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Bottle feeding

Get well organised for bottle feeding so that you can enjoy it. In time, you’ll find your own routine for preparing feeds and sterilising.


What you’ll need

At least six bottles and teats – there are different kinds of bottles and teats. Ask your midwife, health visitor, or other mothers if you want advice on what to buy. You may be offered secondhand bottles. Make sure they’re not scratched – if they are, you won’t be able to sterilise them properly. Always buy new teats.

A supply of baby milk – there are lots of different brands of baby milk (also called ‘infant formula’) marketed in different ways. Some claim to provide special advantages, or they are labelled ‘first milk’ or ‘second milk’. Most milks are powdered, some are ready to feed. Looking at this choice you may well be confused about what milk to use. However, all baby milks marketed in the UK have to comply with rigorous legislation, and have to contain certain levels of protein, carbohydrate, fats, vitamins and minerals, although different types of fats and carbohydrates may be used.

Ideally, discuss the different brands with your midwife or health visitor and then make your own choice, based on this information. (Mothers who do not want to give their babies any animal products [vegans] will choose to give their baby soya-based infant formula. It contains soya instead of milk protein, and plant sugars instead of lactose.)  

Sometimes a hospital may also recommend a certain brand of milk if your baby was premature and you can’t manage to breastfeed. If there is a strong history of allergies in your family, such as eczema, asthma or food allergies (known as ‘atopic disease’), and you think you won’t manage to breastfeed, seek advice as early as possible from your GP or health visitor. You may be referred to a paediatrician or a doctor who has a special interest in allergies.

Infant formula based on cow’s milk is the better option but, if your baby has an allergic reaction to milk formula, it may be necessary to use non-dairy (soya-based) milk. If your baby is unable to tolerate cow’s milk and has an allergic reaction to soya milk, another type of infant formula may be prescribed. Don’t change to non-dairy baby milks without talking to your doctor or health visitor first.

Unmodified goat’s milk or sheep’s milk are not nutritionally suitable for babies under one year of age.Milk is usually sold cheaply in clinics but can be cheaper still in large supermarkets, so it’s worth comparing prices.

Washing and sterilising

Your bottles and teats must be washed and sterilised until your baby is at least six months old to protect against infection.


Wash your baby’s bottles and teats thoroughly using washing-up liquid. Usually, salt is no longer recommended for cleaning teats but, if you are advised to use salt, use as little as possible and make sure you rinse it off thoroughly. Make sure you get rid of every trace of milk, squirting water through the teats and using a bottle brush for the bottles. Rinse in clean water.


There are a number of different ways of sterilising.

Chemical sterilising

You can buy a complete sterilising unit in the shops or use a plastic bucket with a lid.

  • To make up the solution, follow the instructions that come with the sterilising tablets or liquid.
  • Immerse your baby’s washed bottles, lids and teats in sterilising solution. Leave them in the solution for the time given in the instructions. If you’re using a bucket, keep everything under the water by putting a plate on top. Make sure there aren’t any air bubbles inside the bottles and don’t add any other unsterilised things to the container later or you will have to start all over again.
  • When you take the bottles and teats out to make up your baby’s feeds, wash your own hands first. Don’t rinse the bottles and teats with tap water because you’ll make them unsterile again. If you want to rinse off the sterilising solution, use boiled, cooled water.

Sterilising by boiling

  • Put washed equipment into a large pan with a lid. Make sure no air is trapped in the bottles.
  • Boil for at least ten minutes (teats need just three). Leave everything in the covered pan until needed.
  • Keep the pan out of the reach of older children.
  • Keep your pan only for sterilising this equipment.
  • Teats that are boiled regularly get sticky and need replacing regularly.

Steam sterilisers

There are steam sterilisers specially designed for bottles which are both quick and efficient.

Microwave steam units

These steam units are designed specif- ically for sterilising bottles in a microwave oven. If you intend to sterilise bottles in a microwave oven you must use one of these units, otherwise ‘cold spots’ may occur and could leave part of the bottle unsterilised.


  • You can warm your baby’s bottle before a feed by standing it in some hot water. Test the temperature of the milk by squirting some on to your wrist. Some babies don’t mind cold milk, others like it warmed.
  • Don’t give a baby milk that has been kept warm for more than an hour before a feed – germs breed in the warmth. It’s dangerous to use a microwave oven to warm a bottle of milk. The milk continues to heat for a time after you take it out of the microwave, although the outside of the bottle may feel cold.
  • Get yourself comfortable so that you can cuddle your baby close as you feed. Give your baby time, and let him or her take as much milk as he or she wants. Some babies take some milk and drop off to sleep, then wake up for more. Be patient. At the end of a feed throw away any leftover milk.
  • As you feed, keep the bottle tilted so that the teat is always full of milk, otherwise your baby will be taking in air.
  • If the teat flattens while you’re feeding, pull gently on the bottle to release the vacuum. If the teat blocks, start again with another sterile teat.
  • Teats come in all sorts of shapes and with different hole sizes and with variable flows. You may need to experiment to find the right teat and hole size for your baby. If the hole’s too small, your baby will suck and suck without getting enough milk. If it’s too big, your baby will get too much too quickly and probably spit and splutter or bring the feed back. A small teat hole can be made larger with a red-hot needle if the teat is made of latex. If it is made of silicone you shouldn’t try to enlarge the hole – it is more likely to tear, and bits could break off into your baby’s mouth. 
  • Never prop up a bottle and leave your baby to feed alone – he or she may choke.
  • Don’t add solids to bottle feeds. Your baby can’t digest them and may choke.

We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.