If you decide to bottle feed your baby you still need to follow their feeding cues, in the same way as you would if they were breastfed.
- A newborn baby’s tummy is tiny, only the size of a cherry!
- Even by one month a baby’s tummy is no bigger than a chicken’s egg – and it fills quickly then empties quickly.
- Feeding or hunger cues include licking lips, wriggling, sucking on things and rooting or searching for a feed.
If you decide to bottle feed, it’s important to still follow your baby’s feeding cues and feed her straight away when she show signs she might be hungry, and don’t ever insist on your baby finishing a whole bottle, or even taking a little more if she’s not seeming to want it. Remember, a newborn’s tummy is really tiny – perhaps only the size of a cherry when newborn, and no bigger than a chicken egg at a month. A useful way to think about it is that everyone’s stomach is naturally roughly the size of the palm of their hand – whether they are newborn or 30 years old. As adults, many of us have spent decades stretching our stomachs to accommodate much too much food and drink, but this is clearly not desirable – and not something we want to encourage in our babies!
What are feeding cues?
Just as for breastfeeding – if you’re bottle feeding, it’s important to follow your baby’s feeding cues and feed little and often. These little tell tale signs are how you will know when your baby is being fed when they are hungry, and can stop when they become full.
Feeding or hunger cues include:
- Licking lips
- Wriggling, stretching
- Sucking blanket, fingers, your face or anything they can reach.
- Rooting and searching for the bottle
Eventually babies whose cues have been missed may begin crying – crying is not a feeding cue; sadly, crying is a sign that we have missed all their feeding cues.
Each parent will get to know their baby and know what their baby’s cues are.
Signs of fullness include:
- Spitting out the bottle teat
- Eyes widening or averting gaze
- Fussing and crying at the end of a feed (though also check if your baby needs winding or is struggling to feed from the bottle).
- Turning away from the bottle (this is a very late sign of fullness though)
It’s a very natural feeling to want your baby to take what they can manage, but for baby’s comfort and longer-term health, it is best to slow things down and check you’re not giving more than is recommended. Some of these signs of fullness may already be a little late.
If you are using formula milk, the manufacturer will give you guidelines on how much your baby is taking in 24 hours but you don’t necessarily have to strictly follow their suggestions for amounts or the timing of feeds as each baby will have different needs.
As long as the 24 hour intake is about right (usually around 24-36 ounces in total – or 700-1000mL – per 24 hours, and your baby’s weight checks show they are roughly staying on the same centile line, you might decide to time your baby’s feeds a little differently to meet their needs and respond to their cues.
It can be helpful to look for ways to slow the flow down if you think your baby might be feeding too quickly or taking too much. This might include your baby sitting a bit more upright and the bottle being a bit more horizontal. You should also take the bottle out occasionally to give them a chance to pause. Just as we pause during meals so we can determine if we feel we have had enough so your baby needs these breaks. Do see the article by my colleague Emma Pickett about Responsive Feeding in the Bottle Fed Baby.
If you are mixed feeding breast and bottle, please see this piece on responsively feeding a mixed fed baby.
Bottlefeeding a newborn
It’s also important to remember that bottlefeeding a newborn isn’t just about filling them up with milk. Closeness and cuddling are special ways that we build up our relationship with our baby. When you are feeding your newborn baby, you will be cuddling them throughout the day. All this cuddling helps new parents and newborn babies to feel more bonded and connected. Although it’s nice to get help from wider family and friends, it’s special for a newborn if feeding is done by her parents whenever possible. It’s a time for your baby to look at your face (and for you to look at her), hear your voice and feel close to you. Babies who are passed to lots of people for feeding can feel anxious as each person will inevitably use a different technique and hold.
You might even want to bottlefeed skin-to-skin if you feel comfortable doing so, but make sure your baby is covered on top with a blanket so they stay nice and warm.
In the very early days, your baby will want to have a lot of feeds; some longer, some shorter. These frequent feeds are really important because newborn babies have tiny tummies that fill up quickly and empty quickly.
Follow your baby’s feeding cues
We encourage parents and carers to watch for the little signals babies make; babies tend to give lots of little signals before they get desperate and cry!
Settling into a pattern
Infant feeding specialists don’t recommend enforcing a feeding routine. They suggest it’s better to follow your baby’s lead and know that they will settle after the first couple of weeks into their own little pattern.
All babies are slightly different and some babies might continue to want quite frequent feeds and some babies might start to space their feeds out a little bit.
As your baby gets older they will probably only want to feed every 2-3 hours. Bottlefeeds will also probably become a bit shorter and easier as you and your baby becomes more and more efficient at feeding.
As babies get older, bottlefeeds continue to be a time for closeness and connection. It’s time out from a busy and stimulating world to have a moment of peace together. It’s not an aim to have a baby holding their own bottle. The longer those cuddles last – the better!
Don’t immediately worry if your baby changes pattern and suddenly wants lots of feeds. This often happens at around 6 weeks (and lots of breastfeeding mums think their milk supply has decreased). However, six weeks is a common time for your baby to experience a growth spurt (really it’s more accurately described as a developmental phase) so if you are bottle feeding your baby, they may want more feeds at this time.
During a growth spurt your baby feeds a lot more than usual (this sends a message to breasts to make more milk but if you are bottle feeding you need to respond with more formula). This feeding behaviour during a growth spurt generally lasts for 24-48 hours and then everything settles down.
This is a term that describes how at a particularly time of day, often in the late afternoon or early evening, babies might seem to constantly want feeding, even when they have just been fed. This is a natural behaviour because in a breastfed baby it’s how they signal that they would like their mother’s milk supply to increase for them. In a bottle fed baby it might simply be that your baby is looking for extra cuddles or feeling tired at the end of a stimulating day. You can offer smaller amounts more often to meet your baby’s needs for this close feeding time. Or pause from feeding and enjoy some relaxing cuddles or a bath, if you feel she’s had enough milk.
If you ARE breastfeeding (or bottle feeding breastmilk), or even if you are simply interested, you can download an app from the AppStore called LatchAid, which gives more information about growth spurts / developmental leaps and all sorts of other breastfeeding and lactation issues.