Bottle Feeding

Bottle feeding may seem like hard work at first until you get into a routine of sterilising bottles and preparing feeds. Once you're organised, you'll be able to relax and really enjoy feeding. Feeding is the best time to hold your baby close in your arms and one advantage of bottle feeding is that fathers can share in this enjoyment.

Baby milk (infant formula)

Baby milk, also called infant formula or artificial milk, usually comes in powder form. It is usually cow's milk that has been specially treated so that babies can digest it. And it has the right balance of vitamins and minerals for a young baby. Baby milks based on soya protein are also available but they are not usually given at this young age.

Ordinary cow's milk, condensed milk, evaporated milk, dried milk, goat's milk, or any other type of milk should never be given to a baby. They are not suitable. If you have any worries about the baby milk you are giving your baby, ask advice from your midwife, health visitor or GP.

There are a number of different brands of baby milk available in the shops. 'Ready-to-feed' baby milks in cartons are also available in some places. This is generally more expensive than powdered milk but may be useful in an emergency or if you're away from home. Once opened, the carton should be stored in the fridge and thrown away after 24 hours.

Although formula milk contains vitamins, you may be advised to give your baby vitamin drops from the age of six months onwards, or earlier in some special cases. You can buy these at the Child Health Clinic or any pharmacy.

Soya-based infant formula

If you have chosen to bottle feed but your baby cannot tolerate cow's milk formula, your GP or health visitor may have advised that you feed your baby with a formula based on soya. These formulae are made wholly from plants and so vegan parents may prefer to use them instead of cow's milk formulae. Remember though that breast milk is the best food for your baby.

There has recently been some concern over phytoestrogens, a natural component of the soya bean. There is no evidence at present that feeding your baby with soya-based formulae will cause any problems, but research is being undertaken to give a better understanding of the effects phytoestrogens have on the body. If you are using soya-based formulae because of cow's milk intolerance, remember that babies can grow out of allergies so it may be possible to introduce cow's milk into your baby's diet as he or she gets older. Do not make any changes to your baby's diet without first seeking advice from your GP or health visitor.


You may be advised to give your baby water between feeds if he or she cries, in case the baby is thirsty rather than hungry. This is not necessary. Even in very hot countries no extra water is needed. This is true for both breast and bottle-fed babies. Offer your baby a feed even if she or he has been fed recently. It is important to feed on demand since babies often don't conform to routine. This is particularly important for breastfed babies because they increase the milk supply by increasing the frequency of feeds. If your baby still won't settle, go through the checklist.

'Because Ellen was bottle-fed we both fed her. I used to do it in the evenings and most of the feeds at weekends.

We started to do it to give Karen a rest, but in the end I wanted to do it. It brought the baby closer. She's very close to me now.'

(A father)

'When I saw women breastfeeding at my postnatal group, I felt that we'd missed out by using bottles. I'll give breastfeeding a try next time.'

Bottles and Teats

You'll need at least six bottles and teats. This is to make sure that you always have at least one or two bottles clean, sterilised and ready for use. Ask your midwife, health visitor or other mothers if you want advice on what kind to buy.

You should always buy new teats and it's best if you can buy new bottles too. Check regularly to make sure the bottles are in good condition. If they're badly scratched, you won't be able to sterilise them properly. If in doubt, ask your midwife or health visitor for advice.

Making up the feed

When you're preparing formula milk, always follow the instructions on the tin exactly. Remember to put the boiled water into the bottle first. The milk powder has been very carefully balanced for your baby, so don't be tempted to add extra powder to make a 'stronger feed' as this could be harmful to your baby. Never use less or more than instructed and don't add any other ingredients such as sugar, honey, rusks or baby rice.

If you're worried, your midwife or health visitor will advise you how much milk your baby is likely to need. If you make up more than your baby wants, throw away what is left at the end of the feed. You will probably find it suits your routine to make up a number of feeds in advance. Cool the capped bottles quickly under cold running water and put them in the fridge as soon as possible. Don't keep the made up milk for longer than 24 hours.


Your baby will gradually settle into a routine. Babies vary in how often they want to feed and how much they want to take. Some may be content with feeds every three to four hours and others may want smaller quantities more often. Respond to your baby's needs and feed when he or she is hungry, just as you would if you were breastfeeding. In the same way, don't try to force your baby to finish a bottle. He or she may have had enough for the time being or simply want a rest.

The temperature of the milk

Before you start to feed your baby always check that the milk is not too hot by dripping some on the inside of your wrist. Some babies don't mind cold milk. Others prefer it warm. If you want to warm the milk a little, place the bottle upright in some hot water, keeping the teat out of the water. Don't keep the milk warm for more than 20 minutes before the feed as germs can breed in the warmth. Never warm the milk in a microwave oven as this is unsafe. The milk continues to heat for a time after you take it out of the microwave, even though the outside of the bottle may feel cold. The milk inside may be very hot and could scald your baby's mouth.

A comfortable position

Have everything you need ready before you start feeding.

Find a comfortable position in which you can hold your baby while you are feeding. Give your baby time. Some babies take some milk, pause for a nap and then wake up for more. So be patient.

The teat

As you feed, keep the bottle tilted so that the teat is always full of milk. Otherwise your baby will be taking in air. If the teat becomes flattened while you are feeding pull gently on the bottle to release the vacuum. If the teat becomes blocked, replace it with another sterile teat. Teats do come in different shapes and with different hole sizes. You may have to try several before you find the one that suits your baby. If the hole is too small your baby will not get enough milk. If it's too big it will come too fast. Check that the teat is not torn or damaged.

After the feed

Gently rub or pat your baby's back for a while to see whether there is any wind to come up. There's no need to overdo this. Wind is not such a problem as many people think. But your baby will probably enjoy the rubbing and closeness to you after the feed.

If you are bottle feeding and you're on Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance you can get tokens for free milk and vitamins for your baby. Vitamins may be recommended from six months or earlier in some cases.

Using bottled water

If you use bottled water to make up a feed, for example on holiday, it must be boiled and then cooled first. Use spring water not mineral water. Use still water, not fizzy.

Preparing a feed

Make sure your hands are absolutely clean.

Boil some water in the kettle and let it cool.

Take a sterilised bottle and teat.

Take the cooled water and fill the bottle to the right place using the measuring marks.

Measure the exact amount of powder using the special scoop provided with the milk. Level off the powder in the scoop using a clean dry knife. Don't pack the powder down at all.

Add the powder to the water in the bottle.

Screw on the cap and shake well until the powder has dissolved.

Store the bottle in the fridge if you're not using it straight away Cleaning and sterilising

It's important to keep bottles and teats, and other equipment used in feeding, absolutely clean to protect your baby against infection. This means sterilising as well as washing. There are a number of different ways to do this. You can use:

a chemical steriliser - there are several different brands in the shops, and consist of a sterilising tank to which you add cold water and a sterilising tablet or liquid;

a steam steriliser - this is a very quick and efficient method of sterilising; a microwave bottle steriliser - a microwave alone is not enough to sterilise the bottles without this equipment.

Ask your midwife, health visitor or other mothers about the different methods and which might be most appropriate for you. If you buy equipment, make sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Chemical sterilisation

Wash the bottles, teats and other equipment thoroughly in hot water using washing-up liquid. Get rid of every trace of milk using a bottle brush for the inside of the bottles. You may have been advised to use salt to clean the teats, but this is no longer recommended. Squirt water through the teats. This will make sure the holes are clear.

Rinse thoroughly in clean running water.

To make up the solution, follow the instructions that come with the sterilising tablets or liquid. Put the bottles and teats and other equipment (but nothing metal) in the solution and leave for the time given in the instructions. The tank will have a floating lid that keeps everything under the water or you can use a large plate to keep the bottles immersed. Make sure there are no air bubbles inside the bottles. Put the teats and caps in upside down to prevent air being trapped. Once the equipment is sterilised you should not add new items or the whole solution will be contaminated.

Make sure your hands are absolutely clean when you take out the bottles and teats to make up the feeds. When you take out the bottles, shake off the water. It is not necessary to rinse the bottles but, if you do, use cooled boiled water. Do not use tap water as this will make them unsterile again.

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