How to bottle feed a baby - everything you need to know

Our guide to bottle and combination feeding including choosing, making and giving your baby a bottle feed

In Baby

7 minutes read

Quick points for mum

Give your body time to adjust if you’ve decided to change from breast to bottle feeding

Try different bottles and teats to find one your baby likes

And when supporting mum

Offer to do the first feeds until your baby gets used to feeding from a bottle

Always make up a fresh bottle and use immediately

When breastfeeding isn’t possible for whatever reason, you’ll be using a baby bottle. You might have read that some babies take to it straightaway, while others need a little encouragement. So to help you out here’s our advice on how to introduce a bottle.

  • You can give your baby expressed breast milk or formula milk or a mix of both. If you’re moving to formula, ideally use expressed breast milk first to help your baby get used to the teat and feeding from a bottle
  • Some babies will refuse a bottle and expect a breastfeed if they can smell mum nearby. So try letting someone other than mum give the first feeds
  • Don’t wait until your baby is very hungry – they’ll only get more frustrated
  • If your baby makes a really big fuss, continue breast feeding before trying again. Eventually your baby will get used to the bottle
  • Hold the bottle at an angle, so the teat and bottleneck are always full of milk decreasing the chance of your baby getting trapped wind

“Guy did the late feed using my expressed breast milk in a bottle – this meant he could help out, and got our baby used to bottles"

How to start combination feeding

Combination feeding involves supplementing breastfeeding with bottle feeds using formula or expressed breast milk. If you’re thinking of introducing a bottle, here are some tips to help.

  • Wait until breastfeeding is well-established as any changes to a breastfeeding routine can interfere with mum’s supply. If you are using formula, combination feeding will reduce the milk you produce
  • Offer your baby one bottle-feed a day to begin with, to give mum’s breasts time to adjust and to let baby get used to feeding from a bottle. Try to establish a combination feeding routine by bottle-feeding or breastfeeding at the same time each day
  • Introduce combination feeding a few weeks before mum goes back to work to give baby a chance to get used to bottle-feeding
  • Formula milks also come in ready-to-use cartons which are handy for combination feeding
Baby bottles and pacifiers inside sterilizer

Recommended bottles for babies

It seems there are as many different types of bottle and teat as there are babies but you’ll work out what’s right between the two of you. Here’s a quick guide on what to look out for.

  • Shape – Orthodontic teats are shaped to encourage correct oral development while nipple shaped teats are useful for breastfed babies who are combination feeding
  • Material – Silicone lasts longer, but latex teats are softer making them easier to start with
  • Flow – The teat hole size allows milk to flow at different rates. Too big and the milk will come out too fast. Too small, and it takes too much work to get the milk out. Each teat manufacturer has their own flow system but generally speaking, slow is for newborns, medium for 3+ months, fast for 6+ months old, and variable adjusts to the baby’s sucking action and is suitable for thicker or special feeds
  • Anti-colic bottles – These have air vents, tubes or collapsible bags to reduce how much air your baby takes in. A variable flow teat may also be helpful

If your baby is six months or older, you may want to skip bottles and try using a lidded cup or beaker instead.

Switching from breast milk to formula?

If you are thinking of changing to formula feeding, there are a few things to consider.

  • Your body will take time to adjust and make less milk so wear a well-supported bra and keep some breast pads handy
  • You may need to express a little to relieve full breasts, but don’t express too much as that will over-stimulate milk production
  • Watch for your baby’s individual ‘I’m full’ signs like letting go of the teat or falling asleep
  • Look out for a growth spurt around 10 days, six weeks and three months when your baby may be hungrier than usual

How much formula should I give my baby?

Babies, just like the rest of us, have different appetites and they change over time. Make sure you follow the instructions on the pack when preparing the bottle. And if your baby was premature follow the advice of your health care professional.

Can I make up bottles ahead of time?

Ideally a powdered formula feed should be made up as and when you need it, but that’s not always possible when you’re out and about so here’s some guidelines

  • Prepare according to the instructions on the package
  • It's always best to prepare your feeds as and when required, and to not keep them for longer than two hours

How do I warm up a bottle of ready to use milk?

  • Don’t warm up a previously prepared bottle, it’s always advisable to make bottles fresh, just before a feed
  • If you’re strapped for time, consider a ready to use bottle. Warm the bottle in a baby bottle warmer or place in a container of warm water – but never leave it for more than 15 minutes
  • Don't use a microwave to warm a bottle as it unevenly heats the feed and may burn your baby's mouth
  • Shake the bottle before giving it to your baby so there are no hot spots and remember to always test the temperature on your wrist first too

How do I make up formula when out and about?

  • Take a bottle of made up formula you’ve chilled in the fridge for at least one hour. Pack it in a cool bag with an ice pack. Use within four hours
  • Alternatively, fill a vacuum flask with boiling water. Measure scoops of formula into a sterile container. Mix the formula in sterile bottles using the water – make sure it’s still hot. Cool the milk and use within two hours, testing it on your wrist before feeding your baby
  • If you prefer, when you are out and about you can use ready to use liquid

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The best way to feed a baby is to breastfeed, as breast milk provides the ideal balanced diet and protection against illness for your baby and also many non-nutritional benefits for both baby and mother. We recommend that you speak to your healthcare professional when deciding on your choice of feeding your baby. Professional guidance should also be sought on the preparation for and maintenance of breastfeeding. If you do choose to breastfeed, it's important to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Infant formula is intended to replace breast milk when mothers choose not to breastfeed or if for some reason they are unable to do so. A decision not to breastfeed, or to introduce partial bottle-feeding, will reduce the supply of breast milk. If for any reason you choose not to breastfeed, do remember that such a decision can be difficult to reverse. Using infant formula also has social and financial implications which must be considered. Infant formula should always be prepared, used and stored as instructed on the label, in order to avoid risks to a baby’s health.

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