There are two reasons you may be using bottles to feed your baby: because you are feeding your baby expressed breastmilk, or because you are feeding your baby formula milk. Some aspects of this page will apply to both scenarios, and other parts will be specific to the type of milk.
For information specific to pumping/expressing breastmilk, click here.
What type of bottles shall I use?
Whether you are feeding your baby expressed breastmilk or formula, there is no evidence that one bottle is better than another. Your baby may make this decision for you, as some babies are very particular about the type of teat.
Basic bottles (without any 'features') are the cheapest and usually the easiest to clean, but may allow your baby to swallow more air as they feed.
For parents concerned about the chemicals used to produce plastic bottles, glass bottles provide an alternative, and are made of toughened and heat-resistant glass. These environmentally friendly alternatives may last longer but they are expensive to start with. Obviously there is a risk of the glass shattering if these heavier bottles are dropped.
Some bottles can be self-sterilised in the microwave. These are more expensive and they are very hot when straight out of the microwave so they do need to be cooled before milk is added. The benefit of these is that you can easily sterilise your bottles anywhere with a microwave (so at other people's houses)
To reduce the amount of air swallowed by babies, you could invest in the more expensive 'anti-colic bottles. These can reduce colic for some babies. These can be a little more fiddly to clean, but they do come with self-sterilise options in some brands.
If you are considering formula feeding straight away in hospital you could consider single-use disposable bottles, These come with ready-to-drink formula and with a teat that you can attach to the bottle. This is a very expensive way to give your baby formula but can give parents peace of mind to have in their hospital bag if they are concerned about the success of early breastfeeding, as most hospitals will not provide your baby with formula. Some parents also use these bottles if they are on the go and concerned about making up bottles whilst out.
What type of teats shall I use?
You then need to choose your teat, as these come in various sizes and materials, with different flow rates and possible additional features.
Silicone: usually supplied as standard. More durable but less flexible. Tasteless.
Latex: softer material that feels closer to a nipple so may allow an easier transition between breast and bottle. Less durable - store as per instructions. Can have a strong smell/taste when used for the first time so boil in milk for 5 minutes before use.
Whichever teat you use, check for signs of damage (especially once your baby has teeth). If the teat feels sticky, it may have broken down and need to be replaced. Teats should be replaced every 6-8 weeks regardless of material used.
The smallest bottles that you are likely to use first have a type/size 1 teat, which controls the flow of milk to give a more gentle slow flow, perfect for newborns.
As your baby gets older and more confident with drinking from a bottle, they may want a faster flow of milk and there is less chance of them being overwhelmed by the milk, and so you can move onto the faster flowing teats. If milk is leaking from your baby's mouth, or your baby is spluttering or choking, this may mean the milk is flowing too fast for him.
Once you have chosen your bottles and teats, you will probably need around 6.
What type of steriliser shall I use?
Soon after a feed, wash all bottles and teats in warm soapy water, using a bottle brush to scrub all parts. You must then sterilise all bottles your baby uses, but there are 4 different ways to do this:
Boiling - immerse all parts (including your breast pump if necessary too) in a pan of boiling water for 10 minutes. The bottles will remain sterilised for 3 hours in the covered pan. This is the cheapest method of sterilising, but teats may not last as long, with bottles possibly attracting harmless limescale.
Steam sterilising - electric steam sterilisers are quick and convenient, holding up to six bottles and sterilising in 10 minutes; however, they are an expensive investment. These would not be easy to use on the go. If you are pumping and want to use this method of sterilising, check your model can fit in your pump too.
Cold-water sterilising - add sterilising tablets/fluid to a large container of cold water and immerse all parts (including your breast pump if necessary too) for the time stated, usually between 15-30 minutes. This is an inexpensive and convenient way to sterilise on the go. It can leave a strange taste or smell on the bottles, but this is harmless and shouldn't stop your baby from drinking from them.
Microwave sterilising - Check the simple container fits in your breast pump if necessary, and that your equipment and bottles are microwave safe. Like the self-sterilising bottles, these can be hot to handle, but they are not too expensive. These are usually smaller than steam sterilisers
What type of milk shall I use?
The World Health Organisation recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months. At 6 months, solids can be introduced, alongside breastfeeding. If you are unable to breastfeed but are producing milk and would like your baby to have breastmilk, consider expressing your milk. If you are unable to produce milk but want your baby to benefit from breastmilk, consider the use of donor milk through a reputable organisation such as Human Milk for Human Babies.
There may be several reasons why you consider formula for your baby. Ordinary Mothers is committed to providing support and advice for any scenario, however you choose to feed your baby. Therefore, each scenario has links to our pages or external sites in case this helps you to continue your breastfeeding journey as many new mums feel there is a lack of support to continue breastfeeding, but if you have made the decision to use formula, then see further down this page for advice on what you'll need.
Some of the reasons you may decide to use formula include:
- you are finding breastfeeding painful and you do not want to express, or find this painful too. Check out the NHS guidance;
- you are unable to produce milk yourself or your supply is low, and you do not feel comfortable using donor breastmilk. Check out this article. Be aware of products claiming to increase your supply - many of these come up if you Google 'how to increase my supply';
- you need to supplement as advised by a health professional due to low milk supply (see this article from La Leche League);
- you are returning to work and need to supplement, or have decided to move completely onto formula. Check out this article from La Leche League;
- you want to cut down the number of feeds at the breast. See this article on partial weaning.;
- you have begun breastfeeding but it is no longer a positive experience and is affecting your well-being. Check out this article from La Leche League;
- you do not want to begin to breastfeed due to personal preference.
Be advised against moving onto formula just because you think your baby will sleep more. See our blog on newborn sleep as to why night wakings are a normal protective developmental feature.
If you are supplementing with formula or moving exclusively to formula, you will need to select a first stage infant milk. You will not see these milks on offer or advertised. Follow on milk is not subject to the same restrictions, but there is absolutely no need for your baby to have anything else other than 'stage 1' milk; you can stick to first infant formula until they are a year. At this stage, your child will be getting more of their nutrients from food and can move onto full fat cow's milk as their main drink.
If you have any concerns, or want to know about other milks, ask your health visitor
There is limited evidence that products like Hungry Baby milk actually help.
A simple, up to date guide on infant milks can be downloaded at firststepsnutrition.org
Unicef UK provides a guide on different types of infant milks, available for download at babyfriendly.org.uk
How to make a bottle of formula at home
Always follow the guidance provided by the manufacturer of your chosen formula.
Even when tins and packets of powdered infant formula are sealed, they can sometimes contain bacteria. Bacteria multiply very fast at room temperature. Even when a feed is kept in a fridge, bacteria can still survive and multiply, although more slowly. To reduce the risk of infection, it's best to make up feeds one at a time, as your baby needs them.
Water 70 degrees+ will kill any harmful bacteria. Use freshly boiled drinking water from the tap to make up a feed. Don't use artificially softened water, bottled water, or water that has been boiled before.
First wash your hands.
Then boil a kettle. Leave to cool for no more than 30 mins. It should be no less than 70 degrees. Do not pour it as it is boiling.
Pour out the desired amount of water into a sterilised bottle. Always put the water in the bottle first, while it is still hot, before adding the powdered formula.
Add the corresponding amount of formula using the provided levelled scoop.
Add a lid or teat and cap and shake to mix formula.
It's important to cool the formula so it's not too hot to drink. Do this by holding the bottle (with the lid on) under cold running water. Test the temperature of the formula on the inside of your wrist before giving it to your baby. It should be body temperature, which means it should feel warm or cool, but not hot.
Throw away any remaining milk after your baby has finished feeding.
A prep machine delivers a hot shot to ensure there is no bacteria in the formula powder. It then fills the bottle with the desired amount of water. Many parents like the convenience of these machines because the bottles are made in 2 minutes at the perfect drinking temperature. However, they are an expensive investment. If you do invest in one of the machines, follow the manufacturer's guidelines alongside that of your chosen milk brand. Ensure you follow the guidance for cleaning your machine regularly too.
Never use a microwave as the heat is not evenly distributed and this can burn your baby's mouth.
How to make a bottle of formula when going out
The basic principles of making bottles still applies when you are out. Obviously, if a kettle is available when you are out, you can make up feeds in the normal way.
1. NHS Choices advise that before leaving the house, fill a thermos or similar with boiled water. The vacuum flask doesn't need to be sterilised, but should be clean, and only used for your baby. The boiling water should kill any bacteria present in the flask. If the flask is full and sealed, the water will stay above 70C for several hours. Make up feeds as you need them and cool bottles as necessary using cold running water.
If you don't want to take the entire large box of formula out, you could get a small pot, or a pot with different compartments to hold multiple feeds.
2. If it isn't possible to follow the advice above, or if you need to transport a feed (for example, to a nursery), prepare the feed at home and cool it for at least one hour in the back of the fridge.
Take it out of the fridge just before you leave and carry it in a cool bag with an ice pack, and use it within four hours. If you don't have an ice pack, or access to a fridge, the made-up infant formula must be used within two hours.
If made-up formula is stored:
in a fridge – use within 24 hours
in a cool bag with an ice pack – use within four hours
at room temperature – use within two hours
3. Another option is to make up sterile bottles of water as follows:
Wash your hands with warm, soapy water.
Boil freshly-run tap water; once boiled, pour the required amount of water (without cooling it) into sterile feeding bottles. Secure the water with an air-tight lid.
Allow the bottles to cool to room temperature and store them in a clean place while travelling. Sterile water should be discarded after 24 hours.
Take the sterile bottles of water and powdered infant formula with you
When you are ready to feed your baby, warm the sterile water to feeding temperature.
Add the amount of powdered formula specified on the pack to the sterile water using the clean scoop provided.
Reassemble the bottle and shake well to mix. Check the temperature of the bottlefeed.
Use immediately and discard any feed that has not been consumed within two hours of preparation.
4. A final and perhaps easier option, albeit a more expensive one, is to use the ready-made bottles.
Water - under 6 months
Water does not add calories but can stop a baby nursing/feeding as much so newborn babies do not need additional water beyond their milk.
Fully breastfed babies (including those whose mums exclusively pump) do not need any additional drinks under 6 months. If it is hot, your child may need to need to nurse more often to take on additional fluids from your breastmilk which is 88% water!
Formula fed babies may need additional water in hot weather, but consult a health professional if your baby is under 6 weeks. Any water should not exceed more than 2oz in 24 hours to avoid water intoxication. Water from your mains tap should be boiled and left to cool to drinking temperature.
If your baby is constipated you may need to offer your baby additional water, but your health visitor or doctor can advise you. If your baby is constipated, check that you've been measuring out and mixing the formula correctly as too much powder can cause constipation. If you baby is feverish, you will probably already have sought medical advice and again, they may need water to help rehydrate them, but again, be careful not to exceed 2oz in 24 hours.
Drinks- 6-12 months
Babies continue to take the bulk of their nutrients from milk before a year. Babies should continue to be breastfed or given a breastmilk substitute (formula).
For more information on drinks once weaning onto solids, see our page.