Although we encourage all mothers to breastfeed because of the health benefits for mothers and babies, we know that some mothers choose not to, or may be unable to, breastfeed. A peer supporter can discuss the health benefits of breastmilk and risks of artificial formula milk with you, so that you can make informed choices or you can ask your midwife or health visitor.
You should be supported to bottlefeed your baby as safely as possible. This includes:
- Avoiding overfeeding by bottle
- Bottlefeeding in a way which promotes a close mother-baby relationship
- Making up formula and sterilising equipment correctly
- Using the correct formula
Many of the health risks of formula are related to the increased risk of obesity in childhood and later life. It can be tempting to encourage a baby to feed when they are no longer hungry, hoping to get them to sleep for longer, or simply to use up the amount of formula milk you have made up. It is safer to feed your baby little and often, in response to their signs of hunger.
Safe bottlefeeding also means feeding in a way that encourages a close relationship between mother and baby, and maximises opportunities for developing language and communication skills. Try to limit the number of different people who bottlefeed your baby—preferably just the mother and one other person—so that the pleasurable feelings associated with feeding are linked to that person.
See the UK Baby Friendly Initiative guide Responsive Bottlefeeding and more detail about how to bottlefeed in this leaflet which answers questions like; How often should I feed my baby? How do I know if my baby is hungry? How do I know if my baby is getting enough milk? How do I help my baby to feed from a bottle?
If you make up powdered milk feeds, please read the Guide to bottlefeeding leaflet for detailed information on making up feeds and sterilising equipment. Current guidance is to make up only one bottle of formula at a time, and to add the milk powder to water which is 70°C—this is approximately the temperature if you boil a large kettle (at least 1 litre) and leave it to cool for no more than 30 minutes—in order to reduce the risk of infection.
Babies only need Stage 1 Newborn Infant Milk until they are one year old, when they can start drinking full fat cows’ milk. There is no need for them to have ‘follow-on milk’. See What Infant Formula to Choose and for more detailed information on different infant milks see First Steps Nutrition’s Guide to Infant Milks.
Mixing bottlefeeding and breastfeeding
Giving infant formula to a breastfed baby will reduce your breast milk supply. Bottlefeeding will make it harder for your baby to learn to feed at your breast. If you mix bottlefeeding and breastfeeding, you are likely to stop breastfeeding sooner than if you just breastfeed.
If you wish to mainly bottlefeed, you can still continue giving regular breastfeeds as often as you want, for example just once a day.
Breastfeeding is the healthiest way to feed your baby. If you have not previously breastfed, or you have stopped breastfeeding, it is possible try starting again at any time.