How to bottle feed

mum bottle feeding her baby

The early days with your baby are a great time to get to know each other. This can be done by keeping your baby close to you when you bottle feed, enjoying skin contact. Babies will feel more secure if most feeds are given by parents or main caregivers, especially in the early weeks, as this will really help you bond with each other.

Feeding on demand

You do not need a feeding schedule. Health professionals recommend "responsive" or "on demand" feeding – this means following your baby's cues and feeding them when they are hungry.

Although most babies gradually settle into a feeding routine, they vary in how often they want to feed. Feed your baby when they show signs that they are hungry. Babies tend to feed little and often, so they may not finish their bottle. Never force your baby to finish the bottle – always be led by your baby.

Unused infant formula that has been kept at room temperature must be thrown away within 2 hours. Check out our guide to making up a feed to find out more.

After a while, you will get to know your baby's hunger signs. Your baby may:

  • try to find something to suck – usually their hands or fingers
  • move their eyes around
  • "root around" or look for the teat of the bottle
  • start wriggling and getting restless
  • open and close their mouth

If you can spot these early signs before they start crying for food, your baby will be easier to feed. If your baby is upset, try soothing them before feeding – a cuddle and some skin-to-skin contact may help.

Babies cry for lots of different reasons. If they have been fed recently then hunger is unlikely to be the cause of their crying. The NHS website has lots of useful information on how to soothe a crying baby. You can also have a look at our guide on bottle feeding challenges which covers reflux and colic.

Did you know?

Feeding your baby when they are hungry, rather than following a schedule, can reduce the risk of overfeeding.

Paced feeding

Paced feeding is way of giving your baby more control over feeds. Babies usually take small amounts of milk and stop for a rest, and then take more. You can help them to "pace" their feeds so that it mimics the way they would breastfeed.

Start by touching the teat on your baby's top lip, inviting your baby to draw the teat into their mouth. Keep the bottle almost horizontal – just very slightly tipped to prevent the milk flowing too fast. Watch your baby for signs that they are finished or need a break, as this gives them time to feel full and avoid overfeeding.

Your baby might become upset when you take the teat away from their mouth. If this happens, try tilting the bottle down with the teat still in their mouth – this will slow down the milk flow, but still feel comforting to your baby.

Never force your baby to finish a feed as this will be distressing and can mean your baby is overfed.

Night feeds

A big feed does not mean that your baby will go longer between feeds. Your baby is likely to need night feeds for at least the first few months of their life. You can expect night feeds to reduce as your baby gets older.

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