BellyBelly supports mothers feeding their babies in all sorts of ways, whether it’s with breast milk or formula.
Healthy babies and healthy families are our priority.
We’re often told by those who’ve switched from breastfeeding to formula that it’s difficult to find good information on how to formula feed their young children.
This can be particularly distressing especially if they’ve had a difficult time with breastfeeding or after unsuccessfully pumping breast milk.
If very young children under 12 months are unable to have their own mother’s breast milk, or donor breast milk from another mother, they should not be offered whole cow’s milk.
Infant formula is the alternative most parents choose to ensure their baby’s growth is adequate.
If you bottle-feed your baby with formula, however, there are important health and safety guidelines that must be followed to best protect your baby.
These safety guidelines ensure your baby receives the right amount of nutrition and remains as healthy and safe as possible.
#1: Don’t microwave formula
Never heat up a baby’s bottle in a microwave, no matter what’s in the bottle.
Microwaves don’t heat milk evenly and can cause ‘hot spots’ to develop within the liquid.
These hot spots could severely burn your baby’s mouth.
Swishing or shaking might help get rid of the hotspots, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when making formula for a hungry baby.
Although the evidence is minimal, microwaves could destroy all the nutrients in your baby’s formula; this is another good reason to avoid using this option for warming.
It’s best to run the bottle under warm tap water, or rest the bottle in a bowl of warm water to gently bring it to a temperature that’s safe for drinking.
#2: Never change the recipe
On every tin of powdered formula, there are clear instructions for preparation.
These instructions must be carefully followed each time you prepare powdered formula milk.
The preparation procedure varies between brands and products, so always check the instructions about how much formula and cooled boiled water to mix before making up a feed.
If you add too much water, your baby might not get enough nutrition.
If you add too little water, your baby could be at risk of dehydration.
It’s essential for your baby’s health and wellbeing that you follow the recipe exactly, to make sure the feed contains the proper nutrients, in the right balance.
The only exception to this rule is if your child’s healthcare provider has told you to make up the formula in a certain way because of a medical condition.
#3: Don’t use mineral water to make up formula
Due to misinformation, some parents have been known to use mineral water instead of normal boiled water.
Mineral water is carbonated water that contains high levels of minerals. Minerals at these levels could harm your baby.
Some mineral waters contain levels of sodium that are often higher than the recommended daily sodium intake for babies.
Mineral water can also contain dangerously high levels of calcium, which could cause damage to your baby’s kidneys.
#4: The water must be at least 70 degrees Celsius
There are two good reasons for this: water can contain bacteria, and the formula in a tin isn’t sterile.
Bacterial outbreaks have occurred in both water supplies and formula manufacturers’ premises, even in countries like Australia.
In order to protect your baby, you should use only boiled water, which has been cooled to drinking temperature.
The World Health Organization guidelines recommend water used to make formula should be at least 70 degrees Celsius.
Before giving it to your baby, cool feeds quickly by holding the bottle under a running tap, until it reaches feeding temperature.
You can boil water, cool it for 30 minutes, then store it in sterilized bottles in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
#5: Don’t store feeds for too long
A bottle of mixed formula provides ideal conditions for the growth of harmful bacteria.
Even the bacteria from your baby’s saliva can multiply inside the bottle.
If your baby doesn’t finish the whole bottle, the World Health Organisation recommends throwing the contents away after two hours.
#6: Avoid overfeeding your baby
Your baby is the best person to judge his hunger levels.
If your formula-fed baby stops feeding, take the bottle away. He will soon let you know if he hadn’t quite finished.
Don’t expect your baby to finish a full bottle each feed. Learning a baby’s hunger cues can help you to know whether your baby is really hungry or has finished. This also will set healthy eating patterns when he starts solid foods in the future.
Be sure to read Bottle Nursing – 6 Steps To Better Bottle Feeding for more tips and information.
#7: Don’t put your baby to sleep with a bottle
Babies left unattended with bottles of breast milk or formula are at risk of choking. If they fall asleep with the bottle in their mouth, they could inhale the liquid into their lungs or choke, due to blocking of the airways.
If your baby falls asleep with a bottle in his mouth, the milk will continue to drip into his mouth, causing it to pool around his teeth.
Dental Health Services Victoria states putting a baby to bed with a bottle of breast milk or formula can cause tooth decay.
For this reason, you should avoid bottle feeding your baby to sleep at night. Try to find other more healthy options for settling your baby to sleep.
Check out our article How Do You Get A Newborn To Sleep? for other ways to help your baby get to sleep.
#8: Don’t leave your baby to feed himself
When formula feeding, you should never prop the bottle up and leave your baby to bottle feed himself.
Doing this is very unsafe and is a choking hazard.
Even older babies are at risk of choking if put to bed with a bottle or left propped up.
As your young child starts new solid foods you might like to try offering formula in sippy cups, although supervision is still a must.
Read about the seriousness of bottle propping in Bottle Propping Warning After Baby Chokes To Death.
#9: Never leave formula warming for more than 15 minutes
Most electric bottle warmers have a built-in thermostat that turns off the heat source after 15 minutes.
If yours doesn’t, or if you’re warming the bottle manually, you must make sure it’s removed from the heat after 15 minutes.
Leaving the bottle for longer than 15 minutes can allow bacteria to breed in the formula.
This could give your baby diarrhea or introduce other harmful bacteria.
You should also avoid re-warming a bottle a baby has already started drinking. The saliva can introduce bacteria into the bottle.
If your baby hasn’t finished a bottle within two hours, the World Health Organization recommends discarding the milk to reduce the risk of harmful bacteria being transferred to your baby.
A few extra tips…
A few extra pointers for those who are switching from having a breastfed baby to a bottle-fed one.
If you’re using infant formula it’s vital you keep all of your equipment sterilized.
Formula is man-made and can harbor bacteria much more easily than breastmilk can.
Bacteria can grow on surfaces such as latex, silicone, and plastic, so it’s important to keep the equipment used to feed your baby very clean and sterile.
There are many fancy sterilizing units available these days, such as microwave sterilizers, but you can just as easily sterilize using boiling water.
If using boiling water, be sure to fully submerge your feeding equipment in a large pot, and keep the water boiling continuously for a minimum of 5 minutes, to make sure all pathogens are killed off.
Can I mix formula with breast milk?
Breast milk shouldn’t be used as the liquid component when mixing formula. It can be dangerous to alter the recipe for formula unless directed by a pediatrician.
Your breast milk is best for your baby, and it’s best to offer that first in case your baby doesn’t drink it all.
You wouldn’t want to waste that lovely breast milk you worked hard to express.
If you’re mix feeding your baby, always feed the breastmilk first (separately) then feed your baby formula.
For more information please read our article Mixing Breastmilk and Formula- Is It Okay?
If you choose to feed your baby both breast milk and formula, be sure to read Mixed Feeding-The Pros And Cons Of Mixed Feeding.
Should I add anything to my baby’s formula?
Despite advice from friends or family members, who might be trying to advise you how to fill your baby up, or make him sleep longer, you shouldn’t add anything extra to your baby’s milk.
Even if they say it made their baby sleep, and their baby turned out fine, it still doesn’t matter: when we know better, we do better.
Babies wake at night for normal, biological reasons. Their brains are hard-wired to wake frequently at night, as a built-in safety measure.
Waking ensures parents tend to their needs but it also regularly wakes the infant brain, which protects babies from SIDS. Longer, deeper sleep than is normal for babies increases the risk of SIDS.
Dry infant rice cereal and other solid foods should never be added to a baby’s bottle.
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