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bottle feeding your baby

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bottle feeding your baby

Click here to see updated advice about bottle-feeding from the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency (18 February 2011).

You may be starting to think about the different options for feeding your baby once he arrives. Breastfeeding is best for your baby's health, but every woman and baby is different and deciding how to feed your baby is your decision and yours alone. It is far better, for you and your baby, to choose the method of feeding that you feel comfortable with and ultimately makes you both happy.

You can always start breastfeeding and then change to bottle feeding if you would like to, but it is more difficult to make the switch the other way. You can express milk from your breasts for your baby to take from a bottle or use formula milk.

Formula milk

If you bottle-feed your baby, you must use formula milk, not cow's milk. Cow's milk is not suitable for babies until they are over a year old as it can cause an allergic reaction, and can be very hard for babies to digest.

Only feed your baby milk that is formulated especially for babies. There are quite a number of different brands of baby formula on the market and it can be difficult to know which one is suitable for your baby. If you're confused discuss this with your midwife or GP and they can advise you on which one will be best for your baby.

How do I prepare formula milk?

Formula milk comes in two different types:

  • Ready to use - as the name suggests, this comes ready to pour straight into the bottle. It is very convenient, but it is also an expensive method of bottle feeding (but great if you are travelling by car for example, and don't have the equipment to make formula milk up from scratch).
  • Powdered - dried formula that must be mixed with water. It is very important that when you prepare powdered formula milk you add the right amount of water. Adding too much water will mean that your baby is not getting enough nutrition from his feeds. Also, not adding enough water can cause digestive problems.

What equipment will I need to bottle feed my baby?

You will need six full size bottles and teats for a fully bottle-fed baby. The variety available is huge and the type of bottles and teats you choose really is up to you. The other thing to bear in mind is that newborn babies may need smaller bottles and a faster flowing teat - they can become tired very quickly if they have to suck very hard to make the milk flow. Luckily bottle packaging is labeled clearly so you can easily work out which one is most suitable for your baby.

It is very important to make sure your bottles and teats are sterilised. To do this, first rinse all the bottles and teats in cold water. Then wash all the equipment in warm, soapy water. Now you have a choice of sterilisation methods.

  • A chemical steriliser is a sterilisation tank that you fill up with cold water and add a sterilisation tablet or liquid. Make sure you follow the instructions for how much steriliser to use. Never put metal items in your sterilising unit. As sterilising solution is a dilute bleach, all items should be rinsed in recently boiled water before using.
  • Electric Steam sterilisation. This type of sterilising kills harmful bacteria using steam created in a specially designed electrical unit. Steam sterilisation is a very quick and easy method of sterilising, but make sure you fill the bottles with formula within three hours of sterilisation.
  • Microwave sterilisation. This method works by creating steam in the microwave steriliser to destroy harmful bacteria. All cleaned equipment should be placed in the steriliser with the amount of water specified in the manufacturer's instructions, with bottles and caps upside down. The unit's lid should be securely fastened before placing in the centre of the oven.

Make sure your hands are absolutely clean when you take out the bottles and teats to make up the feeds.

How do I make up a bottle?

There are a few golden rules for making up formula milk:

  • Make sure all your equipment is sterilised.
  • Follow the manufacturers guidelines to the letter regarding how much formula to use in one bottle - overfill each scoop and then scrape off the excess with a sterilised knife to make sure you have the right amount of formula.
  • Always add the water to the bottle first - not the powder - this will make sure that you are using the right amount of water
  • The best way to warm your baby's bottle is by placing it in a jug of warm water. Warning: take great care if you heat your baby's feed in a microwave oven because of the risk of hot spot burning.
  • Always shake or stir the bottle and test the temperature before serving.
  • Always make sure the formula you are using is not out of date.
  • Always test the temperature of the bottle by dripping some of the milk onto the inside of your wrist.

Storage of formula milk

The Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency advise that feeds are made up fresh for each feed. If you do need to prepare a feed for later, they suggest that water is kept in a sealed flask and fresh formula milk is made up when required. You should avoid making up enough feed for a whole day in advance, or warming up bottles of formula milk which have been made from powder. You can buy cartons of ready-made formula, which are ideal if you are going on a long car journey, but are expensive so not great for everyday use.

How much should I feed my baby?

Your baby will let you know when he is hungry. A very small baby has a very small tummy so will probably require a lot of small feeds. Your baby will also let you know when he is full - so take your lead from him and don't force him to finish a bottle. As a general guide, if your baby if putting on weight steadily, then he is eating enough.

Bottle-fed babies cannot control their milk intake like breastfed babies can, but there are still cues you can follow to work out if your baby needs more or has had enough milk. If your baby finishes his bottle very quickly, he may be hungry and need more, especially if he cries when you take the bottle away. However, there may be other reasons he is crying; perhaps he's tired, or has a wet nappy, so check these first before giving your baby more milk.

How do I give the bottle?

Like anything new, giving a bottle might take a little time to get used to. Firstly, make yourself comfortable and hold your baby on your lap with his head resting in the crook of your arm. Make sure his head is higher than his tummy. Keep the bottle tilted to make sure there is always milk in the teat, and remember to give your baby the chance to burp during and after the feed. To wind your baby either sit him up and pat his back or hold him upright on your shoulder and pat his back.

If you have any questions about how to feed your baby, talk to your midwife or health visitor who will be able to give you all the help and information you need.