A Guide on Formula Feeding

Baby eatingThe American Academy of Pediatrics and various health experts advise that breast milk is best for your baby; however, it is not always practical or even possible for some mothers. Whether you choose not to breast feed, if it’s not an option for you, or you need to supplement breast feeding with formula, there are important things you need to know for safe handling and preparation. You may think it’s a no-brainer as there are instructions on the back of every can, but there are many rules for bottle feeding that should be followed. I’ve seen many mothers confused and unsure about the preparations for formula so to ease new parents’ concerns I’ve composed this formula feeding guide on how to properly and safely feed your baby.

As a mother of a premature baby who spent the first few days on a feeding tube, I can understand the struggle some formula feeding moms have. The hospital nurses are quick to instruct and show you how to properly latch on to breastfeed, but they don’t tell you how you should prepare bottles of formula. I have done both (formula-fed and breast fed) and worked in child care where I’ve prepared numerous bottles on a daily basis using various types of formula. Infant feeding formula comes in 3 forms – powder, concentrated, and ready-to-feed, which I will discuss.


Powdered Formula

Formula preparationThis is the most economical choice for formula feeding. Powdered formula comes in a dry form in a container with a scoop to measure the amount of formula needed to be mixed with water. They also make to-go packs of powdered formula that contain a specified amount of formula for a bottle. It is advised to use only sterile water, such as purified bottled water or boiling water for a minute then allowing it to cool before preparing for use with formula. Powdered formula requires the most attention and caution when it comes to preparing. You must be sure to use the right amount of water to formula ratio to provide optimal nutritional content for your baby (too much water will dilute it down decreasing the nutritional value and too little will make it over concentrated, which may upset baby’s tummy and has a higher calorie content).

Typically, the formula ratio is one level scoop to 2 ounces of water. You do not want to pack down the formula in the scoop and always use the scoop that comes with the formula. It’s very important to keep the scoop dry and clean to prevent bacteria from growing in the formula. You should always prepare formula in even amounts (i.e. 2oz., 4oz., 6oz.) using whole scoops; half scoops cannot be measured precisely and can cause fussiness in babies. If you want to make an uneven amount of formula, such as 3oz., prepare an even amount and divide it. For instance, you can prepare 6oz. of formula and divide it up into two 3oz. bottles and save the other bottle in the refrigerator until the next feeding. Always be sure to mix the formula well until the powder is dissolved.

Concentrated Formula

mixing milkConcentrated formula comes in a concentrated liquid form that must be mixed with water as well, like powdered formula. It is a little easier to prepare, however, since it’s already liquefied so you don’t have to mix it as much. It is a little more expensive than powdered formula. You should always clean the top of the can of formula and shake well before opening.  Once a can of concentrated liquid formula has been opened it can be stored in the refrigerator covered for up to 48 hours. Any opened formula that is left unused after 48 hours should be discarded.

Ready-to-Feed Formula

This is the easiest and most expensive form of formula. Ready-to-feed, as the name implies, is already mixed so you can feed it to your baby right away. Ready to feed formula comes in a variety of sizes, some in containers that you can attach a nipple to for instant feedings. Same as liquid concentrated formula, you should always shake well before opening as the formula separates after settling.

Formula Feeding Tips

baby bottles

Here are some additional guidelines I’ve provided as a formula feeding guide to follow when preparing formula.  Some of these tips apply for bottle-feeding breast milk as well.

1.) Always sterilize bottles before initial use as well as any equipment that is used for preparing the formula (i.e. mixers, stirrers, pitchers, etc.) Likewise, always wash your hands thoroughly before handling any type of formula.

2.) When warming formula or milk, NEVER heat it up in the microwave. This can cause hot spots in the milk that can burn your baby’s mouth even if the bottle feels cool enough. Use a bottle warmer or simply place bottle in warm water for a few minutes and always test it first by shaking the bottle to place a few drops on your wrist.

3.) If you prepare formula ahead of time for the day always refrigerate it and use within 24 hours. Opened containers of concentrated and ready-to-feed formula can be stored in the refrigerator up to 48 hours. Do not refrigerate formula that you’ve started feeding to your baby or formula that has been warmed.

4.) Once you have prepared a bottle for feeding it can be left out at room temperature for up to one hour. Always throw out any leftover formula that your baby does not consume within an hour.

5.) Always check the expiration date of the formula before you buy it to ensure it is still good. A container of powdered formula should be used within one month after opening.

6.) In addition to the expiration date, always inspect the containers of formula before you buy. Never buy opened or dented containers and be sure any seals are unbroken.

7.) Keep any unopened containers of formula stored in a cool, dry place that is between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal storing temperature. Never keep formula in direct sunlight and store away from heat sources, such as ovens. Unlike breast milk, formula can NOT be stored in the freezer.

8.) If you are storing bottles of liquid formula or concentrate in a cooler bag for traveling be sure to use enough ice packs to keep it adequately cool without freezing. Prepared formula can be stored in an insulated cooler bag with ice packs for 4-6 hours – be sure to keep cooler out of direct sunlight.

Always read the instructions on the formula for preparation and storage guidelines. Also follow your doctor’s recommendations when it comes to formula feeding. Never hesitate to call your pediatrician if you have any questions regarding feeding your baby.

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