Introducing bottle-feeding to a breastfed baby can take a bit of getting used to, so don't be discouraged if it doesn't go smoothly the first few times. Here we’ve put together some useful bottle-feeding tips to help you through.
Be prepared: what do you need?
Whether you’re bottle-feeding your baby using formula milk, expressed breastmilk, or a combination of the two, it helps to be prepared. Make sure you buy any kit you’ll need like bottles and teats. There are many different types of bottles and teats for sale. It may take a while to try a couple of different ones to see what works best for you and your baby.
You can also buy additional equipment if you like. For example, some mums will express milk by hand, while others will use an electric breast pump. There is also a range of sterilisation equipment available to buy (NHS Choices 2018).
Making up infant formula
When making up infant formula, it is very important to ensure the water is at the correct temperature as formula powder is not sterile. Measure the correct amount of water at 70°C into the bottle, before adding the correct number of scoops of powder (directions for the volume of water and number of scoops will be found on the packaging) (NHS 2016). Different brands have different sized scoops. Care must be taken to avoid accidentally using too much or too little milk powder (UNICEF UK).
It’s important to follow good hygiene practices like always washing your hands before preparing your baby’s feed and following any instructions on the formula packaging. This is to help prevent your baby picking up an infection (NHS 2015).
How to spot ‘early hunger cues’
Keep an eye out for any early signs your baby is getting hungry. They may start to stick their tongue out, suck on their fists or perhaps turn their head to the side. Crying is the last sign of wanting to feed, so it is better to feed your baby before they do (NHS, 2019).
If you learn how to spot these early feeding cues, you may find that your little one feeds more calmly and more easily. If your baby is already upset or crying, then try to soothe them first before offering them a milk feed. You could talk to them gently or try skin-to-skin contact which can also help to calm them (Breastmilk counts, 2019).
Bond with your baby
Feeding your baby, especially in the early days, can be a good time for closeness and bonding. So, whether it’s you or your partner who would like some special time with your little one, make sure you’re comfortable and create a calm environment. It’s better to limit the feeding to you and your partner in the early days to build a close and loving relationship with your baby and help them feel safe and secure. Some babies respond well to background music, while others prefer it to be quiet. As they get older, most babies will enjoy looking up into your eyes (First Steps Nutrition Trust, 2018; UNICEF UK, 2016).
Responsive feeding is all about trying to respond quickly to your baby's needs, not getting distracted during feeding time and not encouraging your little one to over-eat or finish bottles of milk when they're no longer hungry (UNICEF UK, 2016).
Research into responsive feeding suggests that it can help parents from over-feeding their baby and therefore help to reduce the risk of obesity (UNICEF UK, 2016; DiSantis et al, 2011; NHS 2018).
How to hold your baby for bottle feeding
Hold your baby close to you. They should be fairly upright, with their head supported - so they can breathe and swallow comfortably. Support your baby so they're slightly raised and able to look at you. Babies shouldn’t be flat on their backs or left alone with a propped-up bottle when they are being fed to avoid any risk of choking (UNICEF UK).
Try talking to your baby gently and look into their eyes to reassure them during feeds. This helps them to feel safe and loved (NHS 2015; UNICEF UK, 2019; NHS, 2012; NHS Choices, 2018).
How to feed your baby using a bottle
Rub the bottle teat against your baby’s upper lip gently to encourage them to open their mouth and draw the teat in, rather than forcing it into the mouth. Tip the bottle horizontal with only a slight tilt just enough to ensure there is milk in the teat. This also prevents milk from flowing too fast. Be guided by your baby’s reactions while feeding. They should be able to suck and swallow, slowly and naturally, without spluttering, and without pushing the teat out with their tongue (First Steps Nutrition Trust, 2018; NHS, 2018).
If the teat becomes flattened while feeding, pull gently on the corner of their mouth to release the vacuum (First Steps Nutrition Trust, 2018; NHS 2018, UNICEF 2018).
Babies feed in bursts of sucking with short pauses to rest. When your baby slows their sucking and swallowing, you can help ‘pace’ the feed by partially moving the bottle teat out and then letting them draw it in again. This mimics the stop-start motion of breastfeeding. This can also help avoid over-feeding your baby. Interrupting the feed from time to time gives your baby a chance to register how full they are and how much more they need – helping them to control their intake (UNICEF, 2018).
If your baby gets upset at having the teat removed, tip the bottle downwards while it remains in their mouth, which will stop or slow down the flow. Holding the bottle horizontal to ground with only a slight tilt will also ensure that baby doesn’t get milk while they’re pausing for a rest (UNICEF 2018).
Winding your baby
Your little one may need short breaks during their feed and may need to be burped. Hold them upright and rock or rub and gently pat their back to help them bring up any wind. Continue feeding your baby when they are more comfortable.
Some babies will need more winding than others. If your baby cries excessively or you are concerned about their feeding, talk to your health visitor or GP (UNICEF UK).
When you have finished feeding your baby, remember to throw away any unused formula milk as it may become contaminated and give baby an upset tummy.
Hot or cold milk?
Some babies are happy with their milk cool (room temperature) while others like it warm. Always check the temperature of the milk from your baby’s bottle on the inside of your wrist before you feed them to make sure it’s not too hot. This is necessary in order to avoid scalding their mouth. It should be warm or cool, not too hot. You don’t need to warm it up at all if you don’t want to or your baby doesn’t mind.
Sometimes in the early days, feeding your baby can seem overwhelming and time-consuming, especially if they feed little and often and you have to get up countless times in the night.
It can be helpful to remember that as your baby grows bigger, they will get more efficient at feeding and their milk feeds usually space out more as they grow. If you are concerned about your baby’s feeding talk to your health visitor or GP (UNICEF UK).
This page was last reviewed in March 2021.
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 support line 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.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support in many areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of our NCT New Baby courses 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.
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DiSantis KI, Hodges EA, Johnson SL, Fisher JO. (2011) The role of responsive feeding in overweight during infancy and toddlerhood: a systematic review. International Journal of Obesity. 35:480-492. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/ijo20113 [Accessed 29 March 2021]
First Steps Nutrition Trust (2018). Infant formula and responsive bottle feeding. Available from: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/Infant-formula-and-responsive-bottle-feeding.pdf [Accessed 29 March 2021]
NHS Choices. (2016) How to make up baby formula. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/making-up-infant-formula/ [Accessed 29 March 2021]
NHS Choices. (2018) Bottle-feeding advice. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/bottle-feeding-advice/ [Accessed 29 March 2021]
NHS (2015) Guide to bottle feeding. Available at: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2008/02/start4life_guide_to_bottle_-feeding.pdf [Accessed 29th March 2021].
NHS (2019) Breastfeeding: the first few days. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/breastfeeding-first-days.aspx#building [Accessed 29th March 2021].
UNICEF (2016). A guide to infant formula for parents who are bottle feeding. Available from: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/12/Parents-guide-to-infant-formula.pdf [Accessed 29 March 2021]
UNICEF UK Infosheet. (2016) Responsive feeding: supporting close and loving relationships. Available from: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/Responsive-Feeding-Infosheet-Unicef-UK-Baby-Friendly-Initiative.pdf [Accessed 29 March 2021]
UNICEF. (2019) Infant formula and responsive bottle feeding: A guide for parents. Available from: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/baby-friendly-resources/bottle-feeding-resources/infant-formula-responsive-bottle-feeding-guide-for-parents/ [Accessed 29 March 2021]