How to Bottle-Feed A Baby
Thinking about bottle-feeding? Whether you’ll be feeding expressed milk, formula exclusively, or supplementing your breast milk, these tips can help you start bottle-feeding your baby with confidence.
Bottle-feeding a newborn
Your baby was sucking in utero, so in most cases, they’ll get the hang of sucking from a baby bottle nipple right away. It’s a natural, instinctive reflex that kicks in when the baby’s mouth touches a breast or bottle nipple.
There are several reasons why new parents may choose to bottle feed, such as convenience. Mama can take a little break and let a partner, other children, grandma, or someone else share in the feeding. Also, if you decide to use formula, you don’t have to pump and anyone can make a formula bottle.
When to introduce bottle-feeding to a baby
Planning to formula-feed exclusively? You’ll introduce your newborn to the bottle as soon as the first hour after birth. Labor and delivery was work for them too! They arrive hungry and eager to eat and bond.
Do you intend to breastfeed? If you’re nursing your newborn now but want to start offering your baby a bottle, experts say to wait until breastfeeding is established, about three to four weeks. Any earlier than that could potentially impact your milk production since your breasts need stimulation to make enough milk.1
How to bottle-feed a newborn
Every baby is different. Some newborns will take a bottle right away, while others need some time to adapt to the change. A bottle nipple is a new sensation and the suckling movements required for feeding are slightly different.2 Here are some tips on bottle-feeding your baby.
How to make a bottle
Whether you’re using ready-to-pour, liquid concentrate, or powdered formula, follow the label instructions for preparation based on the amount you want to serve. Measure carefully every time you make a bottle. Improper formula preparation could upset your baby's digestive system or affect their nutrient intake.
Baby formula and breast milk actually do not need to be warmed prior to feeding.3 A room temperature or even cool nourishing bottle of milk or formula is fine if your baby likes it. But if you prefer to warm the bottle, there are several options for doing so.
- Submerge the bottle in a pot or a bowl filled with warm (not boiling) water until the milk reaches the ideal temperature.
- Place the bottle under the faucet and run some warm water over it.
Are you pumping your milk? These same methods work for breast milk that’s been refrigerated or thawing from the freezer.
There are a couple of “don’ts” to keep in mind when preparing your baby’s bottle:
- Never microwave a bottle. While it may seem like a timesaver, the microwave heats liquid unevenly, causing dangerous “hot spots” that could burn your little one’s mouth and throat.
- Never add cereal or other food to a bottle of pumped breast milk or formula. It could increase your baby’s risk of choking.4
Test the bottle and check the temperature
Once you’ve prepared the bottle, tighten the bottle cap and swirl the breast milk or shake the formula. Check the temperature of the bottle contents by placing a few drops on your wrist. Make sure it isn’t too hot or cold; lukewarm or room temperature is perfect.
Feeding time is bonding time, so choose a quiet spot where you can enjoy each other, relaxed and undistracted. Support your baby’s head with your arm and cradle them in a semi-upright position, aligning their head and neck. Placing a pillow on your lap can make it more comfortable for you.
Keeping the bottle at an angle allows your baby to control the flow through sucking. It can also reduce the risk of choking, coughing, and ingesting too much air, which could lead to gas. If your little one wants to take a break, that’s okay. Follow their cues.
Switch sides from time to time. It gives your arms a break, changes your baby’s view, and may help them avoid developing a preference for a particular side.
Watch the nipple
The nipple’s hole size shouldn’t be too large or too small. If it’s big, it can cause milk or formula to flow too fast, putting your baby at risk of choking or swallowing excessive air. If you notice your baby gagging or letting milk dribble out, that could indicate that the nipple is flowing too quickly.
A hole that’s too small can slow down the flow, which can be frustrating and tiring for the baby who may become exhausted from sucking. Some signs to watch for include losing interest in sucking and biting or tugging on the nipple.
So what’s the right nipple size? The hole should allow milk to drip slowly when the bottle is held upside down.
Bottle-feeding a newborn is a beautiful experience for both you and your baby. But if you’re like many new parents, you may run into occasional bottle-feeding challenges. Perhaps your baby won’t take the bottle, or they struggle a bit when they do. Don’t panic. Most of these problems are entirely normal and, fortunately, pretty easy to resolve too.
Your baby falls asleep while feeding
A baby who takes a snooze while feeding could simply be well fed. A full tummy and the act of sucking can make a newborn tired. Eating takes a lot of energy. Your baby may also just be very relaxed and drowsy.
Still, it’s important that your baby eats enough, and if they haven’t, here are some strategies for rousing your little one.
- Change positions
- Gently blow on their cheeks or forehead or tickle their feet
- Burp them
- Feed in a well-lit area
- Undress the baby
- Change their diaper
- Sing sweet lullabies and talk to your baby to keep them engaged
Your baby refuses the bottle
Just like us grown-ups, babies can be choosy. They may not like certain textures or shapes. If your baby is battling the bottle, consider changing the bottle size and shape. Also, take a look at the nipple and neck of the bottle and check to see that the flow is not too slow.
Crying or squirming during bottle-feeding
Fussiness may be a result of gas. While gas is completely normal and very common in babies, it’s uncomfortable. Burping your baby a few times during the feeding may provide some relief.
The type of bottle or nipple you’re using may be contributing to gas. A vented, angled, or collapsible style bottle may be better, and be sure you’re using an age-appropriate nipple.
If your baby is fussy or crying after feeding, they could have an allergy to the cow's milk protein that’s in most baby formulas. It’s a common childhood food allergy that may cause issues such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, reflux, and gassiness. If you suspect a cow’s milk allergy, make an appointment with your pediatrician. They may suggest switching to a hypoallergenic formula.
Babies are still building their immune systems, which leaves them susceptible to the common cold. And sucking on a bottle can be tough for a little one if their tiny nose is stuffed up with mucus. Most colds are mild and should resolve by themselves. Some at-home remedies, such as giving your baby a warm bath or using a humidifier, may help open up nasal passages.5
Talk to your doctor
While some bottle-feeding issues can be managed at home, a baby who doesn’t feed well is at risk for dehydration and nutritional deficiencies. Speak with your doctor if you have any concerns or issues that don't improve.
Baby hunger Cues
Wouldn’t it be great if your baby could just tell you that they’re ready for lunch? Well, they’re already doing that. Infants have their own language, and it’s up to us to interpret it. Here are some signs that your little peanut is hungry.
- Sucking on their fist or hands
- Lip smacking
- Waking up restless
- Increasing alertness
- Mouth opening and closing
- Continued sucking after finishing the bottle
- Crying - This is one of the later signs of a hungry baby, so identifying some of the earlier cues first may help you avoid this stage. At this point, they're actually distressed, and it may be more difficult to calm them down to start feeding.6
How much milk should a baby drink?
A newborn will typically feed every two to three hours. During the first days, they may require about a half ounce per feeding, gradually increasing to two to three ounces per feeding by two weeks. But it’s okay to give them more if you’re noticing hunger cues.
By two months, babies will usually be eating every three to four hours with four to five ounces per feeding. And at six months, they may be eating up to eight ounces every four to five hours.7
Talk with your child’s doctor or nurse about how much milk or infant formula is right for your baby.
What kind of bottle should I use to feed my baby?
In your pre-parenthood days, perhaps you never dreamed that there would be such an abundance of bottles in the baby world. Glass, plastic, silicone, plastic with disposable liners, self-sterilizing bottles…the list goes on and on. How do you choose the right one? Here are some things to consider when narrowing down your bottle choices:
- Nipple shape, flow rate, and material
- Bottle material, including plastic, glass, silicone, and stainless steel
- Bottle shape, such as standard, angle-neck, wide, or vented which can help prevent air bubbles
- Ease of cleaning
Do your research, read reviews, and ask family, friends, and your healthcare provider for recommendations. Finding the optimal bottle can take some time, and you may have to try a few before settling on the best one for your baby.
Tips for baby bonding during bottle-feeding
Feeding times are special moments to connect with your baby. You’re nurturing your sweetheart with care and cuddles, expressing love, and building beautiful bonds. Here are some tips for creating physical and emotional closeness while bottle-feeding.
Engage in conversation
Speak to your baby softly and let them hear the sound of that familiar voice they heard from the womb. Read them a story or sing your favorite lullabies. Your baby won’t care if you don't have perfect pitch. Tell them about your day and prepare for that joyful day when they start giggling and babbling back.
Have skin-to-skin contact
Just because you’re not breastfeeding doesn’t mean you can’t have that important skin-to-skin contact that can help boost oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is sometimes called the “hormone of attachment”8 and plays a role in parent-child bonding and attachment. Unbutton or remove your shirt, take off your baby’s clothes, and simply snuggle, hug, and kiss your baby. Feel that rush of love? That’s oxytocin at work.
Look into their eyes
Eye contact is another oxytocin trigger. It’s hard to deny that tremendous sense of connection that happens when you gaze into your baby’s beautiful wide eyes. It strengthens the bond between the two of you and helps your baby feel safe and secure. Hold your sweet pea about 10-20 inches away since their eye focusing skills are still developing.
Transitioning from breastfeeding to bottle
If you’re ready to introduce your little eater to bottle-feeding, here are some steps that can help ease the transition.
Go slow. Try replacing one daily nursing session with a bottle. And remember, you don’t have to switch to formula. You can pump and feed your baby your breast milk. Do this for a full week, then gradually increase the bottle-feeding sessions.
Don’t rush. When making the move from breast to bottle, give yourself time to test out various feeding positions or explore different areas of your home that may help your baby (and you!) relax. If you’re short on time and your baby is resisting as you try to rush through the feeding, they’ll sense the stress. Don’t force it. Simply stop and attempt bottle-feeding another day.
Share the feeding. Sometimes a baby will be more likely to accept the first bottle from someone other than mama. If you’re cuddling with your baby, they can be confused and wonder why they’re not getting your breast.
Be patient. Some babies wean easily, and others take time, so try to be patient. Switching from the only source of nourishment they have known is a big deal for your baby. Your growing cutie pie will be using the bottle soon enough!
- Breast-Feeding Questions
- Mechanics of sucking: comparison between bottle feeding and breastfeeding
- Infant Formula Preparation and Storage
- Feeding From a Bottle
- Common cold in babies
- Learn how to tell when your baby is hungry—or full.
- How Often and How Much Should Your Baby Eat?
- Oxytocin and early parent-infant interactions: A systematic review