How to start formula feeding with your baby
Infant formula is an incredible modern invention. We’re big fans of breastmilk at Brave Care and, for parents who can and want to breastfeed, we’re here with you every step of the way.
We also know that for many families, breastfeeding isn’t the right choice for their baby for various reasons. And the great news is that infant formula is a safe, complete source of nutrition to help babies grow and develop.
Formula science has come a long way, but with all the choices when it comes to infant formula it can be overwhelming to get started. In this guide, we break it down into five steps to getting started with formula feeding for healthy, full-term babies*.
Formula feeding step 1: Start with a standard, cow's-milk-based formula.
There are two main types of formula available: Cow's-milk-based formulas and specialized-needs formulas.
- Cow's-milk-based formulas are the most widely available at all price points. In infant formula, the cow’s milk has been heated and transformed to make it safe and digestible for infants. Then, other ingredients have been added - like more natural sugars - to make the formula as chemically close to breastmilk as possible.
- Specialized infant formulas are, you guessed it, specialized for kiddos with specific dietary needs. Some are soy-based, for kiddos that have rare intolerances to milk proteins; others are formulated for premature babies, or those prone to digestive sensitivities. Unless your doctor has recommended a specialized formula, you probably don’t need one starting out.
Even choosing a cow’s milk formula can be overwhelming. Which infant formula is the best? The important thing to know is that the makeup of ALL infant formula made in the United States is strictly regulated by the FDA.
Despite being a “processed” food, strict FDA regulation means infant formula doesn’t have any unnecessary ingredients or empty additives. Any infant formula you choose will have all the nutrients your baby needs to grow and thrive. The formula you choose will depend on your baby’s taste buds, your finances and your family’s values.
Here are some good formulas we recommend:
- Similac and Enfamil are the two leading brands in US infant formula. Both Similac’s Pro-Advance formula and Enfamil’s NeuroPro formula are widely available. They’re a good place to start.
- If certified organic ingredients are important to your family, Earth’s Best Organic infant formula is a good option.
- Formula feeding can be expensive! Walmart, Target and Costco all have store-brand formulas that are less expensive than their Enfamil and Similac counterparts. Remember: all formula has to follow strict FDA guidelines, so these store-brand formulas still have everything your baby needs.
- You may have heard about European infant formulas like HiPP, Holle, Lebenswert and Töpfer. These aren’t regulated by the FDA and so we don’t recommend them. If you’re interested in European-style formula, newcomer Bobbie was inspired by European formulas but meets FDA nutrition requirements.
For parents that qualify for benefits under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) infant formula is covered for the first 12 months of life, which helps with the cost of formula.
Formula feeding step 2: Get baby bottles
We could write a whole book on all the different baby bottles out there. But remember, the best bottle for you is the one your baby likes.
Two we usually recommend are the Phillips Avent bottles or the Dr. Brown’s bottles. They both have proven track records of being durable and loved by babies. Fair warning though, while the Dr. Brown’s bottles may be better for babies prone to gas, they have a lot of fiddly parts to clean.
Whatever bottle you get, make sure you have stage 1 nipples for your newborn, that way they won’t be overwhelmed by the bottle’s flow. You’ll eventually need stage 2 and larger nipples as your baby grows, but start with stage 1.
Formula feeding step 3: Feed your baby!
Now comes the (hopefully) fun part. Feeding your baby. Formula feeding produces the same bonding chemicals that breastfeeding does and for many parents, this becomes a sweet time with a new baby. Parents that formula feed also love that bottle-feeding gives other caregivers a chance to help out and get close bonding time with the baby.
In the first days of life, remember that your baby’s tummy is tiny and they won’t need to eat a lot of formula to feel full. Offer one to two ounces of formula about every two to three hours. Offer more if your baby is showing signs of being hungry, babies will eat what they need and stop when they’re full, you don’t need to worry about overfeeding in the early days.
Most newborn babies will want to eat 8 to 12 times every 24 hours. As your baby gets older their stomach will get bigger and they’ll start eating more formula at each feeding and going longer between feeds.
Formula feeding step 4: Keep everything clean and stored correctly
If your baby is healthy and was born at full-term, there’s no need to sterilize your baby bottles. But you do want to make sure that all your bottles, nipples, formula mixing cups, jars and spoons are cleaned in hot soapy water between feedings. That includes cleaning the tops of formula cans or boxes before you open them.
If you have a formula mixing system like a Brezza (parents we know swear by them) make sure you follow all directions for keeping things clean.
Here’s a guide for safely storing opened and/or mixed formula:
- After serving formula to your baby, any leftovers need to be stored in the fridge and discarded within an hour.
- Premixed formula that hasn’t been served to a baby can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
- An open container of ready-to-feed formula, concentrated formula, or formula mixed from concentrate can be stored, covered in the refrigerator, for 48 hours.
Formula feeding step 5: Adjust as needed
Babies have opinions, they might prefer the taste of one formula over another. They may have an extra sensitive tummy and need a more easily-digested formula. They may have food sensitivities or allergies to take into account. You may have to try out a few formulas before you find the one that fits best for your family.
Here are some signs you might need to try a different formula:
- Lots of reflux or spit-ups
- Frequent gas that seems very uncomfortable for your baby
- Constipation or very firm poops (formula fed baby poops should have a peanut-butter consistency)
- Your baby is often very fussy or difficult to soothe
Many of these signs are also just normal baby stuff. Spit-ups, gassy tummies and fussiness are part of your infant learning to use their digestive system. If you have concerns about your baby, and think a different formula could help, call in your pediatric care team. They can help investigate the problem and point you towards more specialized formulas that could be a good fit for your kiddo. You don’t have to do this alone.
*If your baby was born pre-term (< 36 weeks) or has a specific diagnosis that affects their feeding, talk with your medical care team to develop a customized formula plan.