Formula feeding

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Learn about baby formula. Read about how to prepare the formula, how to create schedules and amounts, and how to prevent baby bottle tooth decay.

Key points

  • It is best to use a cow’s milk-based iron-fortified infant formula until 9 to 12 months of age.
  • Baby formulas include essential vitamins and minerals for babies including vitamins A, B, C, D and E, as well as calcium, phosphorus and iron.
  • Prevent tooth decay by not giving your baby a bottle when they sleep.

There are several reasons why you may need to formula feed your baby. Some women are unable to breastfeed, some infants are unable to breastfeed and some parents choose to feed their baby formula. In other cases, breastfed babies need supplementation with formula to gain weight.

Breastfeeding is widely recognized as nature’s best source of nutrition for optimal growth and development of babies. Breastfeeding also benefits a baby’s mother, as it reduces her risk for breast and ovarian cancers and osteoporosis. During the first month of your baby’s life, your breast milk supply becomes established. If there is a specific reason why you must stop breastfeeding, or if you have made an informed decision not to breastfeed, you should feel comfortable with your decision to bottle feed.

It is best to use a cow’s milk-based iron-fortified infant formula. In general, formulas that are derived from soy, almond, oat or rice or are homemade are not recommended since they may lack essential nutrients for your baby. Under special circumstances, your child’s health-care provider may recommend a special commercially available formula that is not cow’s milk-based. You can also use an infant formula as a supplement, even after your milk supply has been well established, if you cannot provide expressed milk for your baby. Do not use regular cow’s milk to feed your baby before 9 to 12 months of age, because it may lead to iron deficiency anemia. Most children do not need formula beyond 12 months of age.

What is baby formula made of?

Most baby formulas are derived from cow’s milk, but they contain an appropriate balance of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to help your baby grow and develop properly. If you are concerned about how your baby is tolerating the formula that you are using, speak to their health-care provider to find out which types of formula are best for your baby.

Most baby formulas contain lactose as the only carbohydrate, just like breast milk. Lactose helps with digestion, normal bowel function, and healthy tissue formation. Formulas also contain protein for growth and easily digestible fats that help to protect your baby’s skin and aid the absorption of certain vitamins.

Formulas include the following essential vitamins:

  • vitamin A for building body cells and good vision
  • B vitamins for maintaining the nervous system, skin, and tissues
  • vitamin C for the gums and teeth
  • vitamin D to maintain strong bones and teeth
  • vitamin E for healthy red blood cells

Baby formulas also contain important minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus for healthy bones and teeth, and iron to prevent iron deficiency anemia. All formula-fed infants should be given a formula that is iron-fortified. The level of iron that is in the formula is not enough to cause diarrhea or constipation.

Preparing baby formula

Baby formulas are available in three forms: powder, concentrated liquid and ready-to-serve liquid. Ready-to-use formula can be poured directly into your baby’s bottle and fed to them as-is. This is especially convenient if you are travelling. Formula needs to be prepared safely following the instructions on the container or can and using the recommended steps suggested by most public health departments.

Schedules and amounts

Newborn babies often take about 30 mL (one ounce) of formula per feeding, and this increases to about 60 mL to 90 mL (two to three ounces) by the end of the first week. Your baby will probably need about eight feedings per day for the first three weeks of life. After that, the number of feedings per day will decrease but the amount taken at each feeding will increase. Let your baby decide how much formula they want; do not force them to finish off a bottle. If your baby is not hungry at some feedings, consider stretching out the time between feedings.

Before feeding your baby, check how quickly the formula drops from the nipple. A clean nipple should drip about one drop per second when the bottle is held upside down. A clogged nipple could stretch out the feeding time.

Feeding your baby

Feeding time should be relaxing – a time not just to provide nutrition for your baby but also to bond with them. Hold your baby semi-upright with their head in the crook of your arm to reduce choking. This position will also reduce the risk of milk flowing into your baby’s middle ear. Hold the bottle tilted so that the nipple and neck of the bottle are filled with milk, to prevent your baby from taking in too much air. Watch your baby as they feed for cues that tell you they are full.

Burping is not a necessity. However, burping can decrease spitting up. You should try to burp your baby after each feed, but don’t be concerned if they don’t burp. If air needs to be released from their stomach, it will come up during a burp attempt, but this may not happen every time. If you choose to burp your baby, wait until they stop feeding.

Preventing baby bottle tooth decay

Liquids tend to pool in the mouth when your baby is sleeping and milk of any kind has sugar in it, which can cause dental caries (cavities). Therefore, if you put your baby to bed with a bottle of milk or any other sweetened liquid, it can cause tooth decay. You can prevent this problem by not giving your baby a bottle when they sleep and by providing dental care to your child early.

Last updated: February 8th 2024