Formula-feeding your baby

Infant formula is processed, powdered cow’s milk which has been treated to make it suitable for babies. There are formula regulations in the UK to ensure that all of the infant formulas readily available in this country have the basic ingredients your baby needs.

Which infant formula should I use?

Babies should only drink formula milk, not ordinary pasteurised cow’s milk, until they are a year old. Pasteurised, full-fat cow’s milk can be used in cooking from six months.

First-stage formula is whey based. It’s suitable for babies until they are a year old, then they can move on to full fat cow’s milk. Second-stage or follow-on formula are both casein-based and take longer for your baby to digest, which can lead to constipation. Evidence suggests that casein-based formula is not necessary for most babies. There is no need to switch to second-stage or follow-on formula. Whey-based infant formula is fine for your baby until she switches to cow’s milk.

Babies, toddlers and young children should not have rice drinks, often known as rice milk, as a replacement for cow's milk, breast milk, or infant formula. Your midwife, health visitor or GP will be happy to discuss any concerns you may have with you.

Occasionally, a different formula based on other products can be prescribed on medical or dietetic advice. Never use soya infant formula for babies without advice from a paediatric dietician. Goat’s milk infant formula is now permitted for sale in the UK. However, goat’s milk formula is not suitable for babies with a cow’s milk protein allergy and should therefore not be given to them, unless otherwise directed by a health professional.

There are two main sorts of formula: powdered, which needs to be mixed with water, or ready made formula, which is already mixed.

Making up infant formula

Harmful bacteria can enter the formula when it is being manufactured and so infant formula powder is not sterile. Although this is rare, certain types of these bacteria can cause your baby to become seriously ill.

Bacteria can also be present on your hands and work surfaces, so it’s important to follow good hygiene when making up a feed. There will be clear and detailed instructions on how to make up your baby’s feed on the packaging of the formula you use. Make sure you follow them precisely.

You should always make up a fresh bottle of formula just before feeding. After the feed, throw away any leftover formula.

When using powdered formula, it is extremely important that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the pack regarding the correct quantity of powder and water to be mixed. Make sure you use the scoop that comes with the powdered infant formula that you are using. Never be tempted to add extra powder as this could make your baby ill. Adding too little powder means that she will not get the nutrients and nourishment she needs.

Never add anything at all to the made up formula as this may encourage a sweet tooth and cause tooth decay.

What you need for bottle-feeding

Bottle-feeding requires more equipment than breastfeeding, and you need to make sure you sterilise your equipment to prevent your baby getting infections and stomach upsets.

You’ll need the following to get you started:

  • 200 ml bottles with teats and bottle covers
  • formula powder
  • bottle brush, teat brush
  • sterilising equipment (such as a cold-water steriliser, microwave or steam steriliser)
  • boiled and cooled tap water, not bottled water.

Feeding your baby

First of all, make sure that you are sitting comfortably and that you are supporting your baby’s body and neck. She needs to be sitting slightly backwards in your arms, but not completely flat. Hold the bottle so that the teat is full, or almost full, of formula – if your baby takes in air rather than formula, this can give her a sore tummy or colic.

Always bottle feed your baby by holding her in your arms holding her close to you – never leave her to feed alone. Apart from being dangerous for your baby, holding her close and snuggling with her while she feeds is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen your emotional bond. Always hold your baby close to you and look into their eyes when feeding. This helps your baby feel safe and loved.

Try to bottle feed your baby yourself as much as possible rather than letting other people do it – it’s important to strengthen the emotional bond. Feeding your baby yourself also means you are best placed to notice if she’s not feeding properly, or to spot any potential health problems.

Making up a feed - step-by-step

All feeding equipment must be kept clean to protect your baby against infection. Here are key things to remember:

  • always wash your hands with hot soapy water before making a feed
  • wash all feeding equipment in hot soapy water
  • use teat and bottle brushes to make sure all deposits are removed
  • store all sterilising equipment away from children

Use boiled tap water

Formula feeds should be made up using cooled boiled water that is still hotter than 70C. In practice, this means filling the kettle up with a litre of water, boiling and leaving to cool for no longer than 30 minutes.

Use fresh formula

Make up a fresh bottle for each feed. If you need to feed your baby when you’re out, boil some water, put it in a vacuum flask and take it with you. Then you can use it to prepare a feed when you need it.

Check the temperature of the formula

Test the temperature of the formula on the inside of your wrist. Before giving it to your baby it should be body temperature, which means it should feel warm or cool but not hot. Cool the bottle under cold running water if necessary.

Never use a microwave to heat formula feed.

Throw away unused formula

Any infant formula not used during the feed must be thrown away. This is because bacteria multiply very fast at room temperature. This increases the risk of infection for the baby.

Any unused boiled water should also be thrown away.

To reduce the risk of injury, make sure your baby is not near the hot water when you are making up a feed. Take care not to scald yourself.

Winding your baby

Bottle-fed babies need to be winded during and at the end of their feed to avoid wind being trapped in their tummies. You can either do this by gently sitting your baby up, supporting her under her chin and rubbing her back until she burps – or by leaning her against your shoulder and either rubbing or patting her back. As well as a burp, she might also bring up a little formula – so make sure you have a clean, dry cloth handy.

Last Updated: 20 November 2015
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