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Unlike breastfeeding, we’ve all seen bottle feeding, and we all know how to do it. We’ve been surrounded by it growing up. If someone handed you a baby and a bottle you would know what to do right? Of course you would, but would you know how to do it without causing stressful feeding? Despite the large number of parents who use bottles in today’s society (whether those bottles contain breast milk or formula), there are very few who have actually been taught how to bottle feed their baby in a manner that is respectful of the baby’s airway and natural feeding rhythm.

Feeding your baby is about so much more than just food, it’s about bonding, emotional and physical comfort and connection. These benefits however are not just reserved for breastfeeding. Did you know that it is perfectly possible to bottle feed your baby in a natural, nurturing baby led way?

UNICEF makes the following recommendations about how to encourage responsiveness and discourage overfeeding when bottle-feeding:

  • Hold the baby close and look into their eyes during feeds.
  • Respond to cues that baby is hungry.
  • Invite the baby to draw in the teat rather than forcing the teat into the mouth.
  • Pace the feed so that the baby is not forced to feed more than they want to.
  • Recognise the baby’s cues that they have had enough milk.

Giving a feed

Giving a feed

  • Hold your baby fairly upright for feeds, with their head supported so that they can breathe and swallow comfortably.
  • When feeding, keep the teat full of milk; otherwise your baby will take in air. If the teat becomes flattened while you’re feeding, pull gently on the corner of your baby’s mouth to release the vacuum. If the teat gets blocked, replace it with another sterile teat.
  • Your baby may need short breaks during the feed and may need to burp sometimes. When your baby does not want any more feed, hold them upright and gently rub or pat their back to bring up any wind. This may be a very small amount.
  • Check that the hole in your baby’s teat is not too big – giving milk too quickly can cause sickness. Sitting your baby upright on your lap after a feed may help.
  • Don’t forget to throw away any unused formula or breast milk after the feed.
  • Babies differ in how often they want to feed and how much milk they want to take. Feed your baby when they’re hungry, and don’t try to force them to finish a bottle.
  • Never leave a baby alone to feed with a propped-up bottle, as they may choke on the milk.

Top tips

Top tips

Wait until your baby is hungry (see above)

Use your baby’s behaviour as a guide for feeding rather than the clock. On average, most bottle fed babies like to feed around three – four hourly but this is a guide not a prescription.

Remember like us, a baby’s hunger can vary. Some days they are hungrier than others

The volume amounts for age on formula tins are a guide. Every baby is an individual and how much they need and want to drink will be different.

Remember you cannot control whether your baby sucks or how much they drink. Healthy babies know if they are hungry and when they are full. Feeding is not about parents controlling their baby’s milk intake.

Sucking can be hard work especially for young babies. It’s fine if they need to have a rest from sucking.

Make sure the teat flow is at a comfortable rate. Teat sizes and hole sizes are a guide only. Some babies have a very strong suck and feed quickly, others like to take their time.

If your baby is pulling away from the teat, crying, closing their lips together and spitting out milk they are telling you they don’t want to feed anymore.

Allow some time and opportunity for burping. Half way through the feed and at the end suits most babies.

Bottle feeding is different to breastfeeding. If your baby is changing from breast to bottle feeding then expect some transition time as they develop different sucking and feeding skills.

Think about the feeding experience from your baby’s perspective. Do you think they are comfortable, relaxed, happy and content? Putting yourself in your baby’s “skin” is truly empathetic.

Try not to feed your baby for too long. If your baby hasn’t finished their bottle within 45 minutes or so then stop and offer another bottle in a few hours.

Do not have a set schedule

Do not have a set schedule

Often formula feeding is linked heavily with feeding to a schedule. This really doesn't have to be the case though as it is easy to responsively feed. Responsive feeding is all about being aware of your baby's hunger cues.

See link here.

Get some skin-to-skin

Get some skin-to-skin

Breastfeeding gives wonderful skin to skin contact which is a brilliant baby calmer, however there is no reason why you cannot do this when bottle feeding. Undo some buttons on your shirt, or lift your shirt up and hold your baby close to your chest with their face on your bare skin. This isn’t just for mums, partners can do this too.

There are many well-documented benefits of skin-to-skin contact between a new-born infant and its mother. Skin-to-skin contact improves physiologic stability for both mother and baby in the vulnerable period immediately after birth, increases maternal attachment behaviour’s, protects against the negative effects of maternal–infant separation and supports optimal infant brain development.

Bottlefeeding in a responsive way

Bottlefeeding in a responsive way

1. Respecting the Physiology

Offer the bottle rather than just sticking it in their mouth. When they open wide, ease the teat in.

Hold your child reasonably upright and the bottle kind of parallel to the floor (this becomes impossible when you get down to the last couple of ounces – that’s when we just end up tipping it). Allow air intake but make sure to wind properly afterwards. This means that they regulate how much they take from the bottle rather than sucking and swallowing simply because of constant flow.

Every now and then tip the teat upwards but keep it in her mouth. This mimics the let-down and pause of breastfeeding. 

2. Maintaining close contact

It’s surprisingly tempting while feeding to just zone out and watch TV or whatever. Let’s face it, it’s not the most riveting task in the world when you’re doing it at least six times a day. But when we’re bottle feeding, we feel it’s even more important to try reclaim the intimacy we could be losing. So be careful to hold them close and look into your child's eyes. Every now and then get topless, strip them down to their nappy and have a skin-to-skin bottle feed.

3. Remaining the source

The mother-baby relationship

Encouraging a close mother-baby relationship is important in the early days following birth. When mothers and babies breastfeed they spend a great deal of time in close contact which helps build and enhance their relationship. Encouraging formula feeding mothers to give most feeds themselves while holding their baby close will support relationship building.