Baby-led Bottle Feeding


Maybe it’s been awhile since you’ve bottle fed a baby. Maybe you’re brand new to it, and the idea of feeding a small baby is overwhelming - either way, here are some steps to feeding the baby and some tips from moms who have been there!

Baby-led bottle feeding is a way of allowing the baby to control the flow of milk in a way that is safe and comfortable for the baby. It helps them to experience less stress and they are better able to control the amount they eat.

Be sure to watch the baby’s face while they are in your care so you can respond to cues they provide. When babies turn their head from side to side (also called “rooting”), open their mouth and put their hands inside, or lick their lips, these are all signs that baby is hungry and ready to eat. Be sure to get the bottle ready before they start to cry, as they may be too agitated to eat by then and may take time to calm down.

If you are feeding a baby that isn’t your own, make sure of course to confirm with the parent how and when they feed their baby and how they would like you to do it! These are just some tips and tricks to get you started and some families may do things differently!

1) Heating the breast milk/mixing the formula

Breast Milk: Before care starts, ask the parent how the baby prefers their bottle and its temperature. If baby is showing signs of being hungry, remove milk from the fridge, and run under warm (not hot) water in the sink for a few minutes (or some families use bottle warmers). Test the milk on your wrist to ensure it’s not too hot before feeding the baby.  If the breastmilk is frozen in a bag, you can place it in a bowl of warm water until it thaws. Be careful that the seal is above the water level. Never warm milk in the microwave, as it can cause hot spots that can lead to burns.

Formula: If baby is ready to eat, review the directions on the formula. Add the appropriate amount of filtered or bottled water (depending on the parent’s preference) to a clean bottle, then use the scoop that came with the formula to add the number of scoops needed based on the formula directions. Attach the nipple and cap to the bottle and shake well.  Be sure to review these additional guidelines from the CDC before the bottle is prepared regarding precautions you can take to protect the baby.

2) Prepare the baby for the bottle

Grab a burp cloth to have nearby in case the baby spits up. Sit down in a secure seat and hold the baby upright, supported by one of your arms. Gently place the bottle’s nipple against the baby’s bottom lip/chin and wait for them to open their mouth and start rooting. Always wait for them to latch on, never forcing the bottle.

3) Following the baby’s lead

When the baby has latched, allow them to suck on the bottle before any milk is in the nipple. After about 20-30 seconds, gently tilt the bottle to allow the milk to flow. The baby will drink at their own pace and take breaks as needed for breathing. Be sure to watch the baby’s eyes as they eat for signs of distress, such as:

- Worried expression

- Fingers or toes splayed out

- Noisy gulping or gasping for air

- Milk running out of their mouth

- Turning their head or pushing the bottle away

If you see any of these signs, tilt the bottle back down so no more milk comes out of it temporarily. If they are still hungry and would like to resume eating, they will root. At this time, you can gently tilt the bottle back up so milk flows again. If they are no longer hungry, they will stop rooting and sucking and are ready to be burped.

4) Burping

The baby should be burped for about every 3 ounces they eat. There are a couple options for burping a baby, depending on your level of comfort and the baby’s preference.

The first option is to safely hold the baby and pull them up to your shoulder. The majority of the baby’s body should be against your chest/shoulder and their head should rest gently on your shoulder. Support the baby with one hand and use your other hand to gently pat the baby’s back. Continue patting until the baby burps.  If they are still hungry, go back and repeat steps 2 - 4 above.

The second option is to hold the baby on your lap facing out. While the baby is sitting in this position, use one hand to support their chin and chest, while gently patting their back with the other hand. Continue patting until the baby burps. If they are still hungry, go back and repeat steps 2 - 4.

For examples, pictures, and more info on burping, here’s a great resource!

A few additional things to remember:

- Never leave a baby to eat alone with a propped bottle.

- Never heat a bottle on the stove or in the microwave.

- The information above is full of great guidelines, but always follow the wishes of the parents when feeding a baby!