We've created a handy step-by-step bottle feeding guide to help you get started.
If you're a first-time parent and have never fed a baby with a bottle, you may feel a bit intimidated by the idea. But rest assured, many parents opt for bottle feeding with either expressed breast milk or formula. We've created a handy step-by-step bottle feeding guide for new parents to help you get started.
What equipment do you need for bottle feeding?
Head to our baby feeding glossary to learn more about what you'll need to feed.
How many bottles and teats do I need?
This really depends on how often you plan to use them to feed your baby.
If you’re only going to be bottle feeding once a day, it's best to have at least two so that if one gets lost, damaged or unclean, you have a backup. But, if you're solely bottle feeding, then it's a good idea to have four to six bottles and teats to get started. Newborns can feed up to 12 times over 24 hours – so you'll need plenty of bottles on rotation.
How often should I be checking baby bottle teats?
It's important to keep an eye on your baby's teeth as they develop, as their soft gums won't stay that way forever! Once those pearly whites start to come in, it's a good idea to check your bottle teats for any signs of biting.
We suggest changing your bottle teats every two months. It's especially important to do so if they're damaged, weak, or have been bitten by those tiny teeth.
Your baby will usually let you know when it’s time to change flow rate, or even if you’ve moved up too quickly. Signs that it’s time to move up a flow rate include your baby:
- becoming impatient or aggravated when eating
- taking longer than 20 minutes to finish a feed
- falling asleep while feeding
- sucking hard and/or the teat collapsing in on itself.
Signs that the flow rate of the teat you’re using is too fast include your baby:
- gulping or hard swallowing
- coughing or choking
- letting excess milk drip out of their mouth
- refusing to eat.
How do I sterilise bottles safely?
Sterilising protects babies from infections (especially while their immune system is still developing). Failure to sterilise can lead to stomach upsets like diarrhoea.
To make sure that your baby's bottles are clean and safe to use, you should always give them a thorough scrub with warm soapy water before sterilising them. You should sterilise anything that goes into your baby's mouth for the first 12 months of their life to prevent the risk of infection or illness.
What are the benefits of bottle feeding?
Now that we've covered what you'll need to bottle feed, let's run through some of the benefits of bottle feeding.
Precious bonding time with your baby
Bottle time might be the calmest part of your day with your little one, so soak it up. Make sure that you can see your little one's face and reassure them maintaining eye contact. This releases the love hormone oxytocin and is a great way to bond with your baby while improving their non-verbal communication skills.
Non-breastfeeding parents and other key adults who spend lots of time holding and feeding the baby can also experience a surge of feel-good nurturing hormones.
UNICEF states that other benefits of skin-to-skin contact include:
- calming and relaxing baby
- regulating baby’s breathing and heart rate
- helping them adapt to life outside the womb
- stimulating digestion
- regulating their temperature
- protecting against infection.
A break from breastfeeding
Bottle feeding can give the other parent, as well as family and friends, the opportunity to get some one-on-one time. It also gives those who're breastfeeding a rest or time to recover from nipple soreness, clogged ducts or mastitis.
Easy monitoring of how much your baby drinks
This is ideal if baby needs to gain weight and you’re monitoring feeds.
What are some considerations of bottle feeding?
Let's run through some of the downsides of bottle feeding that some parents encounter.
- Bottle feeding can be more expensive than breastfeeding, especially if the baby requires a special type of formula.
- Formula doesn't provide the same kind of nutrients and antibodies that breast milk does.
- There's more equipment to clean and sterilise.
- You need to prepare for feeds away from home.
- Some babies may have difficulty adjusting to bottle feeding and may experience digestive issues such as trapped wind, constipation, or diarrhoea.
How to bottle feed your baby
When you opt for bottle feeding, you may choose to give your baby expressed breast milk, formula milk, or a combination of both (but not in the same bottle at the same time). This is also known as mixed or combination feeding.
Making up a bottle with breast milk
If you're going to give your baby breast milk in a sterile bottle, you'll need a breast pump or to be able to express by hand, and some sterile pouches to store your expressed milk in the fridge or freezer.
Making up a bottle with formula
If you're using infant formula, follow the packaging instructions carefully and always use sterile water that's been boiled and left to cool.
It's worth noting that too much water can dilute the formula, meaning your baby won’t get the optimal amount of nutrition from their feed. On the flip side, too much formula can lead to constipation and dehydration.
Only make up a formula feed when needed, and make one feed at a time, never in bulk.
How often should I bottle feed a newborn?
Generally, it’s recommended that newborns feed little and often. Parents should look for their baby’s hunger cues and try to feed them before they start crying. The truth is, every baby is different, and so the frequency of feeds needed varies from one baby to the next.
How do I know my baby is full when bottle feeding?
If you’re wondering whether your little one has had enough milk while bottle feeding, you can look out for cues that show that they may be feeling full, uncomfortable and need a break. These include:
- splaying their fingers and toes
- wrinkling their forehead
- spilling milk out of their mouth
- turning their head away
- pushing the bottle away.
If they do need a break, just gently remove the teat and bring the bottle down to cut off the flow of milk until they ask for more milk. If they don’t ask for more, they've probably had enough for now.
Overfeeding can cause distress and trying to bottle feed a crying baby means they could potentially choke. So, try not to make the mistake of assuming that your baby is hungry every time they cry. Other reasons your baby might be crying can include:
- needing to be burped
- needing their nappy changed
- being tired or generally irritable
- needing comfort and cuddles.
Top bottle feeding tips
Let's run through some helpful tips for parents to consider when they're bottle feeding their baby.
Make sure the milk is the right temp
If your baby likes a warm bottle, use the inside of your wrist to test a few drops. If it’s a comfortable temperature, you’re good to go!
While lots of babies like their feeds at body temperature, it's worth noting that not all babies need their milk to be warm. You can try them with cool milk first to see if they'll take it. This may make things easier when you're out and about!
Get you and your baby comfortable
Babies who're bottle fed lying down can take too much milk too quickly. So, it’s best to hold them close to you, semi-upright with their head supported. You should never leave a baby alone with a propped-up bottle as this increases the risk of choking.
Gently introduce the bottle teat
Brush their lips with the teat to stimulate their gaping (mouth-opening) reflex. When they open wide, allow them to draw in the teat at their own pace.
Position the bottle horizontally
Keep the bottle in a slightly tipped position so that the teat is always full of milk and can flow steadily. This also helps to stop them taking in air bubbles as they feed and means that they need to suck actively to get the milk out, just like they would when breastfeeding.
Follow your baby’s feeding cues
Just follow your baby's lead! Some babies want to feed more frequently than others. Feeding a baby whenever show hunger cues is called paced bottle feeding.
Enjoy talking and singing to your baby
Talking and singing to your little one while they're bottle feeding creates a powerful emotional bond.
Always dispose of any unused milk
Once the bottle feed is finished, it's important to dispose of any unused formula or breast milk. Although it may seem like a waste, this is essential for your baby's safety. During feeding, bacteria can easily enter the milk and harm their developing immune system.
How to get a breastfed baby to take a bottle
There're a few reasons why parents of breastfed babies choose to introduce a bottle alongside or to replace direct breastfeeding. This decision is a very personal one that should be informed by what's best for both parent and baby.
If you've previously been breastfeeding your baby and want to introduce them to a bottle, it can help to let them get used to the feel of the bottle teat on their first few tries before they try to swallow milk. Be mindful not to force your little one to feed from a bottle. Pushing them or hoping that hunger will coax them can end up with your baby refusing the bottle altogether.
Bottle feeding: Parents' stories
Looking back Gianni believes that "the truth about bottle feeding, is that it's ok. Regardless of if you nurse directly, pump and feed using a bottle or formula feed, it is ok. If your baby is healthy, growing and thriving, it is ok."
And Sarah told us that "the truth is, bottle feeding allowed [her] to build a bond with [her] daughter. [Her] wife breastfeeds her, and [she] takes the opportunity every evening to feed her using a bottle to have some extra one-on-one time."
Newborn bottle feeding FAQs
Is bottle feeding ok for newborns?
Although the WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, the decision to bottle feed or breastfeed is a personal choice. Babies can be bottle fed from birth if they're unable to breastfeed or you choose not to for whatever reason.
Whichever feeding method you choose, the decision should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider.
Can you overfeed a newborn?
Why is my newborn still hungry after feeding?
There could be a few reasons why your newborn is still hungry after feeding. They may not be getting enough milk during each feeding, or they may be cluster feeding.
It's also possible that they have a medical issue that's affecting their appetite. It's always a good idea to talk to your paediatrician or midwife if you have any concerns about your baby's feeding habits.
How do I wind my baby after bottle feeding?
You can wind your baby using the following techniques:
- Over your shoulder: Rest their chin on your shoulder while supporting their head and gently rub or pat their back. You can do this while sitting or slowly walking around.
- Sitting on your lap: Sit baby facing away from you on your lap and place the palm of your hand flat against their chest. Then gently support their chin and jaw while leaning them forwards and gently rubbing or patting their back.
- Lying across your lap: Lie them face down across your lap while gently supporting their chin and use your other hand to gently rub or pat their back.
If these methods don't work and your little one still shows signs of having trapped wind (these include crying, arching their back, drawing their legs into their tummy, or clenching their fists), you can try lying them on their back and gently massaging their tummy or moving their legs in a gently bicycle motion.
Are Tommee Tippee bottles suitable for newborns?
- Expressing breastmilk & storing breastmilk | Raising Children Network
- Bottle-feeding: cleaning & sterilising | Raising Children Network
- Infant formula preparation: in pictures | Raising Children Network
- Bottle-feeding babies: giving the bottle | Raising Children Network
- How much formula milk does my baby need? - BabyCenter Australia
- How can I get my breastfed baby to take a bottle? - BabyCenter Australia
- Bottle feeding - nutrition and safety - Better Health Channel
- Helping your baby to take expressed breastmilk | Australian Breastfeeding Association
- Paced bottle-feeding | Australian Breastfeeding Association
- Feeding your baby with formula | Pregnancy Birth and Baby (pregnancybirthbaby.org.au)
- Preparing-Formula-Feeds.pdf (nsw.gov.au)