Mother with baby and baby formula or milk in bottles

What to expect when choosing baby formula and bottle feeding for infant feeding

How you decide to feed your baby is a big decision for all families. It’s important to find correct, evidence based information to help you make the best decision for your family.

Sarah Musselman, RN, a lactation specialist at OSF HealthCare, shared some of the dos and don’ts of bottle feeding.

“There are many options for feeding: exclusively breastfeeding, exclusively pumping and giving breast milk in a bottle, breastfeeding and pumping, breastfeeding and pumping and formula, or just formula feeding,” Sarah said.

Choosing to bottle feed

When choosing to bottle feed, parents have the flexibility to share some of the feeding duties.

Baby formula can even be used as a supplement for breastfeeding, especially if a mom doesn’t make enough breast milk. Plus, formula feeding is an essential option for moms who can’t breastfeed.

“You can do any combination of breastfeeding and formula. You can even mix formula and breast milk in the same bottle,” Sarah said. “One drawback to consider, though, is the potential waste involved. Pumping can be a lot of work, and when you mix breast milk with formula, it shortens the life of the bottle. And if your baby doesn’t finish the bottle, they didn’t get all of your breast milk.”

What is baby formula made of?

Baby formula was invented in Germany in 1865 by a man who was especially passionate about improving nutrition and food preservation in communities where food was scarce.

Formula has evolved a lot since then. Today, it has many of the same vitamins and nutrients that breast milk has to support healthy growth and development in babies. For parents who choose to formula feed or supplement, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a baby formula fortified with iron.

“Baby formula is designed to replicate breast milk as closely as possible, but there’s no exact match,” Sarah said.

Not all baby formulas are the same, so talk with your baby’s pediatrician if you’re not sure what to choose. Most baby formulas nowadays contain cow’s milk, but there are other options, like soy-based or protein-hydrolysate formula if your baby has a cow’s milk sensitivity. Formula can come in powder, liquid or ready-to-eat form.

Never feed your baby homemade, imported or counterfeit formulas. Milk from other sources doesn’t contain all the nutrients your baby needs. Counterfeit and imported formulas may not have been packaged and stored safely. These types of alternative sources of milk can cause serious health problems for your baby.

How do I bottle feed a baby?

Always follow the instructions on the can or bottle, including cleaning the area where you’re preparing the bottle and washing your hands. You can mix baby formula with any safe drinking water, including tap or nursery water. Don’t over- or under-dilute formula.

Many people believe that the water the formula is mixed with poses a risk to baby’s health and safety. However, it is the formula powder that poses a very small risk from possible contamination in the factory. The risk of infection is small, but it can be catastrophic. Ready-to-feed formula is the safest – especially for newborns – because it’s sterile.

Questions on bottles or formula?

Talk to your pediatrician

When feeding your baby, cradle them close to your chest and hold the bottle at an angle so the baby can easily suck the milk. Make eye contact and switch which side they’re held on. Don’t ever prop the bottle on something and walk away. That will likely lead to a fussy, gassy baby.

Formula can sit out after it’s been prepped for about an hour. But, once a baby has had the bottle in their mouth, it shouldn’t be saved for the next feed because saliva can cause bacteria growth.

When choosing a bottle or nipple, be open to trying a few different options. Not every baby is going to do well with every bottle or nipple. Start with one type of bottle and let your baby try it a few times. If it’s not going well, try a different type of bottle. Nipple holes should allow drops of formula to drip out when the bottle is turned upside down. Read the label to determine what nipple size is right for your baby’s age and development.

How much formula a newborn eats

“Feed your baby on cue,” Sarah said.

Babies don’t need those big bottles like we commonly think, especially when they’re first born. Their stomachs are very tiny at birth, so they don’t need a lot to fill them up. As they grow and develop, their stomach gets bigger, and they’ll want more formula to feel full.

In the first few days, babies only really need about half to an ounce of formula per feeding about eight-12 times a day. After those first few days until about two months, babies will gradually increase to needing about three ounces per feeding.

“Babies are sort of like us as adults. Sometimes we just want a snack, and sometimes we want a whole buffet’s worth of food. Sometimes we just want a drink,” Sarah said. “They’ll eat different amounts at different times throughout the day, and that’s perfectly OK.”

It’s a good idea to track how much and when your baby eats throughout the day. It can be hard to remember how often a baby gets fed, especially with new mom-brain or if the baby is fed by different grownups throughout the day, like dad, grandma or babysitter. Having a written chart or diary can help to keep everyone on the same page, especially at the beginning.

“You may want to diary for the early weeks, then could stop when you feel comfortable and have gotten to know your baby,” Sarah said.

How long do babies drink formula?

Babies typically drink exclusively formula for the first six months. Once they start on solid foods, they may not be as hungry for a bottle, but they still need formula.

Babies should drink formula until age 1 and should switch to whole cow’s milk or nut milk after their first birthday. But always be sure to talk to your pediatrician about what’s best for you and your baby.

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About Author: Katie Faley

Katie Faley is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare. She graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in English Studies. Before joining OSF HealthCare in 2021, she worked in magazine editing, digital marketing and freelance writing.
Katie is often found listening to ‘60s folk music, deciding on a new skill to learn, losing track of time in a library or spending time with her family and friends.

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Categories: Birth & Maternity