Bottlefeeding seemed simple to me before I had a baby. But like many baby related things, I soon had a long list of questions with no place to go for answers.
We all know breastfeeding is encouraged because of the health benefits for baby, but there are many reasons why women bottlefeed. These women should be offered just as much information and support as breastfeeding mothers, but I haven’t found this to be the case.
Here’s my advice on bottlefeeding based on research and experience. Hopefully it helps you and your baby 🙂
1. Choose the right bottle
I have a cupboard full of different bottles that didn’t work for me. We eventually settled on Dr Browns, but there’s no way to know what’s right for your baby until you try. It might be worth just buying one to start with, then getting more of your favourite – I learnt this the hard way!
Most modern bottles have inbuilt valves designed to help prevent wind, colic and reflux. The design of these varies, as does teat shape, size and material, bottle shape and care instructions.
4 popular bottle brands are:
- Tommie Tippee (individual teat shape designed to mimic nipple).
- Mam (can be individually sterilised just using a microwave – very handy!)
- Avent (simple, easy to use and clean design).
- Dr. Browns (special vent system designed to reduce wind and colic and mimic the pressure and flow of breastfeeding).
Unlatching early, excessive wind or dribbling milk, can all be signs that the bottle isn’t working well for your baby.
When I first bottle fed my baby he would dribble half the milk from his mouth despite all my efforts at responsive and paced feeding. When I asked my feeding advisers for help (all trained in breastfeeding support) I would be shrugged off and told ‘you’re probably just tipping the bottle too much’.
With the amount of effort, time and research I was putting into getting this right, I found this dismissal insulting and disheartening. I eventually discovered all I needed to do was find the right bottle/teat combination.
Top tip – Mam, Dr Brown and Avent teats can be interchanged between bottles.
For young babies who don’t drink much per feed you can also buy ready to use milk with a disposable teat. Very handy for on the go but might not be as good for preventing wind, reflux and colic. It all depends on the individual baby.
2. Choose the right formula
There’s no ‘right’ formula but you may find there’s a wrong one for you and your baby. Some things you might want to consider are:
- Organic or non-organic
- Dairy free/soy formula
- Ready made/powdered/ready to feed
- Follow on/hungry baby/growing up/anti-reflux
Different things matter to different people so think about what’s right for you. I used Cow & Gate because they made powdered and ready made in two different sizes, plus it was always readily available in the shops near me.
I only ever used the first infant formula (which can be used all the way up until you stop formula feeding). But I found it good to know that if I did ever need to use anti reflux milk etc. I could do it without switching brand.
3. Wash and sterilise
Wash your bottles in hot soapy water using a bottle brush or put them through the dishwasher.
All bottles need to be sterilised until your baby is at least 12 months.
I found the sterilising instructions confusing and tried every method. You have 3 choices:
- cold water sterilising solution
- steam steriliser
For me a steam steriliser was by far the easiest, but the others are cheaper. Once you have sterilised your bottles either leave them in the steriliser until needed or make them up and put them somewhere ready to use.
To do this safely make sure you have clean hands, touch as little of the bottle as possible and seal the bottle with the lid or a cap.
Follow the instructions given with the steriliser you choose.
4. Mix formula correctly
If you’re using the ready made formula this step really just involves opening a bottle!
Powdered formula is more affordable but does take a little more work to make.
Follow the instructions on your formula packet to mix the formula. This usually involves adding boiled water that has cooled for max 30 mins to the powder. You can then cool the milk under cold running water or in a cool waterbath.
With this method it’s important to plan ahead – a screaming baby hates to wait 30 minutes for a bottle. As we were constantly told to feed on demand in my anti-natal classes, I found this method very difficult.
Some people make bottles ahead of time and store them at the back of the fridge (the coldest part) for maximum 24 hours.
Others (myself included) use a perfect prep machine for instant bottle preparation.
Top tip – buy bottle caps for your bottles – they make formula preparation and storage much easier!
Once the formula is mixed remember to follow all the relevant safety rules on storage and disposal. My understanding of safe storage times was:
- Bottle that’s been drunk from – 1 hour
- Undrunk bottle at room temperature – 2 hours
- Bottle in cool bag with ice packs – 4 hours
- Bottle in fridge – 24 hours
6. Feed on demand (within reason)
After my anti-natal classes I was obsessed with feeding on demand but the reality of the situation was that I couldn’t always tell when my baby was hungry.
I think it works best when you remain mindful and responsive to your baby’s needs whilst bearing in mind the suggested feeding intervals and taking into account cluster feeding etc.
You’ll soon get to know your baby’s cues. Food isn’t always what’s needed to comfort a baby. Plus, you’ll probably be told by the midwives in hospital to wake you newborn to feed every few hours at first.
7. Learn to burp
Burping is so important with bottle feeding. I was told to burp before, during and after a feed. I did this sometimes when I thought my baby needed it but sometimes removing the bottle mid-way through a feed caused much more harm than good.
Find a routine that works for you. If your baby struggles with wind increase the burping or try another position. Research the main three methods and find what works for you.
- Over the shoulder
- Sitting on knee with chin supported
- Face down on lap
8. Paced and responsive feeding
Read up on responsive bottle feeding and paced bottle feeding. You will find a whole host of tips on how to meet your baby’s needs and bottle feed in a way that closely mimics the positive aspects of breastfeeding.
Responsive feeding addresses how you hold the baby, feeding in response to cues, encouraging certain oral skills and building a positive feeding relationship between baby and mother.
Hold them close with head higher than their ears (so not lying flat). Make eye contact whilst feeding and alternate sides. Be aware of their fullness cues and let the baby control the feed.
Paced feeding is a way of slowing the feeding down and attempting to give the baby more control. This can be especially useful when bottle feeding babies that are also breastfed. It involves slowing the pace of the milk, keeping the bottle quite flat and taking regular breaks.
9. Forget the guilt
This won’t be relevant to everyone but some of us may feel some guilt at bottlefeeding because of how strongly breastfeeding is encouraged now. Whatever your reasons for choosing bottlefeeding forget the guilt.
Bottlefeeding can be a responsive. rewarding and healthy way to feed your baby. I found the sooner I fully committed to and enjoyed the experience, the better it was.
10. Get the right support
Find a non-judgmental, experienced group of people to help and support you. Unfortunately this isn’t always the ‘experts’ you’re exposed to in the early days (this could just be my bad experience).
I hope this has helped you. I would love to hear your top tips on feeding your babies below x
Disclaimer – I am not a childcare professional, this is purely based on my experience and research. If you need help you can try the NHS site, your health visitor, Sure Start children’s centres, your GP or other helplines/groups.