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Bottle feeding - feeding your baby with formula

bottle; feeding; formula; warm; heating; microwave; nappy; poos; wee; urine; wet; constipated;

If your baby is not breastfeeding the only other safe milks to give to a baby are infant formulas. Babies who are formula fed will still grow well and be healthy.

Contents

Formulas are modified milks that are made to be as close as possible to breastmilk, but there are still a lot of extras in breastmilk that cannot be put into formulas.

How do I warm a bottle of formula for my baby?

If you are making up formula fresh for each feed, the water will be slightly warm (around room temperature) and so usually will not need extra heating. Have a look at the topic Bottle formula - making up formula.

If you have made up extra bottles of water or formula in advance and get them out of the fridge, some babies will drink the cold formula, but most like it warm.

The best way to warm the formula or water is to put the bottle in a small container of warm water such as a cup of water (not hot or boiling). Or place the bottle in a sink of warm water. Warm water means you can comfortably put your hand in the water.  

If you have warmed up water in a bottle, then add the right number of scoops of formula. Shake it well.

Don't warm the water or formula for more than 10 minutes. This is because germs might grow in the formula, or it may be too hot for your baby. Bottle warmers can also be used. Follow the product instructions carefully.

Once you think the formula is warm (around room temperature), check the temperature, then test a few drops of milk on your wrist first. It should feel just a little warm or even cool, not too warm or hot.

It is not recommended to use a microwave to heat your baby's bottle. Most microwaves heat things unevenly, so the milk might have "hot spots" that could burn your baby's mouth.

If you HAVE to use a microwave to heat your baby's formula, you need to take particular care:

  1. Heat the formula for short amounts of time (perhaps 20 to 30 seconds).
  2. Turn the bottle upside down 8-10 times after heating (this helps to avoid "hot spots").
  3. Let it sit for 1-2 minutes before testing the temperature, to allow the temperature of the formula to even out.
  4. Shake gently, then test the temperature on your wrist before feeding your baby.
  5. If it is too hot, do not feed it to your baby. Cool it down in the fridge or under cold water, and check the temperature again.

Giving the bottle feeds

Babies enjoy being held, cuddled and talked to during bottle feeds. This is important for their development, health and safety.

1. Before you start:

  • Check the temperature of the milk on your wrist (it should be around room temperature).
  • Check how quickly the formula comes out:
    • If you loosen the cap, the milk will come out faster.
    • If you tighten the cap, the milk will come out more slowly.
  • Hold the bottle at an angle so there is milk in the teat, not air.

2. When you are feeding:

  • Hold your baby while feeding.
    • Your baby should be able to look at you during feeds. It's a good idea to swap the sides you feed your baby from at each feed.
    • Babies who are not held while feeding also have a higher chance of choking, getting tooth decay or ear infections.
  • Touch the teat gently on your baby's lips; this will usually start her sucking.
  • If you need to, burp your baby about halfway through. Don't keep trying if your baby is upset, as some babies like to drink the whole bottle at once.
  • Some babies aren't able to finish their whole feed at once. You might like to give your baby a break and try again after 10 minutes or so.
  • Some babies bring up a little milk during or after a feed, this is normal.
  • Remember to throw out any leftover milk:
    • 1 hour after the start of a feed if it has been warmed or your baby has been drinking from the bottle.
    • 2 hours from when it was made if the bottle has been sitting out of the fridge.

Always hold the bottle yourself. Don't prop the bottle as your baby may choke.

How much formula should I give my baby?

Most babies will let you know when they are hungry and need to be fed. This is called "demand feeding". Young babies may want to feed more often than older babies. Older babies will usually drink more formula at one time.

As a guide:

  • Use the table on the can for the age of your baby. But it is normal for some babies to drink more and some to drink less than this.
  • Offer a bottle at least every 3 to 4 hours for young babies, less often as he gets older.
    • A 1 month old baby may have up to 8 feeds a day.
    • A 6 month old baby may take around 5 feeds a day.
  • Don't force your baby to finish a bottle. If your baby starts turning his head away, fussing, or getting unsettled, he might be full.
  • If your baby always finishes his bottle and you think he is still hungry, offer a little more formula (but don't make him finish it if he doesn't want it).
  • If your baby doesn't seem interested in taking a bottle, try again 30 minutes later.
  • If your baby has regular wet nappies (5 or more disposable nappies per day), his poos are not hard or dry, and he is growing well, he is likely to be getting enough formula. If you don't think your baby is getting enough formula, speak to your child and family health nurse or doctor.

Can I make the formula stronger or weaker?

Can I make the formula stronger or weaker than the instructions on the can?

No. The number of scoops and amount of water on the label of the can is just right for your baby.

Sometimes if your baby has a special medical reason, your doctor or dietitian might tell you to use a different number of scoops to water. Make up the formula exactly as they have told you. Keep seeing them while your baby is on a special formula recipe.

Unless you are advised by your doctor because of a medical reason, do not add anything else to the bottle (such as baby cereal, biscuits or other solid foods).

Your baby may become sick by changing the amount of powder or water you add, or by using the wrong scoop.

Is it OK to settle my baby to sleep alone with a bottle?

No. Putting your baby to sleep with a bottle can be a choking hazard. It can also cause tooth decay.

  • Leaving a baby alone to feed may cause her to choke. Don't leave your baby alone with a propped bottle. It is safest and more enjoyable for you and your baby to hold her and the bottle during feeding.
  • Formula (and cow's milk) both have a natural sugar in them called lactose. If your baby is sucking on a bottle of formula or milk a lot in between feeding times, this can cause tooth decay. Even if your baby doesn't have any teeth yet, don't let the bottle sit in her mouth. It can be bad for future teeth once they show.
  • She can also get into the habit of needing to suck on the bottle to relax into sleep.

If you are having trouble settling your baby, or getting her to sleep, speak to your child and family health nurse or doctor about some things you can try.

How do I know if my baby is growing properly?

You can check your baby's growth in the Child Health Record (blue book) you are given when your baby is born.

When you visit your child and family health nurse or doctor, they can weigh and measure your baby. They can then write his measurements in the book, and check he is growing well on the weight and length chart. It is important you see your nurse or doctor regularly to check your baby's growth, especially if you are worried about your baby's feeding or growth.

Are my baby's nappies normal?

Young babies will have many wet nappies a day, less as they get older. It can be hard to tell if disposable nappies are wet, so check to see if they are heavier than a clean (dry) nappy. There should be at least 5 wet disposable nappies a day, or 6 to 8 wet cloth nappies.

Baby poos vary a lot in colour (from different browns to grey-blue, to greenish-yellow) and in how soft or firm they are (from quite liquid-like, to paste-like, to firm). If your baby is having trouble passing a poo and gets upset, and the poo is very firm and dry or like pebbles, your baby may be constipated. Check your baby is getting enough formula to drink, and that you are making up the formula exactly as it says on the can. Your child and family health nurse or doctor can help more with this.

Resources

South Australia

  • Parent Helpline - phone 1300 364 100
  • Your local Child and Family Health Centre
    call 1300 733 606 for an appointment
  • Universal contact visit
    Parents in South Australia can expect phone contact from Child and Family Health within their first 2 weeks of being home with their baby.  If they have not had this phone call in the first two weeks, or they have any concerns they would like to discuss earlier, they can call 1300 733 606 to make an appointment.

More information

The full booklet 'Infant formula' produced by Women's and Children's Hospital (South Australia) is available for downloading.

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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