Breast milk is the best food for most babies. However, some moms may be unable to breastfeed for health or other reasons. If you choose to feed your baby formula, there are some important things to know.
Formula comes ready to serve or in a liquid or powder that you mix with water. Check with your provider to see how much and what kind of formula your baby needs. Newborns eat about 2 to 3 ounces of formula every 3 to 4 hours.
How do you choose a formula for your baby?
When shopping for formula, follow these tips:
- Choose a formula that is fortified with iron, unless your baby's health care provider tells you otherwise.
- Ask your baby's health care provider to recommend a brand of formula.
- Once you find a brand that your baby likes, use only that brand. Don't switch back and forth between brands.
- Call your baby's health care provider if your baby has gas, a rash, or diarrhea, is vomiting or has other signs that the formula is not agreeing with her. You may need to change brands or switch to a hydrolyzed or soy-based formula.
Here's how to feed your baby formula:
- Wash your hands before you prepare your baby's bottle.
- Follow the directions on the formula package and fill the bottle with the right amount of formula. Use only the scoop that comes with your formula package. Some formula packages have different size scoops.
- If you use a bottle with a plastic liner, squeeze out all the air before you fill it so it won't cause your baby to have gas.
- If you use a powder for formula, ask your baby's health care provider if you should boil cold tap water or use sterilized bottled water to prepare it. Never heat a bottle in the microwave; it could get too hot for your baby.
- Tip the bottle to keep the nipple full of milk. Put the nipple in your baby's mouth. Never prop the bottle or put your baby to bed with a bottle; she could choke on the formula.
- After feeding, wash bottles, nipples and anything you use to prepare the formula in hot soapy water.
Here are some tips for keeping bottlefeeding safe for your baby.
- Boil bottles and nipples for 5 minutes before you use them the first time. Wash them for 1 minute in hot, soapy water and rinse after each use.
- Check the "Use By" date on the formula package. Make sure the date hasn't expired.
- Don't heat formula in the microwave. Some parts can heat up more than others and burn your baby.
- To keep bacteria from growing, don't leave formula out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours.
- Throw out formula from unfinished bottles to avoid bacteria from growing.
- Be sure to use the right amount of water to mix with your baby's formula. Too much water may keep your baby from getting the right amount of nutrients she needs to grow. Too little water may cause diarrhea or dehydration.
Last reviewed June 2012
Most common questions
How much vitamin D should my baby get?
Vitamin D is important to help avoid a bone-weakening disease called rickets. All babies should receive 400 IU of vitamin D per day, starting in the first few days of life. This includes breastfed babies and babies who drink less than 1L of infant formula per day.
Our skin makes vitamin D when it gets sunlight. But too much sunlight can be harmful, too. In fact, babies 6 months and older and young kids should stay away from direct sunlight and wear sunscreen at all times when out in the sun. However, sunscreen stops the skin from making vitamin D. The best way to get enough vitamin D is by giving your baby liquid multivitamin drops with vitamin D. They can be found in many pharmacies, and you won't need a prescription for it. Just be sure you've filled the dropper to no more than 400 international units (IU).
How often should I nurse my baby?
All babies are different and have different feeding patterns. In general, breastfed newborns need to eat 8 to 12 times in 24 hours (about once every 2 to 3 hours), for about 30 minutes each time. Breast milk is easily digested so it may be difficult to time when you should nurse your baby.
Newborns may need to feed more frequently than older babies. They may need to be fed on demand. As your milk supply is established and the baby grows, the baby's feeding patterns may change and she may go longer between feedings. Remember, breastfeeding is a natural skill, but it’s also a learned skilled. Be patient and give yourself (and your baby) time to master this new ability.
What solids foods should I start my baby on?
Begin with a single-grain iron-fortified cereal such as rice, barley or oatmeal. Mix it with breast milk or infant formula. Start with a small amount once a day. It's hard to tell how much your baby will eat. At first, most of her food will probably end on her bib or face. Be patient and help your baby learn this new skill. It's important that meal time is a pleasant time. This will build the foundation of healthy eating habits. If your baby cries, shows no interest in feeding or turns her head away from the spoon, stop feeding her. She is trying to tell you that she's full or she doesn’t want anymore. You should never force her to eat more than what she wants.
When should I give my baby solid foods?
Breast milk is the best food for most babies. It's best to give only breast milk for the first 6 months of life. Some babies might be ready to start solid foods between 4 to 6 months of age. When your baby is between 4 to 6 months, she may begin to show signs that she's ready to try some solid foods alongside her breast milk or formula. Watch for her developmental cues (signs) and she'll let you know when she's ready. Some signs that show your baby might be ready to start solid foods are:
- She can sit with support.
- She shows a good head neck control when seated.
- She shows a desire for food by opening her mouth, drooling and leaning forward.
- She begins to chew and brings her hands to her mouth.
- She begins to handle objects with the palm of her hand.
- She swallows pureed food and the extrusion reflex starts to go away (tongue-thrust reflex).