Expressed milk
 

 

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Expressing milk: How to feed it to your baby

If you’re used to breastfeeding, the world of bottles can be intimidating. Here’s the information you need.

Bottle feeding expressed milk

If you’re giving your baby expressed breastmilk, you’re probably going to use a bottle (NICE, 2014). Your midwife will talk it through with you. But if you’re breastfeeding too, it’s good to get that well established before you try expressing milk and giving a bottle. (University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust, 2014).

Some babies are happy to take a bottle from early on, and it doesn’t affect how they feed on you. Others seem to be more easily put off by bottles. Unless you need to give your breastmilk in a bottle sooner for medical or other reasons, you can leave it for a while.

If you do give a bottle, don’t panic – this doesn’t mean your baby will never breastfeed. Keep putting them on your breasts and give them a lot of skin-to-skin contact (UNICEF, 2018). You can also chat through all your options with your midwife or a breastfeeding counsellor.

Which are the best baby bottles?

Asking which is the best bottle for a baby is like asking which is the best chocolate bar for an adult. It’s all down to the individual and personal preference. Some babies will take to a certain brand. You can also look for ones that are particularly good at dealing with specific issues like colic or reflux.

The best idea is to buy a small selection of bottles and nipples (nipple-shaped bottle tops) and try them out (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011). You could also ask mum mates for their recommendations.

How to get a baby that breastfeeds to take a bottle

There is no evidence about whether or not it’s true that babies must get used to the bottle straight away and if they don’t they’ll never take one. But if your baby isn’t fancying the idea of a bottle, you could try:

  • Giving them a big, squidgy cuddle first.
  • Warming and softening the teat with warm, boiled water that has been allowed to cool.
  • Offering the bottle when your baby isn’t hungry but is awake and chilled out.
  • Asking someone else to give them the bottle.
  • Giving the bottle while they are in a different position from the one you use for breastfeeding, like on your knee, facing outwards, or in a chair.(American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011; NHS Choices, 2017)

If they still won’t take milk from a bottle, try a cup or a spoon (University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust, 2014). If they’re 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 help themselves to a super-long feed.

Cups and syringes: The alternative feeding methods

The alternative to bottles is to use a special feeding cup, an egg cup or a plastic syringe for feeding expressed breastmilk (University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust, 2014). These methods may be useful for very new, ill or premature babies who haven’t learnt to breastfeed effectively yet. They’re also more practical for giving very tiny amounts of breastmilk or colostrum (the first milk you produce).

Sterilisers versus boiling

Milk of all kinds harbours bacteria, and sterilising gets rid of any stray bugs. So even if you only use a bottle occasionally, it’s still important to do it. Try to use only one bottle and teat at a time. That makes it easier and quicker to boil the bottle in a pan of water for 10 minutes, instead of using a liquid or steam sterilising unit (NHS Choices, 2016).

Warming up expressed breast milk

You can warm up milk that’s been in the fridge or has been defrosted from the freezer. Do this slowly in a jug or bowl of warm water. Don’t leave it in there longer than 15 minutes and test a few drops on your wrist to make sure the temperature is ok.

If you can afford it, you could consider electric bottle warmers – they heat milk to the perfect temperature for your baby in about four to six minutes. Never use a microwave to heat baby milk (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011).

This page was last reviewed in October 2017

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.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

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.

Healthtalkonline.org has a comprehensive library of face-to-face interviews where parents share their experiences about breastfeeding, birth, parenting and many other issues.

NHS Choices has information on bottle feeding and breastfeeding in public.

Best Beginnings has video clips from the 'Bump to Breastfeeding' DVD.