Bottle feeding

Baby's first year

The early days of getting to know your baby is a wonderful experience. Keep your little one close and enjoy skin-to-skin contact with them. You will get to know each other and it’s great for bonding too. If you are bottle feeding, your baby will feel most secure if feeding is shared by just one or two people.  

baby being held by adult

You can bottle feed your baby with expressed breast milk, formula milk, or a combination of both. 

This page covers: 

See our breastfeeding page for information on this topic.

Responsive bottle feeding 

Your baby will show you when they are hungry and when they are full. 

Follow your baby's cues to feed or to stop feeding. This is responding to your baby's needs. You will also support their natural responses to food. This helps them to develop healthy eating habits from early on.  

Your baby will show you signs that they are hungry, and you will get to know them. Signs that your baby is hungry could be: 

  • Licking or smacking their lips, opening their mouth, turning their head 
  • Chewing their fist, stretching, wriggling  
  • Crying is usually the last sign that your baby is hungry, and it is much easier to feed them before they get upset. UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Initiative has a Responsive Feeding info sheet

How to bottle feed your baby 

smiling woman bottle feeding a baby

When your baby is ready to feed, hold them close to you in an upright position so that they can look at you. 

Place the teat on your baby’s top lip to encourage them to draw the teat in. 

Keep the bottle horizontal (see picture), and help your baby to feed slowly. Watch your baby’s reaction and allow them to have a break from sucking. This is paced feeding. 

If they stop feeding or show you that they have had enough, you don’t need to encourage them to finish the milk.  

Top tips for responsive bottle feeding: 

  • Look at your baby’s face and interact when feeding. 
  • Try to change which side you feed your baby from at each feed to encourage eye development in both eyes. 
  • Pace the feed so that your baby is not forced to feed more than they want to. This will decrease the risk of over-feeding.  

Helpful links

Bottle feeding safely

If you are using formula milk is important to keep bottles and equipment clean. This will protect your baby from germs and infection. The NHS Start for Life page How To Sterilise Equipment provides information on different methods and how. 

Formula milk powder is not sterile. Make up fresh every time to kill any bacteria present as it could make your baby poorly. Do not keep or store after making.  

Fresh water should always be used when boiling a kettle to make formula. Always add the water to the bottle before the powder. You should always follow the safety instructions on the formula packaging. 

man bottle feeding a baby

The only formula milk you need to buy is 'first milk suitable from birth'. You can give this to your baby right up to a year old. 

Most infant formula is made from cows’ milk and treated to make it suitable for your baby. No other milk should be given to your baby unless this is on the advice of your Midwife, Health Visitor or GP. 

Never use a prop or leave your baby alone with a bottle as there is a risk they might choke. 

Your baby will know how much milk they need. Never force your baby to finish a feed as this will be distressing and can mean your baby is overfed.

Related content

baby being held by adult

Advice on infant feeding for new parents

Getting the hang of successfully feeding a new baby can be difficult. Kirsty Edgson, Barnardo’s Strategic Lead for Health Visiting, shares some advice on feeding your child, however you choose to do it.

Last updated on 14 February 2024