If you decide to bottle-feed, there are lots of practical considerations to factor in, such as how to prepare bottles safely and the important precautions to take.
In cases where breastfeeding is not possible, bottle-feeding using either expressed breast milk or infant formula milk can be a useful option. Before deciding to bottle-feed your baby, it is important to discuss it with your GP or midwife. Bottle-feeding babies takes a bit of practice. But once you know how to bottle-feed your baby, it’ll be a warm and comfortable experience for both of you. For bottle-feeding babies, you will need a few essentials: clean water and the right equipment – bottles, teats, rings and caps. You need something to sterilise them to keep them clean. You will also need to know how to make up infant formula properly.
To feed your baby formula milk, you need:
- a clean work surface
- facilities to wash your hands and equipment
- a supply of bottles and teats
- a bottle brush and a small teat brush
- sterilising equipment and tongs
- suitable water and a way to boil it
- formula powder
You can buy plug-in sterilisers or microwave sterilisers. Always follow the instructions. Boiling water Fill a large saucepan with tap water and make sure all equipment is completely covered by the liquid. Make sure there are no trapped air bubbles. Cover the saucepan and bring it to the boil. Boil for at least three minutes. Make sure the feeding equipment is fully covered with boiling water at all times. Keep the saucepan covered until you need to use the equipment.
Make up a batch of sterilising liquid following the instructions. Make sure all equipment is completely covered by the sterilising liquid and that there are no trapped air bubbles. Leave the equipment covered for the length of time stated on the instructions.
Storing sterilised bottles
If you are not making up feeds, you will need to put the sterilised bottles together immediately to keep the teat and inside of the bottle sterile. Even washed hands can have bacteria on them, do not touch the bottle neck, the inside of the collar, the inside or outside of the teat or the inside of the cap with your hands. If you need to make bottles of sterile water for travelling, you can pour the correct amount of freshly boiled water into the bottle before putting the sterile collar, teat and lid on.
1. Make sure your hands and the work surface are clean.
2. Touching only the outside of the collar, place it over the teat and use sterile tongs to pull the teat through the collar.
3. Screw the collar onto the bottle and tighten fully.
4. Place the cap over the bottle, being sure not to touch the inside of the cap when doing this.
5. Store the bottles in a clean place. If put together correctly the empty bottles and bottles with sterile water will be safe for 24 hours. If not used within 24 hours, sterilise again. Once you open a bottle to add water or powder it is not sterile.
Preparing bottle feeds
1. Empty your kettle and fill it with one litre of cold tap water and boil. Or boil one litre of water in a clean pan.
2. Leave the boiled water to cool in the kettle or pan. Cool it for 30 minutes, but no longer. This will make sure that the water is not too hot, but also that it is no less than 70°C. At this temperature it is hot enough to kill harmful bacteria that may be in the formula powder and cool enough not to damage a lot of the nutrients in the formula.
3. Clean the work surface well. Wash your hands with soap and warm water and dry them on a clean towel.
4. Read the instructions on the formula’s label carefully to find out how much water and powder you need.
5. Pour the correct amount of water into a sterilised bottle. Water that is 70°C is still hot enough to scald, so be careful.
6. Add the exact amount of formula to the boiled water using the clean scoop provided. Reseal the packaging to protect it from germs and moisture. Adding too much or too little formula could make your baby sick.
7. Screw the bottle lid tightly and shake well to mix the contents.
8. To cool the feed quickly, hold the bottle under cold running water or place it in a large bowl of cold water. Make sure that the cold water does not reach above the neck of the bottle.
9. To check the feed is not too hot, shake the bottle and place a drop of liquid on the inside of the wrist – it should feel lukewarm, not hot. Feed your baby.
10. Throw away any feed that your baby has not taken within two hours. If your baby is a slow feeder use a fresh feed after two hours.
Storing made-up bottles
It is safest to prepare a fresh feed each time you need one, and to give it to your baby as soon as it has cooled to the right temperature. This is because warm milk provides ideal conditions for bacteria to grow – especially at room temperature.
To safely store made-up bottles:
- make up bottles following steps 1 to 8;
- place cooled bottles in the back of the fridge;
- make sure the temperature of the fridge is 5°C or less; and
- throw away any feed not used within 24 hours.
How do I warm up refrigerated bottle feeds?
- Remove the bottle from the fridge just before you need it.
- To warm it, place it in a bowl of warm water, making sure the level of the water is below the neck of the bottle. You can also use a bottle-warmer.
- Do not warm it for more than 15 minutes.
- Check the temperature of the milk by dripping a little onto the inside of your wrist. It should feel lukewarm, not hot.
- Throw away any feed that your baby has not taken within two hours. Never re-warm feeds.
Feeding your baby
- Make sure you and your baby are well supported and comfortable during feeds.
- Make sure the milk is at the correct temperature.
- Help your baby to avoid swallowing air while feeding.
- If necessary, wind your baby to help get rid of swallowed air.
- Do not leave your baby alone with the bottle.
- Throw away any milk not used within two hours from when you start to feed your baby.
- Give your baby breast milk or formula milk as their main drink until they are at least one year old.
- Young babies generally do not need extra drinks.
- Cooled boiled water is the most suitable drink if your baby does need extra drinks between feeds.
- From about six months, gradually introduce a cup or beaker for drinks. Aim to replace all bottles with a cup or beaker by the time your baby is about one year old.
Out and about
If you will not be able to boil fresh water, bring the powder and sterile bottles of water with you. Make up sterile bottles of water at home. When you are out and need to feed your baby
1. Warm the bottle of water to feeding temperature by standing it in a bottle-warmer or a bowl of warm water for no longer than 15 minutes.
2. Add the exact amount of powder to the bottle.
3. Put the lid back on the bottle tightly, and shake well to mix the contents.
4. Test the temperature of the milk by dripping a little onto the inside of your wrist. It should feel lukewarm, not hot.
5. Use the feed right away, and throw away any feed that has not been taken within two hours. If your baby is a slow feeder, make up a fresh feed after two hours.
If you have any concerns about how much milk your baby is having or how often they are feeding, speak to your public health nurse or doctor. Your baby will develop their own pattern of feeding, which can vary a little from day to day. Babies generally feed according to their appetite. It is good to allow your baby to recognise their own hunger cues and feeling of fullness.
Do not force your baby to take more than they want or to finish the amount prepared. Babies tend to gradually increase the amount they drink at each feed. Once you start introducing food, the amount of milk they drink will reduce gradually.
More like this:
Tips to get baby drink from a bottle
Switching from breast to bottle
Weaning babies onto solid foods