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The Basics of Bottle Feeding Your Baby

Whether you’re filling them with formula, breastmilk, or switching between the two, bottles are one of the greatest inventions for feeding your baby. The first glass nursing bottle was patented in the US in 1841. Today, there are thousands of types of bottle/nipple combinations available and almost as many types of formula. It can get overwhelming when selecting the right one for bottle feeding your baby.

On top of that, it seems everyone and their aunt has some piece of advice they will tell you (whether you ask for it or not) about how, when, and what to feed your baby. As with most baby advice, it can range from useful (like brands and methods other moms swear by) to outdated (it’s not safe to put rice cereal in your baby’s bottle to help them sleep longer) to bizarre (no, you should not put Jack Daniels in your baby’s bottle to help with teething, no matter what your Great Aunt Jolene says).

It’s OK to feel overwhelmed when looking at all the different options out there and hearing varying advice. But don’t worry: You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Here’s everything you need to know about bottle feeding.

Bottle-Feeding Basics

When Should I Introduce a Bottle?

If you’re exclusively bottle feeding, your little one will start on a bottle day one. Most newborns have no problem figuring out a bottle. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s recommended that you wait two or three weeks to introduce a bottle. Doing so earlier can interfere with your body’s ability to produce enough milk. Waiting much longer than that can result in baby rejecting the bottle altogether in favor of breast.

What Kind of Bottles Should I Buy?

There’s no simple answer to this one. Some babies will happily take any nipple/bottle combination you put in their mouth while others are extremely finicky. The best bottle for your baby also depends on whether or not they have any health issues, such as colic or laryngomalacia. The reality is, there’s no way to know for sure until your little one arrives and makes their personality known.

Observe how your newborn does with the nipples you try. If your baby makes gulping sounds, sputters, or dribbles milk out of the corner of their mouth during feedings, the nipple flow is likely too fast. If your baby has to work hard at sucking and seems frustrated, the flow might be too slow. Flow can generally be increased as baby gets older, masters swallowing, and needs more milk or formula.

You should also take into consideration what you’ll be putting into the bottles. Some bottle systems are specifically designed for breastmilk bags that go straight from pump to bottle. Others are better for mixing and warming formula.

Read reviews, talk to other moms, and have a few bottles handy for baby’s arrival. Once your baby successfully takes one or more types, go ahead and stock up on those.

How Often Should I Feed My Baby?

In the early weeks, offer a bottle every two to three hours or whenever they seem hungry. If they sleep longer than four or five hours, it’s best to wake them up for a feeding in those first couple weeks.

One of the benefits of bottle feeding is that you know exactly how much your baby is eating. Newborns typically take 1.5–2 ounces at each feeding for the first few days, after that it will increase to 2–3 ounces per feeding. By one month of age, your baby will likely be taking about four ounces roughly every 3–4 hours. By six months, they’ll be up to around 6–8 ounces four or five times a day.

With that said, every baby is different. It can be tempting to press baby to finish a bottle after they’ve lost interest or fallen asleep, but generally speaking, it’s best to trust they’ll eat enough to get the nutrition their tiny body needs.

If you’re concerned your baby is eating very little or seems hungry all the time, contact your pediatrician.

What About Leftovers?

We get it. Formula is expensive and breastmilk is a lot of work to express. You don’t want to waste a drop. Unfortunately, bacteria from your baby’s saliva will mix with whatever is in the bottle, so bottle leftovers have an extremely limited shelf life.

Formula should be dumped if your baby doesn’t finish it within one hour from when feeding began. Breastmilk lasts a little longer thanks to its antibacterial properties, but it too needs to be tossed after just two hours.

How to Warm a Bottle

There are loads of bottle warmers on the market. If you’re exclusively bottle feeding, it’s a good idea to invest in one or, better yet, put it on your baby registry.

If you’re just bottle feeding occasionally or don’t want/can’t afford/are philosophically opposed to a bottle warmer, you can place the bottle under warm, running tap water. Usually 1-2 minutes is enough to warm it. Be careful not to let water get on the nipple or into the bottle and check the temperature by shaking a tiny bit out on the inside of your wrist.

Never, ever use a microwave to heat a bottle of breast milk or formula. Microwaves cause nutrients to breakdown and they heat unevenly, which can create hot spots in the liquid that can burn your baby. Think about how unevenly a microwave heats pizza rolls or hot pockets. Not what you want for baby.

It’s worth noting that bottles don’t have to be warm. There’s no medical reason to heat up bottles. It’s just what babies typically prefer. If you’re in a pinch with a crying kiddo, there’s no reason to wait until you find a suitable way to heat that sucker.

How Do I Know When Baby’s Hungry?

They. Will. Let. You. Know. And believe it or not, I don’t just mean tears. In fact, if possible, avoid waiting for tears. There are plenty of signs they’ll give you before that, and by the time they start crying they might be uncomfortably hungry.

Babies will “root” when they’re hungry. Rooting is a reflex where babies turn their head to the side, mouth open and search for a food source when their cheek is stroked. Your wee one may also suck vigorously on their hands (or your arm, nose, cheek, really whatever’s in front of them) or make lip-smacking sounds when they’re ready for mealtime.

Tips For Bottle Feeding

  • Stroke your baby’s cheek with the tip of your finger or the nipple to let them know food is here. This will trigger the rooting reflex mentioned above.
  • Never prop up a bottle. This can cause choking.
  • Never put your baby to bed with a bottle. It’s a choking hazard and it can lead to ear infections and tooth decay.
  • Make sure you tilt the bottle so the liquid fully fills the nipple. Failing to do so lets extra air in, which leads to gassy, unhappy babies.
  • Don’t add cereal to formula or breastmilk. Once upon a time, not so long ago, people thought this was a good idea to help baby sleep through the night, but it shouldn’t be done unless your doctor explicitly instructs you to do so. Cereal is hard to swallow, and it can lead to weight problems.
  • If baby seems uncomfortable during feeding, take a timeout to burp them.

Every Baby Is Unique

You’ve probably heard this a thousand times and that’s honestly because it’s true. Pay attention to your baby’s cues and get to know their cries. Some babies will wolf down a whole bottle in one sitting while others will need to stop every so often to burp. Just like big humans, tiny humans have their own personalities, likes, dislikes, and quirks.

If you have concerns about how your baby is eating (or not eating) talk to your pediatrician right away. That’s what they’re there for, and trust us, they’re used to fielding these types of calls.

Feeding time is bonding time. Enjoy it. Savor it. The wonderful thing about bottles is that they allow fathers, grandparents, siblings, and other friends and family to participate in those beautiful bonding moments.



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