Before your baby is born, it's important to make the decision about how you will feed your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months after birth due to the immunological benefits it provides. However, many mothers choose not to breastfeed, cease breastfeeding, or supplement with formula for a host of reasons. It's important to remember that fed is best, and you’ll need to determine which formula is most suited for your baby should you decide to go that route.
Here we're providing a thorough guide on infant formula and how to safely feed your baby formula during their first year of life.
How to Choose an Infant Formula
Even if you plan to breastfeed, it's a good idea to have an understanding of formula before your baby arrives and what is available so you don't have to spend time researching if you do need to end up feeding your baby formula.
MOST formula is based on cow's milk and is what should be used for your little one unless you've received specific direction from your child's pediatrician to use something different.
Cow's milk-based formula
Most babies will do very well cow's milk-based formulas and it offers a good substitute for breastmilk. There are many choices available, so take the time to research and talk with your doctor in order to choose one that best fits your baby's needs. Here are some reasons why it's best:
- most are fortified with iron (you should choose one that is)
- these formulas are made with a cow's milk-based protein that has been modified to be more like breastmilk
- lactose, minerals, vitamins, and vegetable oils are in cow's milk-based formulas
It's important to remember that fussiness and colic are common in babies and rarely have to do with an allergy or intolerance to cow's milk formula. But if you have concerns, it's best to consult your doctor before making any switch. Cow's milk-based formulas can be purchased in ready-to-use, concentrated liquid, and powdered varieties.
Be sure you're using "infant" formula.
If you begin feeding your baby formula before the age of 6 months, you need to choose a formula infant-specific formula. These are usually labeled "infant" or "stage 1." Be sure to read the packaging carefully. These can be used through 12 months of age when a baby can then transition to whole milk.
Homemade infant formula should not be given.
Additionally, your baby does not need to be given any liquid beyond properly prepared formula - including extra water. And they should never be given juice, soda, milk, etc.
Equipment You'll Need for Infant Formula Feeding
Choosing the proper formula is the first step in formula-feeding your little one. Once you've done so, you'll need to get all the equipment needed to feed your baby.
Here's what you'll need:
- several baby bottles which will include the bottle, nipple, cap, and possibly other sealing or anti-colic parts. Not sure which bottle to buy? It can be overwhelming. Use our Best Baby Bottles of 2020 list to help you decide!
- bottle and/or nipple brush
- sterilizing equipment - you can either do this with a pot of boiling water or there are steam bags sold specifically for sterilizing baby bottles and parts
- Recommended: A bottle warmer. Though not a required piece of equipment, most babies like their milk warm and warmers are very convenient. We especially love the battery-operated portable bottle warmer from The Baby's Brew.
Once you have your equipment, you'll want to sterilize it for the first use. If your baby is 3 months or younger, it's also wise to sterilize equipment after each use due to infants' risk of infection and less developed immune system.
- Start by washing your hands and dry them thoroughly.
- Then wash the equipment in hot soapy water and hard to reach places within the bottle or nipple should be washed with a special brush to get the nooks and crannies clean.
- Rinse with cold water.
- The last step is to sterilize. This can be done by first submerging the bottles in a pan of water and then bringing it to a boil. Boiling for 5 minutes will completely sterilize all parts. The other option is to use microwave steam sterilizer bags made specifically for use with baby bottles.
Preparing Your Infant's Formula
Once your baby's bottles are sterilized, it's time to prepare your baby's formula. We recently wrote an entire article devoted to "Best Practices for Formula Feeding Your Baby" but here are the basics:
- You'll want to start by thoroughly washing your hands to avoid germs coming into contact with your baby's bottle.
- Formula needs to be made fresh each time your baby is ready to eat (undrunk formula leftover in a bottle must always be thrown out).
- Be sure to prepare your baby's formula exactly as specified on the package directions. Never add more or less formula or more water than recommended.
- In most cases, tap water should be used to prepare your baby's bottle. HealthEd recommends: "From birth until your baby is at least 3 months old, all water used for formula should be boiled and cooled to room temperature on the day you use it. Make sure you leave enough time for the boiled water to cool to room temperature before it’s needed." After your baby is 3 months old, using water straight from the tap without boiling is fine. (If you use well water or are concerned about the safety of your water, continue boiling and consult your doctor.)
- Seal the bottle without touching the nipple.
- Decide if you are going to warm your baby's bottle. Most babies prefer their milk warm, though there is nothing wrong with feeding your baby room temperature milk if they will take it. We recommend warming your baby's milk with the Baby's Brew. It's safe, convenient, includes a formula dispenser, and is completely portable. (Never use hot water or the microwave to warm your baby's bottle!)
- It's time to feed your baby!
Feeding Your Baby Infant Formula and Determining How Much They Need
Once you've prepared your baby's bottle, it's finally time to feed them. By now, they are likely ready and hungry!
You'll always want to hold your baby while feeding them. Not only is this closeness important for your baby's development and well-being, but it's also the safest way to feed them. And it's the perfect reason to slow down and snuggle your little one.
Here's how to feed your baby:
- Hold your baby in the bend of your arm with their eyes looking up at you
- Your baby should be mostly upright, and you should hold the bottle at an angle.
- Hold the bottle with the nipple in the center of your baby's mouth and over the tongue to form a tight seal.
- Hold the bottle firmly.
- Look for signs that they are full. Babies know when they have had enough milk. It's ok if they don't finish the bottle, just be sure to throw out the leftover milk.
When your baby is finished eating, you'll need to burp them every time. You may need to stop mid-feed to burp if they seem uncomfortable.
Determining how much formula your baby needs:
Initially, your baby's tummy is tiny, and they won't take in a lot of milk. They'll need to eat frequently. Over time they will take in more at each feeding over fewer times throughout the day. Pay attention to your baby's hunger cues, allow them to feed on demand, and this will ensure your baby gets enough milk. Any concerns about your baby's intake or growth should be directed to your baby's doctor.
Q: What is the best infant formula?
A: In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration regulates the requirements for nutritional content in infant formula. They require specifications for minimum amounts for 29 nutrients and maximum amounts for 9 of those nutrients. All formulas marketed in the USA must meet these federal nutrient requirements.
Q: Should I use cow’s milk based infant formula?
A: Most formula is based on cow's milk and is what should be used for your little one unless you've received specific direction from your child's pediatrician to use something different
Q: How do you prepare infant formula?
A: Be sure to prepare your baby's formula exactly as specified on the package directions. Never add more or less formula or more water than recommended.
Q: How much formula does my baby need to eat?
A: Initially, your baby's tummy is tiny, and they won't take in a lot of milk. They'll need to eat frequently. Over time they will take in more at each feeding over fewer times throughout the day. Pay attention to your baby's hunger cues, allow them to feed on demand, and this will ensure your baby gets enough milk. Any concerns about your baby's intake or growth should be directed to your baby's doctor.