How to Bottle-Feed a Baby: Tips for Bottle-Feeding Your Newborn – What To Expect

We believe you should always know the source of the information you’re reading. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

Whether you’ll be feeding formula exclusively, combining it with nursing or using bottles to serve up expressed breast milk, here’s everything you need to get started bottle-feeding your baby.

Bottle-feeding a newborn

Good news: Most newborns have little to no trouble figuring out how to suck from a baby bottle nipple, especially if you’re using bottles right from the beginning. Finally, one thing that seems to come naturally!

Besides being relatively easy to get the hang of, there are other benefits to offering bottles early on. For one, it’s convenient: Your partner or other caregivers will be able to feed the baby, meaning you’ll have the chance to get some much-needed rest. 
If you’re bottle-feeding formula, there are the added perks of not having to pump — or worry that there’s not enough milk when you have to be away. Any caregiver can make a bottle of formula for your little eater whenever she needs it.

When should you introduce a bottle to your baby?

If you’re only bottle-feeding your baby, you should obviously start right after birth.
If you’re breastfeeding, however, it’s recommended that you wait about three weeks until introducing a bottle. Bottle-feeding earlier could potentially interfere with the successful establishment of breastfeeding, not because of “nipple confusion” (which is debatable), but because your breasts may not be stimulated enough to pump up supply. 
If you wait much later, though, baby may reject the unfamiliar bottle in favor of the breast because that’s what she’s gotten used to.

How to bottle-feed your baby

When introducing the bottle, some babies take to it like a fish to water, while others need a little more practice (and coaxing) to get sucking down to a science. These bottle-feeding tips will help you get started.

Prepare the bottle

If you’re serving formula, read the prep directions on the canister and carefully stick with them. Different formulas may require different ratios of powder or liquid concentrate to water if you’re not using ready-made formula. Adding too much or too little water could be dangerous to your newborn’s health. 
To warm the bottle, run it under warm to hot water for a few minutes, put it in a bowl or pot of hot water, or use a bottle warmer. You can also skip the warming altogether if your baby is content with a cold drink. (Never microwave a bottle — it can create uneven hot spots that might burn your baby’s mouth.)
Freshly pumped breast milk doesn’t need to be warmed. But if it’s coming from the fridge or recently thawed from the freezer, you can reheat it just like a bottle of formula.
No matter what milk is on the menu, never add baby cereal to a bottle of formula or pumped breast milk. Cereal won’t help your baby sleep through the night, and babies can struggle to swallow it or even choke. Plus, your little one might pack on too many pounds if she’s drinking more than she should.

Test the bottle

Before you start feeding, give formula-filled bottles a good shake and gently swirl bottles filled with breast milk, then test the temperature — a few drops on the inside of your wrist will tell you if it’s too hot. If the liquid’s lukewarm, you’re good to go.

Get into (a comfortable) bottle-feeding position

You’ll likely be sitting with your baby for at least 20 minutes or so, so settle in and relax. Support your baby’s head with the crook of your arm, propping her up at a 45-degree angle with her head and neck aligned. Keep a pillow by your side for your arm to rest on so it doesn’t get tired out. 
As you feed the baby, keep the bottle at an angle rather than straight up and down. Holding the bottle at a tilt helps milk flow more slowly to give your baby more control over how much she’s taking in, which can help prevent coughing or choking. It also helps her avoid taking in too much air, reducing the risk for uncomfortable gas
About halfway through the bottle, pause to switch sides. It’ll give your baby something new to look at and, just as important, give your tired arm some relief!

Do a nipple check. 

During the feeding, pay attention to how your baby looks and sounds as she sips. If your baby makes gulping and sputtering sounds during feedings and milk tends to dribble out of the corners of her mouth, the flow of the bottle nipple is probably too fast. 
If she seems to work very hard at sucking and acts frustrated, the flow might be too slow. If that’s the case, loosen the cap a tiny bit (if the cap is too tight it can create a vacuum), or try a new nipple.

Bottle-feeding problems and solutions

Though it’s generally simple to get started, occasionally problems with bottle-feeding do crop up. The good news is that they’re normal and almost always easy to solve.

Your baby squirms, cries, or turns her head away while bottle-feeding

She might have some gas in her tiny tummy. Burping can help bring up the bubbles, so give it a try if she seems uncomfortable or turns away from the bottle but doesn’t seem full. You can also aim for a preemptive belch-break halfway through feeding. 

Your baby falls asleep mid-feed

First check that she’s actually asleep. She may be sucking so blissfully that she appears to have gone off to La-La Land, but in fact she’s simply taking her sweet time sucking down the contents of her bottle.
If she really has nodded off, gently rouse her enough to finish off the meal. Try undressing her a little, tickling her feet, burping her, switching positions or even pausing for a diaper change.
One more thing to keep in mind: Frequent feeding fiestas could be a sign that mealtime is spilling into naptime. In that case, it might be worth adjusting your sweetie’s feeding schedule.

Your baby isn’t a fan of the bottle or nipple

Some nipples and angled neck bottles can cause formula to flow too fast — causing baby to gag — or too slow — causing her to have to work extra hard. Try different options to find a more comfortable fit.  

Your baby has a stuffy nose

Congestion from a cold can sometimes make it tough for your baby to suck. Use a cool-mist humidifier, over-the-counter saline drops, and a suction bulb to help clear out some of the mucus and keep offering bottles as usual. She’ll likely only miss a meal or two and will make up for the lost calories once she’s feeling better.

Your baby regularly seems uncomfortable after feeding 

It’s possible she could have an intolerance or allergy to cow’s milk protein, the primary ingredient in most baby formulas. If she’s showing symptoms like crying after feeding, poor feeding, wheezing, digestive problems, watery or swollen eyes, or a rash, talk with her pediatrician. The solution might be as simple as switching formulas to find one your baby can tolerate.  

Signs your baby is hungry

Ideally, you should feed your baby at the first signs of hunger. Don’t wait for tears. By then, your little one may be uncomfortably hungry, especially the longer she cries. She might be tiny, but she’ll make her needs known by:

  • Nuzzling against your breasts
  • Sucking furiously on her hands (or your shirt, or your arm)
  • Opening her mouth
  • Rooting reflex (baby turns her head to the side with her mouth open to find the food source, often after her cheek is stroked)
  • Sucking on her lip or tongue (which can look like she’s sticking her tongue out)
  • Making lip-smacking sounds
  • If she does cry, it will typically be a short, low-pitched wail that rises and falls

How much milk should a baby drink?

Start your newborn out slowly. For the first week or so, your baby will probably take about 1 to 3 ounces at each feeding (every three to four hours or on demand).
Gradually up the ounces, adding more as the demand becomes greater, but never push your baby to take more than she wants. The same rules apply if you’re combining formula with breast milk or using bottles for pumped milk: Give your baby only as much as she’s hungry for, with no prodding to finish any particular amount.
A very rough general rule of thumb is to take your baby’s weight and multiply it by 2.5 — that’s the total number of ounces to feed your baby over the course of a 24-hour period.
So if your baby weighs 10 pounds, she should be drinking roughly 20 to 25 ounces per day — or about 3 to 4 ounces every four hours. Need more guidance? Check in with your pediatrician about how much to give your baby.

What kind of bottle should you use for your baby?

Choosing the best bottles and nipples for your baby can be daunting with such a dizzying array of options available. Ask friends for recommendations, read product reviews and do your research — but be ready for some trial and error too.
Ultimately, finding the right bottle-nipple combination is all about learning your little one’s preferences. Some babies prefer a certain nipple shape or bottle variety; others aren’t picky at all. Try a few options before you stock up. 

Bonding with your baby during bottle-feeding

Feedings are a sweet time for lots of love and snuggles no matter where the meal is coming from. While breastfeeding offers a built-in opportunity for skin-to-skin contact, there are plenty of ways to get that same sense of closeness when you bottle-feed. 

Share some skin. 

Take off your shirt or unbutton the front, remove your baby’s onesie and snuggle up under a blanket together if it’s chilly. Skin-to-skin contact boosts levels of the love-hormone oxytocin, which plays a major role in parent-baby bonding. 

Stare into your baby’s eyes.

Gazing at each other is another way to get the oxytocin flowing. Just try to keep your face within 8 to 10 inches of your baby’s, which is as far as her little peepers can focus right now. 

Have a chat.

Talk with your sweetie or sing to her while she sips. Your baby loves the sound of your voice (after all, she’s been hearing it for months before she was born!). Plus, chatting her up will eventually encourage her to start babbling her own words in the months to come.

Weaning from breast to bottle

Ready to offer that first bottle to your breastfed baby? If you’re lucky, your baby will take to it like an old friend, eagerly latching on and lapping up the contents. Or she may take a little time to warm up to this unfamiliar, new source of food.
Keeping these weaning tips in mind will help transition your baby from the breast to the bottle more smoothly:

  • Ease into it. Switch to the bottle one feeding at a time.
  • Give your baby a full week to get used to a single bottle-feeding before moving on to more. This will not only help your baby adjust gradually, but your breasts too, if you’ll be supplementing with formula instead of pumping and feeding breast milk.

When it comes to bottle-feeding, babies tend to react and adapt differently. The one thing that’s constant is that in time, your cute (and growing!) little eater will get used to it — and pretty soon will be taking the bottle like a pro.
From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and highly respected health organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.
Please whitelist our site to get all the best deals and offers from our partners.
The educational health content on What To Expect is reviewed by our medical review board and team of experts to be up-to-date and in line with the latest evidence-based medical information and accepted health guidelines, including the medically reviewed What to Expect books by Heidi Murkoff. This educational content is not medical or diagnostic advice. Use of this site is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy. © 2005-2024 Everyday Health, Inc., a Ziff Davis company.

cool-black-logo Opens a new window

What to Expect supports Group Black Opens a new window and its mission to increase greater diversity in media voices and media ownership. Group Black’s collective includes Essence Opens a new window, The Shade Room Opens a new window and Naturally Curly Opens a new window.

What to Expect supports Group Black Opens a new window and its mission to increase greater diversity in media voices and media ownership. Group Black’s collective includes Essence Opens a new window, The Shade Room Opens a new window and Naturally Curly Opens a new window.


Leave a Comment