Wondering how to bottle-feed a baby? You’d think it would be as simple as presenting a bottle and letting them go for it, right? If only. Just like breastfeeding, bottle-feeding requires practice to nut out. And even once you’ve got the basics down pat, challenges may arise. Like, what do you do if your baby squirms and cries while bottle-feeding? Or what if your baby falls asleep while bottle-feeding? WHAT THEN?!
Don’t worry, mama. We’re here to answer all your questions and outline how to properly bottle-feed a baby. We even got professional input from Australian Registered Midwife, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and mother of three Susie Prout. (#legit)
There are a few reasons you might choose to use a bottle:
- Because you’re feeding your baby formula.
- Because you’re exclusively pumping.
- Because you’re supplementing breast milk with formula.
- Because your partner is helping you with feeds, you need to travel or spend time away from your baby, or you just want the option to feed with a bottle (read: have some wines!)
Benefits of bottle-feeding could include:
- Seeing exactly how much milk your baby is getting (useful if you’re working with a pediatrician to increase your baby’s weight gain, or if you’re unsure about your breast milk supply).
- Not having the sole responsibility of feeding (useful if you’re returning to work, for example).
- Giving your nipples a much-needed break (useful because no one likes sore nips).
How to bottle-feed a baby: step by step
Step 1: Get your gear
- A bottle (duh). Susie recommends using a baby feeding bottle with, “a slow flow teat that’s long and stretchy, rather than wide and hard”.
- Formula and safe water, or pumped breast milk.
- Equipment for sterilizing bottles after use. (The World Health Organization has tips for this.)
Step 2: Prep your bottle
How to prepare a baby bottle with formula milk:
- Keep your hands, benchtops, bottles and equipment clean while preparing a feed.
- If using powder or liquid concentrate formula, get your water ready. If you’re not sure about the quality of your tap water, boil some and then cool it to room temperature.
- Follow the instructions on the formula package to a tee. This will guide you on how much powder/liquid formula and water to include.
How to prepare a baby bottle with breast milk:
- If you’re using frozen or refrigerated breast milk, warm it by standing it in a bowl of hot water. Don’t heat it in the microwave.
- Pour room-temperature breast milk into your bottle carefully AF (because spilling breast milk is the single most devastating thing in life).
Step 3: Get in position
Susie recommends that the best position to bottle-feed a baby is “a semi-upright position with their neck supported. Hold the bottle in a horizontal to 45-degree angle.”
Tempted to hold the bottle vertically so your baby can glug it down faster? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against this and suggests stopping for burp breaks during feeds, too.
Step 4: Give the bottle
Let your baby drink for as long as they like, and be led by them on when they’re full. The Raising Children Network notes that “some babies never drink the ‘required’ amount for their age and size”. Forcing it isn’t the best way to bottle-feed a baby, and may turn them off it.
Step 5: Burp
Always burp your baby after a milk feed.
Bottle-feeding tips and troubleshooting
Baby squirms and cries while bottle-feeding
If your baby is fussy while bottle-feeding, there could be a few causes:
- They might not be hungry – try again later.
- They might be uncomfortable – try a different position.
- They might be over-hungry or overtired – try a nap or cuddles.
- They might not like the bottle and teat you’re using – try another! “Every baby is different and some babies prefer different teats over others,” says Susie.
Baby falls asleep while bottle-feeding
You could tickle their feet, burp them, or rub their head, legs and tummy to wake them up and continue feeding. Or just let them get those z’s and try another feed later.
Two precautions to note with bottles and sleep:
- Don’t store unused breast milk or formula longer than one hour after the bottle has been used, as it may get contaminated in this time.
- Never put a baby to bed with a bottle of formula or breast milk, unless you love the sound of TOOTH DECAY.
Baby spits out milk while bottle-feeding
This is really common, especially while babies are young and their digestive systems are still developing. It might be a sign of acid reflux, but you only need to be concerned if your baby seems to be in discomfort or isn’t gaining weight. Chat to your pediatrician if you’re worried. And if you’re simply frustrated, invest in some vomit cloths.
How to bottle feed a breastfed baby
Susie says, “we’re trying to help babies become familiar with a completely foreign way of feeding. The way babies suck on a breast nipple and the way they suck on a bottle are different. It’s tricky for them to do both well.”
The key, she says, is persistence.
“Try a few times a day. Try when the baby is hungry, not hungry, tired, not tired, get someone else to try, try when the baby is distracted out in the garden. Try different positions.”
Just keep trying, mama. She also notes that “once your baby gets to six months they can try drinking expressed breast milk in a sippy cup, small open cup with assistance, or in a strawed cup.”
Baby refusing breast after bottle-feeding
When babies learn to feed with a bottle, they may get confused when offered a breast again. They could even be outraged, actually, being forced to wait for the let-down as opposed to getting instant gratification as they do with bottle feeds.
Again, persistence is key. Keep offering the breast, try new situations and positions, and you could even try to ‘trick’ them by starting with a bottle, then switching over to your nipple before they notice what’s going on. Ha, psych!
Whether you’re a first-time mama or you’re a few years into the gig, there are always new things to learn. Learn more about navigating newborns and understanding infants here.
Expert contributor: Susie Prout
Susie is a Registered Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Susie lives in Perth with her husband and 3 small children. She runs a private lactation consultancy business as well as an online Breastfeeding Sucess Membership and program to teach new mamas and pregnant ladies how to successfully breastfeed with ease.