Feeding your baby expressed breastmilk

This article looks at how to feed your baby expressed breastmilk in a bottle or cup safely.

The most common way to give your baby expressed breastmilk is in a bottle. It’s best to get your breastfeeding well established, however, before you try bottles. Some babies are happy to take a bottle from early on, and it doesn’t affect their ability to breastfeed. Others seem to be more easily put off by bottles. Unless you have to give your breastmilk in a bottle sooner, leave it for a while. Let your baby get used to the breast before you introduce changes. There is no evidence either way that babies have to ‘get used to’ the bottle straight away or else they will never take one.

The alternative is to use a special feeding cup, an egg cup or a plastic syringe for feeding expressed breastmilk. These methods may be best for very new, ill or pre-term babies who have not yet learnt to feed from the breast effectively. They’re also more practical for giving very tiny amounts of breastmilk (or colostrum – the milk you produce in the early days).

If you do give a bottle, this doesn’t have to mean your baby will never breastfeed, however. Continue to help your baby learn to feed from the breast, and give her skin-to-skin contact with you. Discuss your options with your midwife or a breastfeeding counsellor before you decide what’s best for you.

Expressing your breastmilk isn’t something you should feel you have to do straight away – if at all. It’s a useful skill to have, but it’s usually easier if you wait until you’re confident in your milk supply and in your baby’s ability to breastfeed well.

Common concerns

‘She won’t take a bottle’

If your baby seems reluctant to try a bottle, here are some ideas:

  • Hold her and enjoy a cuddle first.
  • Warm and soften the teat with warm, boiled water that has been allowed to cool.
  • Offer the bottle when your baby isn’t hungry, but is awake and relaxed. Don’t make it into a battle of wills.
  • Ask someone else to give her the bottle.
  • Give her the bottle while she is in a different position from the one you use for breastfeeding, such as on your knee, facing outwards, or in a chair.

‘She still wont take a bottle’

Try giving her a cup, tilting it gently for her or a spoon and spooning the milk into her mouth. If she’s older than four months, try a soft-spouted beaker. Some babies never take a bottle, and they aren’t happy with a cup either until they’re older. They sometimes prefer to hang on until you come home and then enjoy a very long feed.

'Do I need to sterilise the bottle and teat when my baby has the occasional bottle of expressed breastmilk?'

Yes, it’s safer to do this. Milk of all kinds harbours bacteria, and sterilising gets rid of any stray bugs. If you only ever use one bottle and teat at a time then it’s easier and quicker to boil them in a pan of water for 10 minutes, instead of using a liquid or steam sterilising unit.

Read more about how to express and store breastmilk here.

Further information

NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.

National Breastfeeding Line (government funded): 0300 100 021.

UK Association of Milk Banking - There is a network of milk banks across the UK where you can donate or get expressed breastmilk for a premature or sick baby.