How to bottle feed a baby

Bottle feeding in a breastfeeding friendly way

As a breastfeeding mother, you may feel the need for some flexibility.

You may wish to give some of your expressed milk to your baby – and if you’ve looked at the information on alternative ways of offering breast milk and still feel that you would prefer to use a bottle, then you might want to consider using the technique called paced bottle feeding.

Recently, many lactation specialists and experts have been looking at ways of replicating the biological way of feeding.

In biology, you watch for your baby’s feeding cues, bring him close, and then allow your baby to feed as and when he wants.

It’s not just about nutrition – it’s about relationship building as well.

Historically, when babies were given milk via a bottle, it tended to be a far more scheduled type of feeding, but we understand now that it’s essential that you follow your baby’s feeding cues, even with bottle feeding.

When we talk about potential positions for breastfeeding your baby, we explain that breastfed babies can feed in hundreds of positions, anywhere around the clock face of the breast.

Baby feeding from a bottle

However, if bottle-feeding, hold your baby in a semi-upright position with his body close against yours.

Doing this provides an excellent opportunity for lots of closeness. For safety reasons,

it is important not to allow your baby to drink from a bottle when he is lying down, as research suggests an increase of ear infections.

Another important point is to offer your baby a bottle with a slow flow teat rather than a fast flow.

Historically, we may have been tempted to suggest a medium flow, and then ‘progress’ to a fast flow, BUT it is unnatural for babies to take milk that quickly.

Your baby needs to work hard to get the milk, and in so doing, will be far more in control of the intake of milk.

A further way to help your baby be more in control is to allow lots of pauses throughout the feed so that he will not gulp the milk too rapidly. 

So what is the technique?

First, allow the teat of the bottle to sit in that little area under your baby’s nose and allow him to draw the teat into his mouth, in the same way, that you would do when he starts at the breast.

By doing this, you will allow your baby to feel in control of the feed.

Fill the bottle teat with milk, but at the same time, try to keep the bottle at a much lower angle to reduce the force of the milk flow.

You can encourage frequent pauses while your baby drinks from the bottle to mimic what happens at the breast.

Doing this will discourage him from drinking too fast and overriding his feelings of fullness. 

As you can imagine, the feed is likely to take a lot longer using this technique, but it will replicate a little more closely the biological way of breastfeeding.

Babies at the breast regulate their intake of milk well and generally don’t take in more calories than they need.

Consequently, this technique is excellent at helping your baby to be far more in control.

Babies tend to know when they feel full and when they have had enough, so when this happens, try not to be tempted to offer more of the bottle.

Baby with eyes closed feeding from a bottle

When your baby is feeding at the breast, he will feed on one side and then the other side, and this encourages his eye development.

When babies feed from a bottle, they tend to feed routinely from one particular side.

So try to replicate what happens in normal biology. Halfway through the feed, try swapping your baby over and encouraging that eye development.

There are lots of bottles for sale, and it’s challenging to know which sort of bottle is the best one for your baby.

If your baby can feed in a relaxed way and in a calm way, and slowly, with that particular type of bottle, then that’s the best one!

If you are offering expressed milk as well as breastfeeding, then you may be wondering if your baby is getting enough milk.

Be assured that if your baby is gaining weight according to his centile chart, and producing a minimum of six wet nappies per day, generally, then he will be getting enough milk.

However, be aware that the number of dirty nappies may change as your baby gets older, so look at the information relating to that in the reliable signs information.

When you are feeding your baby at the breast, you are the only one doing this. When feeding from a bottle, it’s important that your baby also has one primary, most important person offering that to him.

It’s worth mentioning that many family members and friends may be keen to offer bottles to your baby as well.

Offering babies milk from breast or bottle is all about relationship building, and we know that this close, regular responsive contact is essential for brain development.

Research suggests that babies should have just one or two people who are doing this, but if another person is giving milk to your baby from a bottle, ensure that they know how to do that in a biological way too.


Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


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