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When researching everything you need to know about bottle feeding your baby, the topic can feel overwhelming. From which bottles to use, to breastmilk and formula storage, to how to clean your bottles – the seemingly simple act of bottle feeding your baby can bring up lots of questions. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
When to Start Bottle Feeding Your Baby
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to what age to start bottle feeding. Parents who plan to formula feed or exclusively pump will start from day one. Parents who plan to breastfeed are usually advised to wait a bit longer. If nursing is going generally well and baby is gaining weight on target, it’s best to wait to introduce a bottle after the first three or four weeks. This can help prevent nipple confusion while baby is still figuring out how to perfect their latch.
If breastfeeding is your goal, but your baby needs some extra supplementation, bottle feeding is an option to provide them with extra calories. You can also supplement with a syringe, supplemental nursing system, or even a spoon or cup!
When you’ve reached the day you’re ready to start bottle feeding, choose a time when your baby is hungry but not starving. It may take them a little time to figure out this new method, so you’ll want them ready to eat but not frustrated and upset.
Choosing Which Baby Bottles to Use
A quick search of bottle options for babies can render any new parent totally overwhelmed. Modern bottles come in all shapes and sizes. Some have extra vents to prevent gas like the Dr. Brown bottle, while others like the Comotomo are designed to mimic the shape and feel of the breast. Your baby might be fine with most brands, or they could be finicky. That’s why it’s probably best to wait to stock up until you’re sure which brand works best for you and your baby.
We created the perfect solution with our Jules + Anya Bottle Box, complete with six different bottle feeding combinations to help you find the right fit.
The bottle you choose will likely be a part of your daily routine for many months. When it comes down to it, choose one that your baby feeds from well and is comfortable to for you to hold and clean.
Understanding Nipple Flow Sizes
Beyond which bottle brand, you’ll also have to choose which nipple flow to use. In general, newborns will use the slowest flow nipples, graduating to the next size up when they show signs like sucking hard, flattening the nipple, getting frustrated, taking longer than usual to finish or falling asleep while feeding.
It’s especially important for young, breastfed babies to use slow flow nipples. A breastfed baby who discovers that it’s much easier and quicker to bottle feed may start to refuse the breast. Most bottle brands come with a size 1, but you may want to purchase a size 0/preemie nipple option as well.
Babies drinking certain formulas or pediatrician-prescribed thickened milk will need a larger nipple flow size.
How to Clean and Sanitize Your Bottles
Before their first use, it’s important to wash and sanitize your new bottles and nipples. The easiest way to do this is to pop them in the dishwasher on the ‘Sanitize’ cycle. But good old-fashioned hot water and soap go a long way, too. Many people choose to wash their bottles by hand with a dedicated bottle brush.
To sterilize or not? New bottles should be sterilized before their first use. Sterilizing after each use is also typically recommended for premature babies or those with weakened immune systems. If your baby if healthy and under 3 months old, sterilizing once per day is probably sufficient. Older, healthy babies may not need sterilized bottles at all. If you’re unsure, check with your pediatrician.
If you don’t have a dishwasher with a sanitize option, you can purchase a countertop bottle sanitizer. These units heat up a small amount of water to steam-sterilize the bottles, nipples, pacifiers, etc. that you place inside.
There are a few additional CDC-approved options for sterilizing baby bottles:
-In small batches in microwave steam bags
-Boiled for 5 minutes on the stovetop
-Soaked in a bleach solution (2 tsp bleach to 1 gallon of water) for at least 2 minutes and air dried
Finally, make sure that your bottles are fully dry before they are stored.
How to Prepare a Breastmilk Bottle
If you’re pumping for your baby, the easiest way to prepare a bottle is to simply pour fresh breastmilk into the bottle and offer it to your baby. It will already be warm and ready to go.
However, most of the time you will need to store your breastmilk before your baby is ready to drink it. Here’s what you need to know about breastmilk storage:
Freshly pumped breastmilk can be kept:
- at room temperature (66-72°F) for up to 4 hours
- in a cooler with ice packs for up to 24 hours
- in the refrigerator for up to 4 days (best toward the back of the fridge, not on the door or near the light)
- in the freezer for 3-6 months
- in the deep freezer for 6-12 months
Previously frozen / thawed breastmilk can be kept
- at room temperature for 1-2 hours
- refrigerated for up to 24 hours
To thaw frozen breastmilk, place the bag in a cup of warm water, use a bottle warmer, or if you’re planning ahead for the next day, place it in the freezer. The 24-hour clock begins on previously frozen breastmilk only once all of the ice crystals have melted.
It’s important to never re-freeze previously frozen breastmilk. Discard any breastmilk your baby hasn’t finished after 2 hours.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s actually no medical reason why breastmilk needs to be warmed (unless you have a very premature or underweight baby who cannot waste any extra calories warming up that milk in their belly). Most babies prefer body temperature breastmilk, especially as they’re learning to bottle feed, but it’s perfectly okay to offer room temperature milk as well.
How to Prepare a Formula Bottle
Formula comes in three preparation options: powdered, concentrated, or ready-to-feed.
Powdered formula must be mixed with water and shaken vigorously. You can make each bottle as you need it, or make as much as you will need for the day and store in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
Liquid concentrate needs to be mixed with equal parts water, and can be stored in the fridge for up to 48 hours.
Ready-to-feed formula comes in individual 2, 6, or 8 oz bottles, or in one quart containers that can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. No mixing or measuring required.
For all types of formula, prepared room temperature bottles that have not yet been in your baby’s mouth must be discarded after 2 hours, or 1 hour if warmed. Once your baby has started a bottle, discard any unused formula after 1 hour.
Best Technique for Bottle Feeding Your Baby
Phew! You’ve chosen the bottle brand, nipple flow, and prepared your baby’s bottle of breastmilk or formula. You’ve got a hungry baby in front of you. What’s next?
First, hold your baby in an upright position. Support their head and neck with your hand or the crook of your elbow.
With the opposite hand, hold the bottle horizontally. Pointing the nipple downward can cause the milk to come out too fast for your baby. Gently stroke the bottle nipple on your baby’s lips from top to bottom, encouraging them to open their mouth wide. Allow them to draw the nipple into their mouth and latch on on their own; avoid pushing the nipple into their mouth.
Allow your baby to drink, paying attention to how fast they are swallowing. Quick gulps or spluttering means you may need a slower flow nipple, or simply to hold the bottle more horizontal.
Take your time. Offer several pauses during the feeding, allowing your baby to rest and mimicking the natural letdown of the breast. This helps prevent gas and colic, and is also important for breastfed babies to prevent bottle preference.
After several minutes, gently extract the nipple and burp your baby. Switch hand positions to mimic switching breasts, which is important for eye development.
Feed to satiation, noticing signs that your baby is full like releasing the bottle or dozing off while feeding. As tempting as it may be to encourage them to finish the bottle entirely, avoid over-feeding. Drinking too much milk can cause stomach upset, reflux, and discourages the baby from following their natural hunger cues.
Enjoy Bottle Feeding Your Baby
Congratulations! You’ve now learned everything you need to know to get started with bottle feeding your baby. You’ve chosen bottles and nipple flow sizes, cleaned and sanitized your bottles, prepared breastmilk or formula and bottle fed your baby.
Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy this sweet bonding time with your little one. Relax, follow their cues and soak up these sweet moments. Before you know it, they’ll be running around with a sippy cup!