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Bottle feeding your baby

Here we discuss bottle feeding with information and tips on how to bottle feed your baby and introducing a bottle.

You can feed your baby with a bottle in whichever way feels natural and comfortable to you both. If you're bottle feeding a newborn it helps to be aware of ‘early feeding cues’, which are signals that your baby is hungry. You may notice your baby putting their hands to their mouth or turning their head to the side. If you wait until they start crying for milk, your baby is likely to find it more difficult to settle for a feed (see section How much milk should I give them below).

Tips on bottle feeding your baby

Hold your baby in your arms, across your body, and close to you. It helps to hold your baby fairly upright, with their head supported so that they can breathe and swallow comfortably. Babies shouldn’t be flat on their backs to feed to avoid choking so support your baby so they're slightly raised and able to look at you.

Gently place the bottle teat against their lower lip, pointing upwards – they’ll probably open their mouth so you can then place the teat inside. Tip the bottle up at an angle so the teat fills with milk, and be guided by your baby’s reactions. They should be able to suck and swallow, without spluttering, and without pushing the teat out with their tongue. The bottle teat needs to be full of milk during the feed, so that your baby doesn’t swallow too much air.

When your baby slows their sucking and swallowing, you can help ‘pace’ the feed by partially moving the teat out and then letting them to draw it in once again. This mimics the stop-start of breastfeeding, and helps you avoid over-feeding your baby. 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. This can take a bit of getting used to, particularly if you're introducing bottle feeding to a newborn baby, so don't be discouraged if it doesn't go perfectly the first few times.

Who should bottle feed your baby?

Try to keep the majority of bottle feeds for you and perhaps one other trusted person in the early weeks and months. Babies build up trust and confidence during feeding, gradually coming to know what to expect. This is part of the development of healthy emotional and social attachment.

How much milk should I give them?

Babies will differ in how much they drink and how often they feed, and how quickly they take what they need. It’s generally best to feed them when they’re hungry and not worry about them finishing each bottle. You can usually trust your baby to feed according to their appetite so be guided by them. In the early weeks, you’ll almost certainly find your baby is unpredictable, and their needs may change day by day. Your baby will show by their behaviour – increasing alertness, head movements, mouth movements, hand waving – that they need milk, and you’ll find that feeding is calmer and easier if you respond before they get upset. Most babies space their formula feeds further apart as they get older, and you can expect a regular period when they stay asleep without needing a feed for a longer time.

Try to respond to their needs by not encouraging them to have more than they seem to want (unless you have been advised to give more by your healthcare professional). Don’t worry if your baby seems to ask for more milk than you’d expect, either. Some babies have larger appetites; some babies go through periods when they need a lot more and then less. Your health visitor can help you assess if all is well.

What if my baby fights the bottle?

If your baby fights the bottle and is hard to feed after the first 20 or 30mls or so then perhaps they need a break at this point. You could try changing their position, putting them over your shoulder to see if they need burping and then offer them the bottle again. If they're not interested, perhaps they need to feed little and often – this is normal for some babies. If this doesn't help, ask your health visitor to watch you feed them, as she may have ideas to help, and suggestions on holding your baby differently.

If you have breastfed your baby so far, they may be reluctant to take a bottle at first. The different sucking actions needed may confuse them and they may not take it from you. There are lots of different things you can try to help your baby. To begin with, maybe ask someone else to offer a bottle and try a variety of teats, softened with warm, boiled water. Another tip is to hold your baby in a different position from your usual breastfeeding one. It may help your baby get used to the new way of feeding. Find out more about mixed feeding here.

What should I do if my baby brings their milk up?

If your baby always brings back their milk this can cause them to be hungry sooner. Some babies are like this, and you have probably already worked out that feeding them means covering them in a muslin cloth or towel to protect yours and their clothes. You can try holding them more upright when you feed, or experimenting with a different teat – bigger or smaller holed (see below).

If your baby is crying for long periods and nothing you do seems to comfort them, they may have colic or reflux. Talk to a healthcare professional if you do have any concerns.

What sort of bottles and teats should I use?

You can use whichever bottles and teats you and your baby prefer. Your midwife or health visitor can help you choose if you need; talking to other parents about their choices can also help. You can also buy teats with different sized holes that vary the flow depending on your baby’s age and ability to suck and swallow.

Replace bottles and teats when they look worn, because it’s not possible to keep them clean otherwise. Worn teats can disintegrate or split.

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.