Formula feeding is, unfortunately, surrounded by a ton of judgment and backlash from enthusiastic lactation supporters. The thing is, while many moms either intentionally choose formula, others have no other choice. Therefore, all the breastfeeding “support” in the world won’t help when parents are faced with a can of powdered baby formula and a handful of bottles.
There’s a lot to figure out when you’re a new mom, but it’s even harder when you’re struggling to feed your baby. Even if you formula feed from day one, there’s a lot to learn that is really hands-on. From the right temperature to serve the baby’s milk to the right preparation procedure, it takes a while for it all to become habit.
Fortunately, there’s a ton of great information out there on prepping bottles and getting your baby fed and happy. Of course, there are also some major no-no’s when it comes to formula feeding, many of which moms aren’t even aware of the first time they crack open the container of milk. It starts with selecting one of the hundreds of items off the shelf, but you’re not truly prepared until you’ve done a bunch of research and bought a bunch of supplies!
To that end, here are twelve things formula-feeding mamas should be doing—plus twelve things you shouldn’t ever do when formula feeding your tot.
24 Should: Scope Powder For Problems
You’ve likely heard plenty of negative things about formula feeding—like moms on the news who have found bugs in their babies’ formula powder, or moms who have found glass shards in the milk. Of course, no baby feeding method is foolproof, and these things do happen. The thing is, they’re extremely rare! And of course, checking the formula before mixing it is the best way to prevent illness, injury, or just a really gross bottle. Before mixing a bottle from a new batch of powdered formula, sift it around to make sure there’s nothing icky in it. You may want to check it every time, too, because sometimes creepy crawlies find their way in while the milk is in your cupboard.
23 Shouldn't: Microwave The Milk
I cringe every time I see parents do this, but it’s still surprisingly common: microwaving the baby’s bottle. And no, it’s not because everyone believes the conspiracy theory about microwaves being harmful to our bodies or our food.
Microwaves pack a punch—they’ve got a lot of power that can result in super-heated milk that can burn the baby.
It can also create hot spots, so when you sample the milk and it feels lukewarm, the center or other areas of the bottle could be piping hot. And if the bottle stays in the microwave too long, it might warp or melt, which can also affect the milk inside.
22 Shouldn't: Offer Extra Water
Many well-intentioned parents think that their little babies aren’t getting everything they need from their milk. These moms and dads might offer their tiny tots bottles of water or even juice. But that’s not a great idea, according to What to Expect.
Healthy infants get everything they need from either formula or breastmilk, no extras needed.
Too much water can lead to oral water intoxication, where the baby’s electrolytes are out of balance and can cause all kinds of health issues. And giving young babies juice can cause stomach cramping and diarrhea, so that’s a no-no as well. Most babies do best without extra foods or drinks until at least six months old.
21 Should: Check For Fluoride Content
As Healthline explains, “fluoride improves dental health, but may be dangerous in high amounts.” There’s also a difference between topical fluoride (in toothpaste or as a coating on your teeth) and systemic fluoride (in your water sources). The problem with this is when you use tap water to make baby bottles (many cities add fluoride to the water automatically), plus your tot getting topical fluoride on their few teeth that are emerging, you using fluoride toothpaste, and using nursery water (which contains fluoride) to make bottles on the go.
Too much fluoride is a bad thing, so you need to determine how much your baby is getting via water in their bottles and other sources.
20 Should: Look Out For Recalls
Although it’s not as common as you might expect, there are somewhat frequent recalls on baby formula. In some cases, manufacturers decide to pull the product because of suspected or confirmed errors in the manufacturing process. Other times, they find out through testing that a product contains harmful bacteria or other “ingredients.” Most of the time, these recalls are highly publicized, but if you don’t watch cable TV and don’t regularly scan headlines, it’s worth doing an internet search every once in a while to check the safety of the formula you use. Of course, many stores will also post notices about recalls, so check their bulletin boards, too.
19 Should: Use Sterile Milk Sources
When my first son was an infant, we learned pretty quickly that we’d have to supplement with formula. But the hospital recommended the pre-made liquid formula in the beginning because it was “sterile.” For newborn babies born ill or those delivered before 37 weeks, most doctors recommend using liquid formula (the kind you don’t need to add water to) to cut down on the chances of cross-contamination. HealthLinkBC, for example, recommends feeding sterile liquid formula to babies who are pre-term and under two months old, weigh less than 5.5 pounds, or are at risk for getting sick due to a lowered immune system.
18 Should: Wash Hands Pre Bottle Prep
Whether you use powdered formula from the start or pick a liquid formula, you should still wash your hands every time you make your baby’s food. Especially in the early days of life, babies are more susceptible to germs than adults are.
For the same reason that you limit visitors and try to keep your baby at home in the first few days or weeks, you should also try to minimize other risks.
That means making sure your hands are extremely clean before handling bottles, nipples, and formula. It’s harder when you’re out somewhere and need to make the baby’s milk, but always try to use soap and water rather than hand sanitizer or hand wipes—those aren’t great for the baby to ingest, either.
17 Should: Keep Bottles The Proper Temp
Whether you’re pre-mixing the formula and storing it in the fridge or mixing whenever the baby gets hungry, the temperature of the bottles matters. If you mix up large batches of formula, it will all need to be stored in the fridge until the baby is ready to eat.
If you’re mixing for immediate use, you usually have two hours before the untouched bottle has to go in the fridge.
And when you’re ready to warm it up? Maintaining the right temperature—not too cold to drink but also not too hot to burn the baby—is sometimes tough. Many parents (myself included) swear by bottle warmers, which take a minute or two to warm the milk using steam.
16 Should: Pace Feeding From Newborn Phase
Whether you started out breastfeeding your newborn and had to stop, or supplement, or even if you’ve been bottle feeding from day one, paced feeding is important.
When a baby breastfeeds, they naturally regulate their intake themselves—pausing to swallow, breathe, reposition, and slow down toward the end when they feel full. Paced feeding “mimics breastfeeding,” as Mama Natural explains, and you should do it because it gives the baby more control over eating and encourages him to stop when he’s full—not when the bottle is empty.
Key elements of paced feeding include sitting the baby more upright, keeping the bottle more horizontal, pausing for “breaks,” and being patient as the baby finds he’s feeling full on his own.
15 Shouldn't: Force Baby To Finish
With babies who drink bottles, parents are often tempted to have them finish the entire thing. And we have good intentions—we want the baby to be as full as possible so they don’t feel hungry, we don’t want to waste expensive milk, and we want to make sure they’re gaining weight decently. But forcing a baby to finish their bottle can lead to them overeating. The later consequences to overeating in infancy can be serious—babies who don’t learn to stop eating when they feel full might continue the same habit when they’re older.
A big part of eating in life is learning to stop when you’ve had enough, and teaching babies that in infancy is easier than trying to change their habits later on.
14 Shouldn't: Reuse Rejected Bottles
Most formula canisters (and liquid formula bottles) have this warning label, but sometimes parents overlook it. However, it’s important to follow the directions on formula use once it’s been prepared. And one of those pieces of advice is to toss any formula that the baby sips on but doesn’t finish within two hours. This is because, after that amount of time, bacteria and other nasties can start to grow. Especially if your baby has eaten some of it, that means their saliva and potential bacteria may have gotten inside. That leaves even more opportunities for bacteria to grow—and formula is the perfect nutrient-rich breeding ground for it to do so.
13 Shouldn't: Heat & Re-Heat
Another no-no when it comes to feeding formula is heating and then re-heating a bottle. If your baby seems hungry and you mix and warm up a bottle but then they fall asleep or don’t want it, you might be tempted to save it for later. But the same rule applies—after you heat the bottle, you’ve got about two hours before you have to pitch it—whether or not the baby ate any. Suffice it to say, you can’t just plop the warmed bottle back in the fridge either—once it’s warmed, you’re giving any bacteria the chance to start growing, and refrigerating the milk won’t stop that.
12 Should: Regular Weigh-Ins
If you’ve breastfed a baby before, or know someone who has, you might have heard that it’s common to do “weigh-ins” with infants. But for babies who only drink formula, regular weigh-ins can also be a benefit. Some babies have otherwise undetected illnesses that don’t get noticed until regular checkups, where your doc might see that despite drinking plenty of milk, your baby isn’t gaining weight fast enough. Or maybe your baby appears to be drinking a full bottle but is aspirating some of it, another uncommon but possible issue. If your baby is gaining weight and filling diapers, odds are everything is fine—but sometimes it’s nice to have peace of mind on top of the living proof.
11 Should: Transition Slowly To New Tastes
Sometimes parents need to change their babies’ formula, and it can happen for a variety of reasons. You may have noticed your baby just doesn’t like a specific formula, or maybe their doctor recommends a switch. It could also be that you can’t afford a certain type of milk—and fortunately, there are lower cost options of nearly every formulation from organic to soy-based. But the key to switching formula is doing it gradually. By slowly transitioning, you give your baby’s tummy (and palate) time to adjust.
Advice varies between switching abruptly to see if the baby will take it that way, to mixing half and half or another ratio until the old formula is used up and the baby takes to the new flavor.
10 Should: Set Up Extra Bottles
One of the things I hated about supplementing and later exclusively formula feeding was the constant bottle washing! Especially with newborns, you can expect to be feeding them about every two hours—longer if you’re lucky! So it pays to have plenty of extra clean bottles on hand, ready and waiting, so that you don’t have to try and comfort a crying baby while washing a bottle and mixing formula. It’s even better if you have a dishwasher and can wash bottles in cycles.
I’d say having at least a full day’s worth of bottles on hand —anywhere from 6 to 12— is a great idea.
9 Should: Invest In Portable Prep
When I first started using formula, I lugged the entire can everywhere with me. After all, I didn’t know how much milk I’d need to make or when! But these days, there are some “hacks” that make formula feeding easier and more portable. There are small containers you can pre-measure formula into, bottles that store formula separately from the water until it’s time to feed, and single-serve packets of formula (more expensive but sometimes worth it!). You can even buy a vehicle bottle warmer that plugs into the car, so the baby’s bottle can be ready whenever you arrive at your destination.
8 Shouldn't: Switch Milks Often
Some babies struggle with formula, whether it’s colic or tummy troubles or an allergy. So well-meaning parents will keep switching milks until they find something that seems to work. But a lot of the time, continuing to swap out the formula just makes things worse. Most doctors recommend transitioning slowly to a new formula (unless the old one is outright causing allergy flare-ups or other serious problems). Once you transition, it can often take a week or so for your baby to really adjust. That includes their poop schedules and tummy troubles calming down. Of course, when in doubt, ask your pediatrician—but often, a bit of an adjustment period is necessary.
7 Shouldn't: Add Rice To Bottles
I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve overheard or been directly told that a doctor recommended baby cereal in an infant’s bottle. And yet, experts don’t recommend adding baby cereal to a bottle for any reason—it’s a choking hazard and can also mess with a young baby’s gut health, as Parenting explains.
Parents should not add cereal to an infant’s bottle except in “rare instances,” when a doctor advises it for a condition like severe reflux.
Some babies genuinely need thickened milk to stay healthy—but the majority don’t, and it can wreak havoc on their digestion. The experts at Parenting concluded that you should not give babies cereal unless they’re eating it from a spoon.
6 Shouldn't: Dilute
The diluting of baby formula can be a tragic mistake that may make a baby sick or even worse. That’s because baby milk is formulated for a specific ratio of water.
Diluting the nutrients in formula means your baby is consuming less of what they need to thrive.
It can also lead babies to consume too much water, creating the electrolyte imbalance mentioned previously. Babies in underdeveloped countries have succumbed due to formula dilution, and it’s a tragic circumstance no matter where it happens. Thankfully, there are many resources in the US and the UK that help parents obtain formula for their babies—no dilution needed.
5 Shouldn't: Add Vitamins To The Mix
Whether your baby is taking a special medication or you’re hoping to pop some extra vitamins into them, adding anything “extra” to their formula bottles isn’t a great idea.
Not only can additional ingredients change the consistency of the formula and create a choking hazard, but many babies are picky about their milk.
If your baby doesn’t like the taste or consistency of a medication or supplement, you may have just wasted an entire dose, plus a full bottle of formula, if they refuse to drink it. Plus, there are handy infant medication dispensers like pacifiers and spoons that can help fake your tot into taking their meds, no formula waste necessary.
4 Shouldn't: Start Food Early
Another fad that I’ve noticed with mamas who formula feed is switching to solid food sooner. While experts recommend starting solid foods around six months old (or later), many moms are in a hurry to get their babies off formula. Personally, I was with my first child! I had tried to breastfeed, and supplemented with formula for a long time, but I was practically overeager to quit formula altogether. But thankfully I realized that it wasn’t best for my baby, and that formula was delivering all the nutrients he needed well through his first year—something I hope other mamas acknowledge, too.
3 Shouldn't: Measure Formula First
This common mistake happens to even parents with the best intentions: improperly mixing formula. And while most babies can deal with a minor measuring snafu, particularly ill or young babies could have tummy troubles if the formula to water ratio isn’t exactly right. Therefore, always follow the directions on the formula container, including the step where you measure the water first before adding the formula powder. If you do the formula first, your water ratio will be off a bit—and we want to be as exact as possible when it comes to mixing up the baby’s primary nutrition source.
2 Should: Stir, Not Shake
For most parents, shaking a bottle to mix the formula is just habit. Of course, there are bottles nowadays that mix for us, but if you don’t have one of those, you’re probably still shaking. And it’s fine to shake a bottle of formula—it won’t affect the nutrient value of the milk or anything. But it will create a ton of bubbles, and if your baby has a sensitive tummy, the froth might create more problems for them. If possible, shake the bottle and then let it sit until most of the bubbles go away. Or, you could try shaking more gently, just until all the powder is mixed, to prevent too much bubble buildup.
1 Should: Watch Expiration Dates
Another way formula can go “bad” is by passing its expiration date. And while baby formula may be another one of those items that doesn’t automatically turn rank on the day of its expiration, most parents don’t keep using it—just in case! The idea is to check expiration labels when you’re shopping in the store—sometimes stores rotate their stock, so you’re more likely to get older canisters or bottles. Of course, there truly shouldn’t be expired milk on the shelves, but store clerks and stockers are only human, too, so mistakes can happen. The good news is most formula is good for a year or more on the shelf, so you should be fine!
Sources: HealthLinkBC, Mama Natural, Healthline, What to Expect, Parenting