A guide to bottle feeding

You may bottle feed from the start, or find you make the change from breastfeeding to bottle feeding later on. Maybe you want to combine both breast and bottle at some st
age, or just give the occasional formula feed. Whatever you decide, Heather Welford tells you all you need to know!

What You’ll Need to Bottle Feed

If you plan to fully bottle feed you’ll need:

  • Sterilising equipment
  • At least six bottles and teats – wide or standard necked
  • Mixing jug
  • Bottle warmer (optional)

For an occasional bottle only, one or two bottles and teats will be sufficient. You may not need to buy sterilising gear either (see below).

Keep it clean!

Warm milk breeds bugs, so you need to keep all your baby’s feeding equipment scrupulously clean between each use.

You can use one of these methods:

  • Boiling. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and immerse everything you want to sterilise for 10 minutes, keeping the water boiling all the time. Handy, and quick, for the odd bottle and teat. A nuisance if you have more bottles to do than this.
  • Steam Sterilising. You use an electric steam steriliser. Most hold a day’s worth of bottles plus other items. Neat, efficient and quick.
  • Microwave Sterilising. You will need a special unit which sits in your microwave oven with the equipment in it. Again, this is speedy and handy.
  • Cold water method. Sterilising tablets or liquid are dissolved in cold water in a specially bought plastic tank (or any large-enough plastic containers will do). Rinse off the solution with cooled boiled water before using the items. Cheap, but messy.

How to Bottle Feed

Hold your baby close to you, and make sure the teat particularly the tip is always filled with milk and not full of air (this reduces the amount of air swallowing). Every so often, you’ll need to take the teat out of your baby’s mouth as the sides can stick together and prevent a good flow. Wriggling, crying and pushing the teat out with the tongue may mean your baby will need sitting up to burp.

Your Routine

If your baby’s fully or mostly bottle fed, you may find it easiest to make up all the infant formula you’ll need for the next 24 hours, and keep it in bottles in the fridge. (infant formula will only keep for 24 hours)

Some babies take a bottle straight from the fridge. Most mothers feel it’s kinder to warm it by standing the bottle in a jug of hot water first, or using an electric bottle warmer.

Note: test the formula by shaking a drop or two onto your wrist or the back of your hand. It should feel more or less the same temperature as your skin.

Important: heating bottles of formula in the microwave oven is not recommended. The heat can be uneven, leading to scalding hot spots in the bottle. However heating bottles in the microwave is a lot more convenient and quicker. If you do chose to use a microwave make sure you do not overheat the milk making it too hot and possibly spoiling the milk, give it a very good shake to disperse the hot spots and ALWAYS test the temperature of the milk first. Also make sure you remove the teat and cap before you heat it up.

Making Up a Feed

Instructions for making up feeds, and the amounts to use, are written on the formula pack. The main points to remember are:

  • Always put the required amount of boiled water in the mixing jug or bottle first, before the powder. You can make up feeds in the bottle or a jug but if you are using a jug make sure you have sterilised it first.
  • Always add the correct amount of scoops – making the feed either too weak or too concentrated is hazardous to your babies health.
  • Make sure the water has cooled before adding the powder – steam from the water can clog up the scoop and shaking hot water in the bottle to mix the feed can cause a build up of steam in the bottle.

Changing from breast to bottle

If you need to switch to bottle feeding, do it gradually unless you’re changing over in the first few days. A sudden change-over can mean an uncomfortable build-up of milk in the breasts, which could lead to problems like mastitis.

Instead, change over by either:

  • Substituting a breastfeed with a bottle feed. Then, after two or three days, substitute two breastfeeds with a bottle feed…then after a further time, add a third, and so on.
  • Topping up at most feeds with a small bottle feed, gradually increasing the amount offered. This will lengthen the time between feeds and decrease the number of breastfeeds in itself.

Babies who love the breast may not want to swap! They can be encouraged by a bottle given by someone other than mum – or think about putting the milk in a cup. Tiny babies can lap the milk up if the cup rim is held to their lips. Older babies can sometimes manage a spouted cup, with help.

Combining Breast and Bottle

This is best done after two to three months, at the earliest. Before then, regular bottles soon run down your milk supply to nothing. But leaving it later is less likely to have this effect. The milk supply can keep going with fewer demands on it – and mothers of older babies find they can keep up a supply on just one or two feeds a day; the milk is there when the baby wants it.

Working mothers find they can breastfeed when they’re with their babies, and leave bottles of formula for when they’re not (an alternative is to leave expressed breast milk) .

Just What is ‘Formula’?

Infant formula is usually cow’s milk, modified to make it more digestible for a young baby. Some formulas are based on soya milk, or they may have the ingredients altered, for instance to remove lactose. These formulas are used in cases when it’s thought the baby may be unable to digest ordinary formula.

Some newer brands of formulas have additional ingredients such as long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPs), or nucleotides. These are added because breast milk has them. They may be of benefit, even though you have to bear in mind they are not human LCPs or nucleotides, and so they cannot mirror the ‘natural’ product.

Ask your midwife or health visitor for advice on brands. Most brands of formula are whey-dominant or casein-dominant. This means the major source of protein in the milk is whey or casein. Most manufacturers have both in their range.

Whey-dominant formulas are usually given to new babies. Casein-dominant milks are marketed as suitable for older or hungrier babies, as it’s thought they’re more satisfying. According to the experts, there’s no real evidence for this.

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