How to Give a Bottle

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated October 16, 2013.



Bottle-feeding is the most common feeding method for formula and expressed breast milk in our culture.  There are many reasons a mother must give a bottle: she may be separated from a preterm baby, mother is returning to work and baby will be with a caregiver, her baby is sick or has a poor latch such as from tongue tie, a mother may be trying to build her supply for relactation or adoptive breastfeeding, she may be exclusively pumping, or she may have chosen to formula-feed.

Mother Bottle Feeding a Baby

Incorrect Positioning: This baby can do nothing but swallow the milk flowing into her mouth.

Though bottles are the most common way to feed your baby expressed milk, many babies are fed a bottle in a way that does not take into account all factors.  A bottle, when turned upside down, drips even without a baby sucking.

So, a baby could be full but still have to gulp or swallow milk just by the nature of how the bottle is given. In contrast, a baby must suck at the breast to elicit a let down of milk.  When nursing, there are natural pauses in the milk flow as the baby must wait for the next let down of milk.

Here are some tips on how to give a bottle to your baby:

  • Use the slowest flow nipple your baby will allow
  • Usually, a more narrow bottle teat will allow for a wider latch (wide-mouth bottles are so wide that many babies end up with a very shallow latch)
  • Do not feed baby while lying horizontally so the milk doesn’t flow as fast from the bottle. In fact, sit your baby up at an angle as much as possible.
  • Do not tip the bottle up completely but hold it only slightly tilted so the flow is not too fast
  • Feed small amounts of the bottled milk while taking frequent, short breaks to allow baby to feel a sense of fullness and not overeat.
  • When pausing/taking breaks, leave the bottle teat in the baby’s mouth with the nipple pointed upward.  That way your baby can begin to suck again when he is ready for more.
  • Watch for baby’s cues that he is getting too much milk:  fingers flanged outward, milk dripping from sides of mouth, head turning away.  Pause at these moments.
  • Never force a baby to finish the bottle.  Respect his wishes about how much he wants to drink.
  • Hold baby next to your body like a mother does while breastfeeding – touch is important.

Research shows that formula-fed babies have higher rates of obesity and this isn’t just as a child but throughout their entire lives.  Part of this has to do with unique components of breast milk versus formula.  But, bottle feeding (whether it is expressed breast milk or formula) can lead to obesity because of the way a bottle is given.  Following these bottle-feeding tips will help mimic breastfeeding and allow your child more control over her meals.