’s are perfectly happy drinking cold milk; in fact, some may even prefer it. However, if you want to warm your milk straight from the fridge, you can either use a baby bottle warmer or simply place the bottle in a vessel of warm (not boiling) water for a couple of minutes or more to bring it to body temperature (37 °C) and then gently swirl the bottle so that it is fully mixed.
As a general rule you can test the temperature of formula or indeed expressed breastmilk by dripping milk from the bottle onto your wrist to check that it is a comfortable temperature. It should be body temperature, which means that although it can feel warmish it should never feel hot. You can easily burn your baby’s delicate mouth with over-warm milk.
The way you sterilise baby bottles and make up formula milk are extremely important. The following My BabyManual articles may be helpful: How to Make up a Baby Bottle of Formula Milk and How to Sterilise Baby Bottles and Feeding Equipment.
Giving baby the bottle
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when preparing your baby’s bottle feed. Once the bottle is ready, find somewhere comfortable and quiet, ideally where you can sit upright. Your baby’s head should be supported. This will help him to breathe and swallow; if he is too flat there is a risk of choking
Place the teat of the bottle against your baby’s lips. He will respond to this stimulation by opening his mouth and beginning the sucking action. Be sure to keep the neck of the bottle suitably angled so that it is sufficiently filled with formula; you do not want your baby to suck air through the teat.
Hold your baby close to you for the duration of the feed and look into his eyes; gently talk to him as he feeds. This eye contact will also help you respond to his cues so you can recognise when he is full, thereby preventing overfeeding.
Once your baby stops sucking, or when he has drunk around half the bottle, it’s a good idea to try to burp him by patting him on the back. You can also use this as an opportunity to swap your hold over to the other side, this will help stimulate both sides of his body.
Bottle feeding tips:
- If you stroke your baby’s cheek with either your finger or the tip of the teat, this will help him to seek out the bottle with his mouth.
- Reduce the risk of unnecessary wind by ensuring that the bottle is angled enough to ensure the formula fills the teat completely. Also, feeding baby partially upright rather than flat on his back will help to reduce wind.
- Don’t overfeed your baby. If he has drunk most of the bottle he has probably had enough. If he stops and seems uncomfortable, it is probably because he needs burping.
- Make sure the milk flow is right. If your baby frequently has milk spilling from his mouth or makes noises that indicate he is struggling to cope with the flow, the teat may be letting too much milk out. Similarly, if he sucks very hard and gets irritable when feeding, the teat may not be letting enough out. Either way, try a new teat until you find what works for your baby.
When baby doesn’t finish the bottle or goes to sleep while feeding
Babies generally have an innate understanding of how much milk they need and will usually let you know when they’ve had enough. Don’t be concerned if your baby falls asleep when feeding as this is completely normal. If you are certain that he has not taken enough of a feed, you can try stroking his head or putting him over your shoulder and rubbing his back, but be sure he is completely awake before you try to feed him again.
Leftover formula or breast milk
Most bottle feeds won’t take longer than an hour and after this time you should throw away any leftover milk as bacteria will multiply quickly and could give your baby a stomach upset.
Mixed formula that has been untouched by your baby can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours after which time must throw it away. Open ready-made or concentrated formula should be refrigerated and should also be thrown away after 24 hours. If you are on the move and transporting the milk you should carry it in a cool bag with an ice pack and use it within 4 hours. If you don’t have an ice pack, the formula should be used within 2 hours.(2)
Bottle-feeding at bed-time
It can be tempting to give your baby its bottle feed once he is in his bed. However, there are risks to this and it is not advisable. For example, babies who fall asleep while bottle-feeding can potentially draw liquid into their lungs and may choke. Furthermore, going to sleep with a bottle puts babies at higher risk of tooth decay as well as ear infections.
Once your baby can hold a bottle you may wish to let him have a final feed as part of his bedtime routine, but never leave your baby alone in bed with bottle and once your baby starts teething, you should clean his teeth after the final feed.
Bottle feeding a baby can be an opportunity to take a bit of time out from the hectic rhythms of the day and to bond with your baby somewhere calm, quiet and comfortable. Partners and family members can also feed your baby with a bottle and this can give you some much needed time to look after yourself.
When bottle feeding your baby, you need to be sure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions for sterilising all feeding equipment, making up and storing formula milk, and for using ready-made or concentrated formula. Always test the temperature of the milk before feeding it to your baby and discard any leftover milk after a feed or if you have not used made-up formula after 24 hours (see the manufacturer’s guidance).