Infant feeding in the first 6 months

If the number of books on infant feeding is anything to go by, there are literally thousands of approaches that are ‘guaranteed to work’. You may have even read about some of these in preparation for the birth of your baby.

Be mindful that not all approaches work for all babies, or even for you! You don’t need to blindly follow other people’s advice – trial and error is often the best way of finding out what works for you and your baby. Above all, trust your instincts.

Bonding, attachment and responsive feeding

Attachment is the two-way bond that develops between you and your baby as you communicate with each other by touch as well as talking. Strong attachment helps your baby's brain to grow, particularly the part of the brain that is important for communicating and forming relationships with others. Your baby feels safe, secure and loved and so learns to love others.

Feeding is a really important time for developing this bond whether you choose to breast or bottle feed. It isn't just about giving your baby energy to grow into a healthy child and adult. Responsive feeding describes how you recognise and respond to your baby's hunger signals or 'cues'. Hold your baby close to you, make eye contact and talk in a loving way. Learn to understand when your baby is no longer hungry and trust your baby's feeling of fullness. Sometimes your baby will only want to feed for a few minutes, sometimes for much longer, in the same way we sometimes just want a drink and a quick snack and at other times a three course dinner!

There are a few differences between responsive breast and bottle feeding:

Responsive breastfeeding

  • a baby will not breastfeed if they do not want to, so it is fine to offer the breast whenever you or your baby wish, including when your baby seems distressed. Breastfed babies are in control of their feeding and cannot be overfed or 'spoiled' by frequent feeding. A sit down and a cuddle, even if they do not take much milk, will help your baby develop trust and security.
  • On the other hand parents often worry that they do not know how much milk a breastfed baby is taking. Part of this is learning to trust your body and to trust your baby to know what they need. You should expect support from your midwife and health visitor to learn how to know your baby is feeding well by knowing, for example, how many wet & dirty nappies to expect.

Responsive bottle feeding

  • When a bottle is put into your baby's mouth, milk comes out of the teat with little or no effort from the baby. As the milk touches the back of the tongue, it triggers the swallow reflex and your baby has to swallow the milk to avoid choking. It is easy to interpret this as a signal that your baby is definitely hungry. For this reason it is very easy to over-feed a baby from a bottle whether it contains formula or expressed breastmilk. this puts your baby at risk of gaining too much weight.
  • So it is important to recognise when your baby is getting full. This is easier to do by "pacing". This means letting your baby pause every few sucks to see if they want to stop feeding, taking the bottle out of your baby's mouth and then only starting again if they draw the teat into their mouth themselves. Never force the teat into your baby's mouth or keep trying to feed if your baby turns their head away or pushes the teat out with their tongue. If the bottle is still half full so be it.
  • To help attachment keep the number of people who feed your baby to a minimum - ideally just you and your partner or one other close family member.

Responsive feeding of expressed and formula milk:

  • Hold your baby close to you, look into their eyes to help them feel safe and loved.
  • Hold your baby fairly upright, with their head supported in a comfortable, neutral position.
  • Rub the teat gently against your baby's lips to encourage them to open their mouth wide and draw the teat into their mouth. Do not force the teat into your baby's mouth.
  • Hold the bottle level, in line with the ground (horizontal), and then tilt the bottle upwards enough to ensure your baby is taking in milk and not air through the teat.
  • Babies feed in bursts of sucking, swallowing and short rests. As your baby is in a fairly upright position, when they pause for a rest the milk will stop flowing allowing them to decide when they are ready to start sucking again.
  • During the feed you will see bubbles in the bottle. If you can't see any bubbles, break the suction between your baby's tongue and the teat by moving the teat slightly to the side of their mouth. You should then see bubbles rushing back up into the remaining milk.
  • Interrupting the feed from time to time gives your baby a chance to register how full they are and allows them to control what they want. It also gives them the chance to bring up any wind.
  • Try to keep the number of people who feed your baby to as few as possible. If another close family member gives an occasional feed, make sure they use the same technique as you so that your baby does not feel frightened or confused.
  • Your baby should always be held and never left unattended while feeding from a bottle.
  • Do not try to make your baby finish the bottle if it is clear they have had enough.
  • Do not use a fast flow teat as babies can find it difficult to control their breathing if they are forced to swallow large volumes of milk quickly.

TOP TIP when bottle feeding:

Hold your baby in an upright position and keep the bottle more horizontal rather than facing downwards. Stop the feed regularly to give your baby a rest.

Is my baby hungry? How often should I feed my baby?

Look for early feeding cues. They may start to wriggle when they wake up, find something to suck especially with their hands. Crying is a late sign and you may need to soothe your baby before trying to feed. Remember crying does not always mean your baby is hungry. They may want a cuddle or need their nappy changing. They may have drunk too much and feel uncomfortable or are feeling unwell.

How much should I feed my baby in the first few days?

  • Your baby's stomach is very small in the first few days and they will only want small amounts of milk at each feed.
  • Breast fed babies control the amount of milk they take from the breast. The health professional looking after you will be able to help guide you to recognise that your baby is taking enough milk.
  • Babies being bottle fed are given the milk so are at risk of being over fed. Remember they have a small stomach and your baby will probably want to have small amounts but more often than when they are older.
  • Bringing up small amounts of milk is normal and is usually a sign that your baby has had enough milk for that feed. Speak to your health professional for advice if you are unsure.

Pace the feed:

  • A breast fed baby will usually be able to control how much milk they want and will stop taking milk when they are full.
  • A bottle fed baby is not always able to do this and you will need to control the amount of feed you give your baby. Use the pacing technique mentioned above to help you judge this.

Overfeeding bottle fed babies:

  • Overfeeding your baby can make them be sick and put on too much weight.
  • Feeding your baby large amounts does not mean they will sleep for longer between feeds. In fact, it can make them more uncomfortable and less able to settle.
  • Overfeeding your baby in these early weeks can increase their risk of being overweight as a child and adult.

Size and volume of a newborn's stomach

Did you know? this picture shows the approximate size of your baby's stomach and how much milk it can hold at each feed.

  • Day one - size of a cherry 5-7ml/0.2oz
  • Day three - size of a walnut 22-27ml/0.75-1oz
  • One week - size of an apricot 45-60ml/1.5-3oz
  • One month - size of a large egg 80-150ml/2.5-5oz

Safe bottle feeding

  • Always wash your hands before preparing any feed, expressed breast milk or formula
  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for your chosen sterilising method
  • Make up on bottle of formula feed at a time as per Department of Health Guidelines
  • Do not add extra scoops of formula to a bottle

For more advice and information see:

Feeding your baby when out and about


This is the easiest way to feed your baby when out and about. You do not need to take any equipment with you, just yourself. Breast milk is the correct temperature, amount and no preparation required.

How do I re-heat my expressed breast milk?

From the fridge

  • Your expressed breast milk can be used straight from the fridge.
  • Warm your milk gently by placing the container in some warm water.
  • Try not to overheat your milk.

From the freezer

  • Try to defrost your breast milk in the fridge and use it within 12 hours of removing from the freezer.
  • If you need to use your breast milk quickly, and it is still frozen, place the container under cool, then warm, running water.
  • Use your defrosted milk immediately

We do not recommend using a microwave to warm any of your baby's milk or food. Microwave cooking causes hot spots which can burn your baby's mouth.

Did you know?

To support breastfeeding mothers to feel more confident to feed their baby in public, Breastfeeding Welcome Schemes are being introduced in many towns and cities. Private and public sector buildings are welcoming mothers to breastfeed their baby.

Remember you are protected by law to breastfeed in public.

Formula Milk

Pre made formula

This is the easiest way to feed your baby formula when out and about.

  • Take an empty sterilised bottle with you and transfer the pre made formula.
  • Pre made formula cartons/bottles can be stored in a cool bag with an ice pack and used within four hours once opened.
  • To warm the milk, place the bottle in a container of warm water. Always test the milk on the inside of your wrist to make sure it is not too hot for your baby.

Powdered formula

  • The best way is to take a good quality vacuum flask of boiling water with you.
  • A full flask of 17.5oz (525mls) of boiling water should stay at 70 degrees celsius for three hours. There is evidence that smaller amounts of water might not stay at the required 70 degrees celsius and therefore not kill any bacteria in the powder.
  • Add the correct amount of water to the pre sterilised bottle and add the correct amount of powdered formula.
  • Cool the feed before giving it to your baby.

Formula Preparation Machines

At present there is no published research and insufficient evidence that these machines are safe in preparing infant formula. The Department of Health recommend that powdered infant formula is made up with freshly boiled water and left for no more than 30 minutes so that it remains at a temperature of at least 70 degrees.

Healthy growth and weight gain

Children and adults are all shapes and sizes, most of which are healthy. In this section we want to explain the growth charts and help you understand what you can do to help your baby grow up healthy and happy.

In your Personal Child Health Record (PCHR) you will find growth charts. Do read the information pages that come with them. The chart describe the growth patterns of thousands of normal, healthy, breastfed babies and toddlers from around the world and older children from the UK. Healthy bottle fed babies should follow the same growth patterns as breastfed babies. The lines are called 'centiles' and they simply describe how your baby's weight, length and head circumference compares with other children of the same age and sex. For example - if your baby's weight is on the 25th centile this means that if you weighed 100 babies of the same age and sex and ranked them from light to heavy, 75 babies would be heavier than yours and 24 lighter. We expect a baby to gain weight along one of these centiles or in their own channel between two of the centile lines. Which centile is healthy for your baby depends on where they started out - their birth weight - and factors they inherit from their parents . There is no 'best' centile. There will be variation above and below their centile and it is wise not to weigh and measure babies too often because these natural fluctuations can cause unnecessary concern - what matters is the pattern over time. Usually no more than monthly weighs are necessary for the first six months, every two months from six months to a year and every three months after that; unless there are particular concerns and your health care professional requests that you have your baby weighed more often for a period of time.

Generally speaking a healthy baby's length and weight will be 'in proportion' i.e. will have their length and weight within one of the major centile lines of each other and certainly no more than two.

Weight Problems

Weight is fantastic for assessing the health of a baby. Crossing the centiles up and down may be a cause for concern. Historically most emphasis has been on monitoring babies who appear to be gaining weight too slowly - and your midwife and health visitor will watch out for this. It is likely to become apparent quite early on and the most common cause is difficulties with feeding. It is normal - and healthy - for a baby to lose some weight in the first few days of life and only is this exceeds 10% will your midwife be concerned. There is some evidence that this early weight loss helps 'set' appetite and feeding patterns for the rest of the child's life. These days poor weight gain is pretty rare and for this generation we are much more worried about babies who cross the centiles upwards across the chart because this is very unlikely to be healthy. The illustration shows several typical patterns of weight gain - healthy and unhealthy.

Growth Chart:

Breast feeding

Breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis; simply put, the more you breastfeed your baby, the more milk you will produce. If your child is attached properly, you are both comfortable and you are feeding her/him when she/he asks for it, then you will make plenty of milk.

Breastfeeding can also be used to comfort and calm babies, or when your breasts feel full, or when you just want to sit down and rest: It's impossible to over-feed or ‘spoil’ an exclusively breastfed baby, or for them to develop ‘bad habits’.

Bottle feeding

It is really important to use the correct methods when preparing a bottle of milk for your baby, to avoid many problems such as infections, under or overfeeding. Always carefully follow the manufacturers’ instructions but be aware that the amounts recommended will not suit every baby. Just because your baby is crying doesn’t necessarily mean they need a feed– being able to read your baby’s ‘hunger signs’ (see above) will avoid them being overfed – overfeeding in infancy is strongly associated with obesity in childhood and adulthood.

See guide to bottle feeding

Make sure your bottles and teats are sterilised.

When bottle feeding, sit your baby almost upright and keep the teat full of milk, otherwise your baby will take in air. If the teat becomes flattened while you're feeding, gently poke a clean finger into the corner of your baby's mouth to release the suction. If the teat gets blocked, replace it with another sterile teat.

Your baby may need short breaks during the feed and may need to burp sometimes. When your baby does not want any more feed, hold them upright and gently rub or pat their back to bring up any wind. This may only be a small amount.

Don't forget to throw away any unused formula or breast milk after you have finished feeding your baby.

If you choose to introduce infant formula after breastfeeding, it’s best to do it gradually, to give yourself time to adapt and to give your body time to reduce the amount of milk it makes. It usually helps to give the first few bottles when your baby is happy and relaxed – not when they're very hungry.

It may also help if someone other than you gives the first few feeds, so that your baby is not near you and smelling your breast milk. It can take your baby a little time to get used to the bottle, so keep trying and don’t force your baby to feed.

Which formula?

First milk: This is often described as suitable for newborns. It is based on the whey of cows' milk and is thought to be easier to digest than other types of infant formula. This should always be the first formula you give to your baby. Unless your midwife, health visitor or GP suggests otherwise, this is the only infant formula your baby needs. Your baby can stay on this formula when you start to introduce solid foods at around six months and continue on it throughout the first year.

There is no evidence to suggest that changing the brand of infant formula your baby drinks does any good or harm. However, if you think a particular brand of infant formula disagrees with your baby, try another. Your midwife or health visitor will be able to discuss this with you.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Do only offer milk (breastmilk or first formula milk) to your baby
  • Do wait for signs that your baby is ready before offering solid foods, such as:
  1. They can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady.
  2. They can co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so that they can look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth, all by themselves.
  3. They can swallow food. Babies who aren't ready will push their food back out - they end up getting more round their face than they do in their mouths.
  • Do get help and support, and look after your own health
  • Do take a Vitamin D supplement if you are breastfeeding
  • Don’t leave an infant unattended while feeding
  • Don’t give juice/sugary foods or drinks other than milk (breastmilk or first formula milk)
  • Don’t give soya based formula for babies under 6 months (unless advised by a health professional)

Support and Information

Don’t be afraid to ask for support and information to help you with feeding. No problem is too small – if something is worrying you, the chances are that other parents/carers will have felt the same. Your midwife, health visitors or a breastfeeding counsellor to help you position your baby may help boost your confidence and improve feeding for you and your child.

Hide this section
Show accessibility tools