Message in a Bottle

Keep your infant comfortable and close at feeding time.

Whether you’re feeding your baby formula or pumping your breast milk for later use, here are tips that will have you bottle-feeding your baby like an expert.

Choosing a Bottle
Bottles come in variety of shapes, sizes and materials. Choose on that you can grip easily while holding your baby. Nipples are often labeled with flow rates (slow, medium or fast), which correspond to the size of the opening at the tip. Start your newborn slowly and advance as he gets bigger. You may want to purchase two or three different kinds of nipples depending on your baby’s preference. Discard any deteriorated or discolored nipples immediately.


It’s a good idea to sterilize all feeding supplies before the first use, after which cleaning with hot soapy water is sufficient. Make sure to have a bottle brush and drying rack on hand — you’ll be using both a lot!

Preparation and Storage
When giving milk (either pumped breast milk or formula) by bottle, it’s important to note a few safety rules.

Although some babies will happily drink cool or room-temperature milk, others will demand that it is warmed first. Place the milk-filled bottle in boiling water or a bottle warmer for one to two minutes until the bottle is lukewarm, then shake it gently. Do not use a microwave as this may cause the liquid to heat unevenly, leading to burns.

It is safe to keep prepared formula in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, after which it should be discarded. Remember the 5:5:5 rule for breast milk, which can still be used after pumping up to 5 hours at room temperature, 5 days in the refrigerator, and 5 months in the freezer. Do not store and re-use milk left over a feeding.

Ready to Eat
Feed your baby when he is calm, and hold him in a somewhat upright position. Angle the bottle so that milk fills the nipple as he is eating — this will prevent excess air from entering his stomach. Frequent burping also helps. If your baby is gagging wile feeding it may be a sign that the milk is flowing too quickly, and adjustments should be made. Never prop the bottle as this can lead to choking.


Parents sometimes wonder if a breastfed baby can take a bottle without getting “nipple confusion”. In fact, most babies who have established good nursing habits can easily switch back and forth. If you are breastfeeding and plan to use a bottle at some point, it’s a good idea to introduce one by the time your baby is six weeks old.

Get a Little Closer
To bond with your bottle-fed baby, make sure that you are in an environment where neither of you is distracted (this means turning off the TV). Babies love skin-to-skin contact, so if you can, take off both your shirt as well as your baby’s. Keep your face close to his and talk or sing to him softly. You many notice that his sucking pattern reflects the rhythm of your speech. For a moment, the two of you can snuggle close, relax, gaze into one another’s eyes, and experience the simple joy of being parent and child. These days will be gone before you know it, so enjoy them while you can!

Pediatrician Elizabeth Shashaty, MD, is on staff at Children’s National Medical Center and Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, both in Washington, DC. She is also the mother of three young children.

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Written by Elizabeth Shashaty, MD

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