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Find out how often to give your baby a bottle, why it's not a good idea to mix breast milk and formula, and how to warm a baby bottle (and if you need to). Learn all about paced feeding, plus get tips on cleaning baby bottles and more.
How often should I feed my baby a bottle?
Most experts agree that you shouldn't follow a rigid feeding schedule in the early weeks, though you may be able to work out an approximate pattern within a month or two. Babies differ, but here's generally what to expect:
- For the first few weeks, offer the bottle every two to three hours or when your baby seems hungry. If she sleeps longer than four to five hours, wake her up for a feeding. Your newborn will likely take around 1½ to 2 ounces each feeding for the first few days. After those few days, she'll typically be taking about 2 to 3 ounces per feeding.
- After about a month, your baby will probably be taking around 4 ounces every three to four hours. As your baby grows, this amount will gradually increase over the next several months.
- By 6 months, she'll likely take 6 to 8 ounces four or five times a day.
The amount can vary from feeding to feeding. Resist the temptation to encourage your baby to finish a bottle once she loses interest or falls asleep – trust that she'll eat enough to provide her body with the nutrients it needs.
The doctor will monitor your baby's growth, which is the best indicator that she's getting enough food.
If my baby doesn't finish a bottle, can I save it for later?
Bacteria from your baby's saliva mixes with whatever fluid is in the bottle, which leads to contamination.
Leftover formula: If your baby doesn't finish formula within an hour from when feeding began, throw away any that's left over.
Leftover breast milk: The antibacterial properties of breast milk give it a shelf life of two hours. After that, throw it out.
Can I mix breast milk and formula?
There's nothing unsafe about mixing breast milk and formula in the same container. But you won't want to waste a single drop of breast milk if you're pumping and supplementing with formula.
To avoid throwing out leftover breast milk that's been mixed with formula, first feed your baby whatever breast milk you've expressed. Then, if your baby is still hungry, follow that up with formula.
What's the best way to warm a bottle?
Grab a bottle of refrigerated breast milk or formula and use one of these warming methods:
- Place it in a bowl of warm – not hot – water until it's warm, up to 15 minutes. The water level should be below the top of the bottle. Gently swirl it a few times to make sure it's evenly heated.
- Place the bottle under warm, running tap water until warm, about one to two minutes. Be careful not to get water on the nipple or into the bottle.
- Use a countertop bottle warmer.
Never use a microwave to heat a bottle of breast milk or formula. A microwave oven heats unevenly, so it can create hot pockets in the liquid that can cause burns. Microwaving can also cause nutrients to break down.
There's no health reason to warm the milk first, but your baby may prefer it. Consider experimenting. If your baby will drink bottles at room temperature or slightly cold, you could save yourself the time and hassle of warming bottles, which is more stressful when he's crying to be fed.
How can I make sure my baby is drinking comfortably?
Like so much with babies, listen and observe.
- If you hear a lot of noisy sucking sounds while your baby drinks, she may be taking in too much air. To help her swallow less air, hold her at a 45-degree angle.
- If she seems uncomfortable while feeding (is squirmy or crying), take a little time out to burp her.
- Never prop a bottle – it can cause your baby to choke.
- Feed your baby as soon as she shows signs of being hungry. If she gets too upset before feeding, she might have trouble drinking calmly.
What is paced feeding?
Paced (or responsive, or cue-based) feeding means feeding your baby in a way that gives him more control. It respects your baby's hunger and fullness cues, and mimics the flow of breastfeeding.
- Use a wide-based, slow-flow nipple.
- Keep the bottle horizontal, so the milk or formula flows as your baby sucks on the nipple. (If you tilt the bottle so that the milk or formula is constantly flowing, your baby may get too much milk or formula too quickly and/or become overfed. On the other hand, you want to make sure that the nipple has some milk or formula in it so that he doesn't swallow too much air.) Experiment to see what works best for your baby, so that he's sucking and swallowing slowly and comfortably.
- Rather than push the nipple into your baby's mouth, stroke his lips with the nipple until he opens wide.
- Pause (by gently tipping the bottle to stop the flow of milk or formula) frequently during feeding to keep your baby from guzzling.
- Switch sides now and then, as you would when breastfeeding.
- Let your baby stop eating when he shows signs of being full. Don't encourage him to finish a bottle after he's lost interest or fallen asleep.
How do I clean baby bottles and nipples?
Whatever cleaning method you use, make sure to wash your hands well before you begin.
Glass or metal bottles: Run them through a dishwasher cycle that uses heated water and a hot drying cycle. Alternatively, hand wash them in hot, soapy water and let them air-dry on a dish towel or paper towel.
Plastic bottles: Because heat can cause plastics to release harmful chemicals, the AAP recommends that plastic bottles not be put in the dishwasher or submerged in boiling water. Instead, hand wash them in hot, soapy water and set them to air-dry on a dish towel or paper towel. (If you use boiled water to prepare formula, cool it before pouring it into a plastic bottle.)
Nipples and rings: Whether you're hand washing or using the dishwasher, take apart the nipples and rings, and rinse them under running water. Place them in the dishwasher in a closed-top basket or mesh laundry bag. If not completely dry when the cycle is complete, place them on a dish towel or paper towel to air-dry.
To hand wash, place rinsed nipples and rings in a clean basin of soapy hot water. Scrub with a clean brush that's used only for washing infant feeding items. Squeeze water through the nipples to make sure they get clean. Rinse them under running water, then let them air-dry on a dish towel or paper towel. Wash the basin with soapy hot water and let it air-dry too.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides detailed instructions on cleaning baby bottles.
Do I need to sterilize baby bottles?
Maybe. Sanitizing bottles, nipples, and rings is most commonly recommended in the following situations:
- The first time you use new (or hand-me-down) bottles, nipples, and rings
- If you have well water or are concerned about the quality of your water supply
- If your baby was born very prematurely or has a weakened immune system
- If your baby has been sick, to prevent reintroducing bacteria or germs when you feed her
Talk to your baby's doctor if you have questions about whether to sterilize bottles.
How do I sterilize baby bottles?
The CDC provides detailed instructions on different methods to sanitize baby bottles.
Note: Don't use heat-based methods – boiling water, steam, or dishwasher – to sanitize plastic bottles because heat can cause plastics to release harmful chemicals.
- Bleach: Soak glass, metal, or plastic bottles in a solution of 2 teaspoons of unscented bleach per gallon (16 cups, or 128 ounces) of water in a clean wash basin for at least 2 minutes. Do not rinse. Any remaining bleach will break down as it dries. You can use bleach to sanitize plastic bottle parts.
- Boiling water: Submerge glass or metal bottles in boiling water for at least five minutes.
- Steam: Use a countertop or microwave bottle sterilizer. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
- Dishwasher: Run glass or metal bottles through a dishwasher cycle using hot water and a heated drying cycle or a sanitizing setting.
If the bottles are wet after sanitizing, let them air-dry on a dish towel or paper towel.