Bottle-feeding an infant is not rocket science, but it’s not necessarily easy either. Some babies take to the bottle like champs, while others require a bit more coaxing. In fact, introducing a bottle can be a process of trial and error.
This seemingly simple undertaking is made exponentially more challenging by the staggering plethora of bottle options, varying nipple flows, different formula types, and multiple feeding positions.
Yes, there’s a whole lot more to bottle-feeding than what meets the eye, so don’t be discouraged if your wee one is a bit fussy at first. You’ll soon find the routine — and products — that work for your little one. In the meantime, we’ve got you covered with all the bottle basics.
Once your bottle is prepared and at the ideal temperature (find more details on these below), it’s time to start feeding your baby.
- First, find a position that’s comfortable for you and safe for your baby.
- Hold the bottle at a horizontal angle so that your little one has to gently suck to get the milk.
- Be sure that the milk fills the entire nipple so that your baby isn’t gulping lots of air, which may result in gas and fussiness.
- You’ll want to take breaks every few minutes to gently burp baby. If they seem particularly squirmy during a feeding, they may have a gas bubble; take a pause and gently rub or pat their back.
- Use this opportunity to bond with your baby. Hold them close, look into their wide eyes, sing soft songs, and make feeding time a happy time.
Be sure to pace your feeding. You can’t expect — nor do you want — a new baby to chug a bottle down in 5 minutes flat. It may take a while, and that’s a good thing.
You want a baby to regulate their own hunger, so slow down and allow an infant to go at their own speed. Be sure to
And if they seem to want a top off? Go ahead and offer a free refill if it seems necessary.
There are several positions you can try for bottle-feeding. Make sure you’re both comfortable so it’s a pleasant experience. Find a suitable place to sit comfortably, use pillows to support your arms if needed, and cozy up together during feeds.
Here are a few options to try:
Cradle your baby
When you think of holding a newborn baby, you probably envision yourself cradling them in the nook of your arm. This is a great position for feeding your wee one a bottle. Rest their head in your elbow bend, and tilt them up so they’re at a comfortable angle. This position is ideal for some bonus skin-to-skin contact.
Sit down and place baby upright in your lap with their back against your stomach and chest. This position is especially encouraged for infants with reflux. Just be sure that you’re tipping the bottle to completely fill the nipple with milk.
Rest baby on your legs
Sit or lay down, and prop your baby on your legs with their back against your thighs and their head near your bent knees. This position allows for eye contact and interaction.
Use a feeding pillow
Nursing pillows aren’t just for breastfeeding. Some babies enjoy being positioned on a pillow for mealtime. A traditional C-shaped nursing pillow works great for this purpose, allowing baby to relax and be comfortable during a feed.
While this option frees up your arms, you’ll still need to hold the bottle for your baby. Propping or rigging a hands-free situation has potentially dangerous consequences.
Once a baby is old enough and expresses interest in holding the bottle themselves (somewhere around 6–10 months of age), you can let them try. Just be sure to stay close and monitor them carefully.
Whatever position you try, make sure that your little one is angled, with their head raised. You don’t ever want your baby to be lying down flat while eating. This could enable milk to travel into the inner ear, potentially
Of course, feeding baby the bottle might be the easy part. Picking the right vessel to hold your breast milk or formula can be a whole other complicated story. The information below can help you master the art of preparing the perfect bottle for your baby.
Choose the right bottle for your baby
If you’ve ever browsed the feeding section of a baby store, you know that bottle options are seemingly endless.
There are bottles designed for colicky babies, gassy babies, and breastfed babies. It’s daunting. The confounding truth is that some babies will take any old bottle you throw at them, while others will be far more discerning.
You might have to try a few different brands to find “the one” for your baby. If you have a gassy guzzler, you could go with one that uses a venting system. If you’ve been exclusively nursing up until now, you can try one that more readily resembles the shape and feel of mama’s breast.
You may also want to pick a bottle that has fewer parts to clean and reassemble. You’ll appreciate the lack of steps during that 2 a.m. feeding session.
Furthermore, start with a slow-flow nipple, and upgrade when your baby seems eager to get more milk, faster.
Prepare your formula or breast milk bottle
Feeding with formula? There are three types to choose from: powder, concentrate, and ready-to-pour.
Ready-to-pour formula is the easiest (and, yes, most expensive) option of the three. It involves no preparation and is as simple as opening and pouring it. You can purchase small, individual bottles that come with nipples, which are especially useful for those early infant feedings, or opt for larger bottles that need to be refrigerated. Either way, it’s fairly foolproof.
When using powder, you’ll need to measure out portions and mix them well with suitable water. It’s important to follow the directions and use the recommend water-to-formula ratio. Using too much water can dilute the nutrients; using not enough can cause dehydration. Both of these possibilities can have dangerous consequences, so use caution and care.
Similarly, concentrate formulas require a safe water source. Once again, measuring appropriately is key.
If you’re breastfeeding, preparing a bottle is pretty straightforward. Just pour pumped fresh or frozen breast milk into a bottle, and warm it up (if refrigerated and desired). Be sure to double-check the pump date, though; thawed and/or refrigerated breast milk has a short shelf life.
Warm your bottle
Some babies will take a bottle straight out of the refrigerator, but many prefer their milk slightly warmed.
The best way to warm up a cold formula or breast milk bottle is by submerging it in a cup of hot water for a few minutes. You can also use a bottle warmer. Test the milk temperature on your wrist before serving it to your baby.
Be sure to never microwave a bottle. This can cause an uneven temperature throughout and create hot spots that could burn baby’s mouth.
How long is a bottle good for?
It may seem painful to throw away precious pumped liquid gold or chuck expensive formula. Yet, at some point or another, you’ll probably watch wistfully as you pour some unused bottle milk down the drain.
If you’re using expressed breast milk, there are some important time frames to remember. Breast milk can be frozen for up to 6 to 12 months and refrigerated for 4 days. (If it has been thawed, though, you should use it within 24 hours.) Once you begin feeding a breast milk bottle, it’s safe for up to 2 hours.
A prepared bottle of formula can be refrigerated for 24 hours. Once baby has taken a sip from a bottle of formula, it must be used within 1 hour. Bacteria multiply quickly on milk-based products, so be sure to check the clock.
It may feel like you’re constantly preparing bottles, but don’t worry, this feeding frenzy phase will soon pass.
Yes, in the early days of parenthood, you’ll be feeding your little one every 2 to 4 hours. As a newborn, your baby will likely consume around 2 ounces per feed.
As they get older, the feedings may become spaced out, and the amount in each bottle will increase. Around the 2-month mark, your baby may start drinking 4 to 6 ounces each feeding. By 6 months, they’ll probably take in about 8 ounces.
Don’t feel tethered to a strict feeding schedule. It’s best to feed a baby when they seem hungry. Babies go through rapid growth spurts and may need to feed more frequently. Look for hunger cues to determine whether your little one is hankering for a bottle.
Your baby may be hungry if they begin gumming on their hands, sucking on their tongue, or rooting. Rub your finger or a bottle nipple at the side of their cheek or mouth, if they turn toward it, they’re probably ready for a feeding. Give that bottle a go!
If you’re a nursing mama, you may feel especially nervous about introducing a bottle. Rest assured that with a little patience and time, your baby will eventually get the hang of it.
Still, before you offer a bottle, you’ll want to feel confident that nursing has been well established. As such, you should consider waiting 2 to 3 weeks after your baby is born to introduce the bottle to avoid potential nipple confusion and ensure that your milk supply is adequate.
If you need to transition your baby to the bottle before returning to work, cushion in some extra time to normalize this routine. While your breastfed baby may happily accept the first bottle you offer, they may also turn their tiny nose up at it. Spare yourself and your baby unnecessary pressure, and give yourselves some wiggle room to adjust.
And if your baby does resist the bottle? Walk out of the room and have a partner or caregiver try. Your baby knows that you have the real deal under your shirt, and they may respond more readily to someone else.
Furthermore, don’t try to introduce the bottle when your little one is impatiently ravenous. Wait until they’re in a pleasant mood, and offer a bit when their tummies aren’t entirely empty. You may get a better reaction.
Even if you plan to be home and available to nurse around the clock, you should still try to introduce the occasional bottle. It’s good to know that your baby will accept it in a pinch.
Bottle-feeding has its challenges and rewards. There are a few other tips to keep in mind to help set you and your baby up for success.
Washing and sterilizing bottles
You may want to sterilize your bottles before their first use. You can do this with a steam sterilizer or in the dishwasher.
Sanitizing them between uses is probably unnecessary, but you do want to ensure that you always have a clean supply on hand — lest you have to wash one in the middle of the night while a crying baby impatiently awaits their bottle.
That said, a bottle requires a thorough scrubbing between uses, especially if it has pieces and parts with nooks and crannies. You can, of course, also use your trusty dishwasher. Either way, it’s smart to at least pour out any unused formula or breastmilk right away and give the bottle a quick rinse after a feeding session.
Mixing breast milk and formula
Want to slowly introduce formula to your breastfed baby? You can mix breast milk and formula in the same bottle. This can get baby more readily adjusted to the unique flavor of formula.
Just be sure to prepare the formula separately. If you’re using powder or concentrate formula, you’ll still need to add water first; don’t use breast milk as a liquid substitute. Once the formula is prepared, pour in the breast milk.
Finally, heed the time restrictions. While breast milk on its own can be used for up to 2 hours, the addition of formula means the bottle is only good for 60 minutes.
Adding cereal to a bottle
Has a well-meaning grandparent suggested adding cereal to your baby’s bottle?
Generally speaking, doctors advise against this practice. While many people assume it will keep their baby fuller for longer — and even help them sleep for a longer chunk of time — it can have a few negative consequences, including excessive weight gain and constipation.
Occasionally, doctors will recommend adding a bit of oatmeal cereal to a bottle to help a baby with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Talk to your pediatrician before making this decision on your own.
No doubt, the idea of bottle service takes on a whole new meaning these days, but you’re going to love this new adventure.
And while it may seem like a lot to take in, bottle-feeding your baby will soon become second nature. You may encounter some hurdles or missteps along the way, but you’ll quickly discover what works for you and your baby.
Good luck, you’ve got this!