Breastfeeding Newborns

Tips for Bottle Feeding Your Baby

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pin image 8 tips for bottle feeding your baby

Whether you plan to breast feed or not, you might be considering using a bottle at least some of the time to feed your baby. 

Like changing a diaper, bottle feeding is somewhat of an innate skill.

Most babies have no problem feeding from a bottle.

But if you’ve already tried bottle feeding and feel like you need some pointers, you’ve come to the right place.

During a bottle feed, does your baby:

  • fall asleep really easily?
  • gag or choke?
  • seem to be gulping loudly?
  • grimace or arch his or her back?

Fortunately, I can give you some pointers for all of these problems. I can’t promise to fix whatever your problem is, but at least we can try!

(In case you didn’t click that link, what I’m trying to say is that you may need help from a real live professional!)

So, here’s how to get your baby to take a bottle!

Start with the right bottle

There are tons of bottles out there for all feeding types:

Since there are a ton of bottles, you have to be strategic when buying them because you never know which bottles your baby will love and which they will hate.

This is one reason I recommend registering for several different types of bottles on your baby registry.

You can also request free samples from most companies with registries.

Formula companies are known for giving bottle samples as well.

Another method is to ask friends who have children which bottles they used.

For my mostly breastfed baby, I chose Avent Natural bottles simply because I had two free samples in my house, and my baby didn’t mind them! Win!

My friend’s baby was having issues with reflux and vomiting after feeds, so she purchased the Playtex Ventair bottles and says she loves them.

Choose the right nipple

Choosing the right nipple is also extremely important if you’re having trouble bottle feeding your baby.

Once you’ve chosen your bottle, you need to decide which size nipple in that brand works best for your baby.

A nipple that is too fast can cause your baby to swallow extra air, withdraw, fall asleep, choke, or even work hard to breathe.

A nipple that is too slow can make your feeding times longer or aggravate your baby.

I recommend starting with an age appropriate nipple (check the label) and adjusting from there.

This study shows the vast difference in flow rates between different brands of nipples.

Breastfed babies typically need a slower nipple

The first time I fed my son with a bottle, I used the only nipple size I had (a nipple labeled for newborns).

He gulped down an ounce in about 2 minutes, even with paced feeding (discussed later) to slow him down.

Then, he puked every where!

This is why I strongly urge you to consider what nipple you’re using.

Check this chart (from the above article) to see which nipple would be more appropriate for your baby. 

Once I checked the chart, I found out that the bottle I was using had a slower nipple available and in fact, it was one of the slowest nipples on the market!

This was perfect, in my opinion, since my son was mostly breastfed.

He needed something that was comparable to the flow of the breast. 

& I’m happy to report no more puking 🙂

If your baby is unhappy with the flow from the bottle, it may be that your breast is just a little faster than that nipple! Try a faster one.

An exclusively bottle fed baby may be able to tolerate a faster flow

Of course, every baby is different. If your baby seems aggravated with the bottle, he or she may need a faster flow.

& since you don’t need to worry about flow preference, it shouldn’t be an issue.

For more detailed info on the affects of flow rate on your baby’s feeding, including flow from the breast, check out this article on the Importance of Flow Rate in Infant Feeding

Read your baby’s hunger cues

Baby eating his hand
Hungry boy

Now that you hopefully have the right bottle and the right nipple, the next most important thing to start off a bottle feeding right is to make sure your baby is ready to eat. 

Typically, your baby will eat every 2-3 hours at first.

Then he will stretch the time between feeds. As long as your baby is gaining weight and having enough wet diapers, pediatricians usually say this is OK.

However, you should check with them first before letting your baby go too long between feeds.

Your baby should be displaying at least one of the following cues:

  • Awake and alert
  • Rooting
  • Hands to mouth
  • Lip smacking
  • Crying (a late sign!)
  • Sucking on a pacifier (if you use them)

I typically try to get started with feeding a few minutes after my son wakes up, or when he starts rooting and trying to eat his hands.

I once waited a little too long and by the time I’d gotten to him he had given himself a hickey on his arm! O_O

Get in the right position

Again, most babies have no problem taking a bottle.

But for those that do, try putting the baby in an elevated side-lying position, with the body facing away from your body heat and comfort.

Try positioning your baby on a pillow or with her body in line with your legs.

This will keep her away from your body heat and help her focus on eating.

Try not to lean in too close (i.e. putting your chest on or near them).

I know you want to stare lovingly at your baby’s face, but give them 30 minutes to eat, then stare all you want! 😉

Don’t let your baby get too hungry

At the same time, you don’t want to let your baby get so hungry that they are having trouble calming down enough to latch to the bottle nipple. 

A starving baby is more likely to choke or gag when first introduced to the nipple because their suck is so strong. 

If your baby is indeed starving, you can do one of two things:

  • Introduce a pacifier first to get the suck under control and then switch to the bottle
  • Introduce an empty nipple (by tilting the bottle down) and only allow formula/milk to enter the nipple after they have calmed down and regulated their suck pattern. 

Pacing is a good option

Some babies need external pacing from the feeder in order to regulate their eating pattern. 

If your baby is gulping a lot or seems to be taking lots of breaks to breathe, first consider a slower nipple, then try pacing. 

Pacing means that you allow your baby 3-5 good sucks before tilting the bottle down or turning the baby so that the milk/formula falls back into the bottle, out of the nipple.

This gives your baby an external reminder to stop and breathe. Ultimately, you want your baby to pace himself.

So hopefully you will start doing this and they will take over automatically.

Attempt to re-alert

If your baby is falling asleep (and you’ve got them properly positioned away from your body heat), you can try to gently re-alert him. 

A couple things you can do:

  • Take off his hat (if wearing one) and rub his head (you might even be rewarded with a burp for doing this!)
  • Sit him up and try to burp him
  • Unswaddle him (if swaddled)
  • Open his clothes a little

If none of these things seem to rouse him, he is probably done eating and you shouldn’t push him.

Be warned that if your baby is doing this repeatedly and not taking normal amounts of fluid, you need to be seen by your pediatrician for evaluation.

Don’t force the feed

You need to read the signs your baby is giving you.

If your baby displays any of the following signs, you should think about ending the feed at that time.

  • falling into a deep sleep (not rousable) 
  • very lax latch on the nipple (possibly still “sucking” but not taking anything in)
  • gagging
  • choking
  • grimacing or crying
  • turning away
  • pushing the nipple out with their tongue
  • difficulty breathing (warning sign – get seen by the pediatrician!)

Sometimes you can re-initiate a feed after one of these signs, but I wouldn’t push it if it keeps happening.

Gagging or choking repeatedly can make a baby associate negative feelings with feed times. 

In addition to watching for these signs, you don’t want to try forcing your baby to eat by jamming the nipple in their mouth, or twisting the bottle to get them to eat.

Always let your baby invite the nipple in before proceeding.

Hopefully you’ve taken away some helpful tips from this post.

If you’re still having trouble after adjusting your feeding methods, get help from a professional!

There may be something more to this than you can see.

If you found this post helpful, will you please share it?

I love helping parents get the hang of bottle feeding in the NICU, and I’d love to spread this knowledge to parents who were lucky enough not to have to spend time there.

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