Thinking about bottle-feeding your baby? Whether you’re giving them baby formula or expressed breastmilk, we’ve got all the bottle-feeding basics you need to get started.
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There's a lot to think about when it comes to bottle-feeding your baby, especially if you've never done it before or you've been breastfeeding up until now.
But don't panic; bottle-feeding is easy once you know how.
Read on to find information on anything you may be worried or unsure about – from the best position to bottle-feed your baby in, to learning how to sterilise bottles and mix up a formula feed.
Plus, Netmums' official midwife Leah Hazard offers her tips and expertise, too.
Grab a bottle and let's begin!
What do I need to bottle-feed my baby?
Before you get started, make sure you’ve got everything you need to safely and successfully bottle-feed your baby. You’ll need:
- steriliser or sterilising tablets
- formula (if you’re formula feeding your baby)
- a breast pump (if you’re expressing breast milk)
There are also lots of accessories you might want to buy, such as bottle brushes for easier cleaning, powder boxes for on-the-go feeds, or prep machines that make up feeds in minutes.
To learn more, check out our top bottle-feeding buys .
How do I make up a bottle for my baby?
Firstly, make sure your baby’s bottles and teats are clean and sterilised . This will help protect your little one from infections (more on this below).
You should also make sure to wash your hands.
When it comes to making up the bottle, if you’re giving your baby formula milk, Leah says:
‘Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for making up formula, and ensure you and your workspace are meticulously clean.
‘Hand gel isn’t always necessary though before you feed ... washing with good old soap and water will be enough.’
It's important to follow the manufacturer's instructions about how much formula powder to use. Adding extra powder could make your baby constipated, and adding too little powder could mean they don't get all the nutrients they need.
It's also essential to always use boiled water to make up your baby's feeds. Boiling the water kills any bacteria that could otherwise make your baby ill. Never use bottled water to make up your baby's feeds, as it's not sterile and usually contains high levels of sodium, which isn't good for your baby.
Once you've boiled the fresh tap water for your baby, leave the water to cool for no more than 30 minutes – so that the water stays above 70C. Pour the water into the bottle first while it is still hot, then add the powdered formula according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Then cool your baby's feed so that it isn't too hot for them to drink. You can do this by holding the bottle (with the lid firmly on) under cold running water.
Test the temperature of the milk before giving it to your baby. You can do this by dabbing some on the inside of your wrist; it should feel warm or cool, but not hot.
The NHS also recommends making up feeds as-and-when your baby needs them. Feeds that have been sitting around for a while could make your baby ill.
How do I bottle-feed my baby?
Feeding your baby is a lovely time to bond with them, so enjoy it! Follow these simple tips as recommended by the NHS for a successful bottle-feed …
- Make sure you're comfortable. Your baby may take a while to feed, so let them take their time.
- Support your baby’s head so they can swallow and breathe easily. It’s also a nice idea to look into their eyes while they're feeding.
- To encourage your baby to feed, gently brush the teat against their lips. Let them draw the teat into their mouth on their own.
- Make sure there is milk in the teat rather than air. To do this, keep tilting the bottle as your baby feeds.
- Let your baby guide the feed. They'll let you know when they've had enough.
- Throw away any leftover milk at the end of the feed.
If you're struggling with night feeds, the Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep could make your life SO much easier as it makes up bottles for you in a matter of minutes, keeping your hands free to soothe and cuddle your little one. See more details here at Boots.
What’s the best position to bottle-feed my baby?
To safely bottle-feed your baby, always keep them in an upright position, and support their head so they can breathe and swallow comfortably.
NEVER leave your baby alone while they are feeding, as they may choke on the milk.
‘Any position where your baby is close to you, upright and can be clearly seen while feeding [is ideal].
‘If you’ve been used to breastfeeding (or even if you haven’t) it’s absolutely fine to snuggle your baby close in a similar position.’
How do I choose formula for my baby?
According to Leah and the NHS, there is no significant difference between baby formulas. So you may end up trying a few until you find one that suits your baby best.
Still, it's good to know that all formulas must meet legal requirements to support adequate growth and nutrition for babies. So whichever you choose, you know that your baby will be getting the right fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Here’s our baby formula guide to help you decide which one is right for your baby.
It’s fine to switch baby formula if the one you’re giving your baby doesn’t seem to agree with them. Talk to your health visitor for advice.
However, changing formulas frequently can upset babies. It can take at least three days to see an improvement if you are trying a different formula for medical reasons, so try not to give up on one too quickly.
Remember: always speak to your health visitor or GP if you start formula feeding and notice that your baby isn't gaining weight or is having recurrent sickness and diarrhoea after a feed.
It's worth noting that your baby only needs formula milk for the first year of their life. Although many brands sell follow-on milk for babies six months plus, or growing-up milk for older babies, there's no real benefit to them. Instead, you can stick to infant formula for the first year, then switch to cow's milk once your baby is a year old.
How do I know how much milk my baby needs?
Wondering how often to bottle-feed your baby and how much to give them? Your baby’s tummy is tiny, so they'll only need a small amount of milk to begin with.
NHS guidelines say that most babies will need around 150 to 200ml per kilo of their weight a day , from the end of their first week until they are six months old. Newborn babies will only need quite small amounts of formula to begin with in their first week.
However, every baby is different and this amount will vary. There are different factors that may mean your baby wants more, or less, milk – for example, if they are having a growth spurt , they feel unwell, or they have teething pain .
‘Like breastfeeding, you can feed on demand: as much as your baby wants, whenever they want. It’s impossible to overfeed. Babies will bring up or refuse excess amounts of milk.’
How do I burp my baby?
Your baby might want to take short breaks during their bottle-feed, and they may also need to burp. To wind or burp your baby, Leah recommends the following …
Place your baby upright against your shoulder, or lay them gently belly-down across your lap.
Support their head in both positions.
Rub and/or gently pat their back until they burp.
Your baby might not burp or pass wind after every feed.
How do I choose the right bottle and teat for my baby?
All babies are different, and your baby may not necessarily like the teat that is sold with your bottle, or is recommended for their age, says Leah.
Instead, you may need to experiment with teats of different sizes and flow rates to find one that works best for you and your baby.
According to the NHS , there is no evidence that one type of teat or bottle is better than any other, so don't worry about experimenting.
How do I sterilise my baby's bottles and teats?
You can clean your baby's bottle after each use using a bottle brush (to clean and to make sure the teat isn't blocked), rinsing the bottle afterwards.
To sterilise, you can choose between using a steam steriliser, a chemical steriliser, or sterilising by boiling.
Steam sterilisers will either be a plug-in electrical unit, or a system that can go in the microwave, and they take about 10 minutes.
Chemical sterilisers use water with a sterilising liquid or dissolvable tablets to clean, which takes about 30 minutes.
Boiling your feeding equipment just uses a pan of water and takes about 10 minutes.
Check out our picks of the best baby bottle sterilisers .
Can I make up bottles of baby formula in advance?
To save time, or if you're going out for the day, you may be wondering if you can make up bottles of baby formula in advance.
Making formula to use later and storing it incorrectly could cause harmful bacteria to grow. Instead, it's important to prepare and store your baby's bottle-feeds carefully by following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Find out how to transport your baby's milk safely when you're out and about.
Official advice states that you should make up a fresh feed when your baby needs it.
If this is not possible, you can:
- Measure the right amount of feeding powder and put it in a clean, dry container. Sterilise a bottle. Boil water and put it in a vacuum flask to keep it hot. Take all this out with you, and make up the feed when you need it. Ensure the water is still hot.
- Use a carton of ready-to-feed liquid baby formula. These can be more expensive, but can also be more convenient if you need to feed your baby when out and about. Once open, these cartons should be stored in the fridge and used within 24 hours.
- As a last resort, you can also prepare the feed at home, cool under running cold water, and pop it in the fridge for an hour. Then take it out of the fridge and use an ice pack to keep it cold. Use within four hours.
For night feeds, you might also want to think about using ready-mixed formula so you’re not waiting around for the boiled water to cool.
Do I need to warm my baby’s bottle?
Whether you warm up your baby's bottle will depend on their preferences – they might prefer their milk warm or they may not mind that it's cold. You'll learn from how they respond to feeds.
Remember that you should never warm up your baby's formula in a microwave. Using a microwave can heat the milk unevenly and can burn your baby's mouth.
Instead, you can warm the feed using a bottle warmer, or by placing the bottle (with the lid firmly on) in a container of warm water.
If you’re giving your baby warmed milk, remember to always check the temperature by shaking a few drops onto the inside of your wrist to make sure it’s not too hot.
Reflux and colic: what to do
It’s not unusual for babies to be unsettled sometimes, or to bring up small amounts of regurgitated milk during or after feeds. Make sure to keep a muslin square close by in case you need to clean up any bits of vomit.
It's normal for babies to bring up small amounts of milk, and this can be down to things like: drinking milk too quickly (if the hole in their teat is too big), or your baby drinking more milk than they want. It can also help to sit your baby upright after a feed too.
However, Leah adds:
‘If your baby is constantly unsettled and distressed or does large or painful vomits after every feed, this is not normal.
‘Genuine reflux is a medical condition that’s different from just having a colicky or ‘grizzly’ baby, and if you suspect your baby may have a genuine, chronic feeding issue, speak to your GP.’
Plus, if your baby vomits a lot, is violently sick, seems to be in pain, or you're worried for any other reason, then you should talk to your health visitor or GP.
Find out more about colic here , and you can speak to your health visitor for advice if you think your baby has reflux or colic as well.
You can buy special types of bottles that claim to help reduce the symptoms of colic, we highly recommend those by Dr.Browns – see more details here at Amazon.
When should I move my baby from a bottle to a cup?
It's a good idea to introduce a cup or a beaker when your baby is around six months old. You can offer them sips of water with meals (your baby will likely start on solid foods at around six months too).
Try not to let your baby use a bottle after they're one year old. It's bad for their teeth and could also affect their language development.
While you can give your baby sips of water, NHS guidelines say you should continue to give them breastmilk or formula milk until they are at least one year old.
Cow's milk can only be introduced as a main drink from one year onwards, though you can use it in food from six months.
Looking for more information on bottle-feeding? Read our articles below and exchange ideas with fellow parents in the forum.