There is absolutely no substitute for mother’s breast milk for an infant. Breast milk is the best food for an infant and is recommended exclusively for the first six months. Infant formula is an alternative to breast milk.
What to Look For
Infant formula is available in three basic forms: powder, liquid concentrates (which must be mixed with water before feeding) and ready-to-feed (which requires no mixing). Ready-to-feed formulas are more convenient but also more expensive.
Most formulas are based on cow’s milk, which has been modified to make it easier to digest. Other specialty formulas include soy-based and lactose-reduced cow’s milk products. Whatever brand you choose, make sure your formula is iron-fortified.
When properly mixed, powder and concentrated varieties are just as nutritious as ready-to-feed formula. But be sure to follow directions carefully, double-checking measurements and mixing thoroughly. You may use city tap water, boiled well water or bottled water when preparing formula. (Contact your local health department with questions or concerns.)
Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before preparing your baby’s bottle. Sterilize all equipment (including nipples, bottles, rings and caps) before using them for the first time. After that, you should be able to wash in hot, soapy water, allowing them to air dry.
How much is enough?
Generally speaking, your baby will let you know when they are hungry and when they have had enough to eat. Start by offering your newborn 2–3 ounces every three to four hours, gradually increasing the amount as you become more accustomed to their particular needs and feeding patterns.
By 4 months of age, they will likely be taking at least 4–6 ounces at a time. By 6 months, they may be taking 6–8 ounces. Another good rule of thumb is to allow approximately 2.5 ounces of formula for each pound of body weight per day.
If you’re concerned that your newborn is not getting enough to eat, check their diapers. They should be producing at least six wet diapers a day, along with four dirty or soiled diapers. When in doubt, contact your doctor.
Place bottles filled with formula under warm running water or place in a bowl or pan filled with warm—not boiling!—water. Once warmed, shake the bottle thoroughly and test the temperature by shaking a drop or two of formula onto your wrist. Formula should be lukewarm, but not too hot. Never warm a bottle in the microwave oven.
Keep unopened formula in a cool, dry place. Extreme temperature swings (such as those in a garage) can damage the quality of formula. Label prepared bottles with the date and refrigerate until you are ready to feed your baby. Do not freeze. Throw out any prepared formula that’s been in the refrigerator more than 24–48 hours.
- Experiment with different nipple sizes and shapes to see what works best for your baby.
- Never leave a baby unattended with a “propped” bottle (when a parent leans a bottle against a pillow or other object instead of holding it themselves)—this can lead to an ear infection and even choking.
- Don’t let your baby fall asleep with a bottle in his or her mouth. This can damage their developing teeth.
- Avoid cow’s milk until after baby’s first birthday. Until then, stick with breast milk or formula.
- Don’t attempt to save money by diluting formula, as this can weaken its nutritional impact. Contact your pediatrician if you can’t afford the formula needed; they may be able to help.
*The Tennessee Breastfeeding Hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The toll-free number is 1-855-4BF-MOMS (1-855-423-6667). The hotline is staffed by International Board Certified Lactation Consultants and Certified Lactation Counselors.