It can be hard for parents to find good information about formula feeding in a society that pushes breastfeeding as the optimal way to feed babies. For various reasons, many mothers can’t or choose not to breastfeed, and knowing how to formula feed while reducing risk is very important.
The first thing to consider when formula feeding is the type of formula you will purchase. Although store shelves are lined with many different brands, there are basically three different types of formula:
- Liquid concentrate: this concentrate is mixed with water and is more expensive than powdered formula.
- Powdered: this is the least expensive type of formula and is not suitable for babies under two months of age, or premature and low birth weight babies.
- Ready to feed: although most convenient (does not require any water or mixing,) this is also the most expensive type of formula.Healthcare providers recommend that babies should be given only iron-fortified formula until 6 months of age. After that, formula feeding should continue until 9 – 12 months of age, along with the introduction of solids.
So which brand should parents be choosing? This is really an individual and economical choice, and also depends on whether a baby has any particular allergies. Research has shown that soy-based formulas could have potential health effects long-term, given that isoflavones have the ability to act like the hormone estrogen in the body. A good alternative for babies who have allergies to cow’s milk would be amino acid formulations. Parents should be consulting with their healthcare provider to discuss formula options.
In addition to choosing the best type of formula for baby, parents also need to be aware of the risk of contamination. Sterilization is key, and all bottle items (including the nipples) need to be washed in warm, soapy water, and then boiled in a pot for two minutes. As well, for babies under 4 months of age, all water used to mix with concentrate or powder should be boiled for two minutes. Never use softened tap water, distilled or mineral water (regular bottled water is OK as long as it’s boiled.) Finally, check expiry dates and instructions for storage on the formula can.
Many healthcare providers advocate scheduling feeds for formula-fed infants, as it is possible to overfeed a baby with formula (for information on how much you should be feeding your baby, see these guidelines.) However, many others believe that it is still important to look for hunger cues – some babies will take more formula than others. Do not attempt to stick to a 4-hour schedule if you see that your baby is very hungry after three hours.
Also, follow safe bottle feeding guidelines – never prop your baby up with a bottle or leave them with a bottle in their crib. For newborns, parents can mimic breastfeeding by holding their baby in an upright cradle position, tickling the nipple to the baby’s lips and waiting for a wide open mouth. Allow baby to pull away from the bottle when they are finished so that they are not overfed. This close position also promotes bonding and makes the experience much more pleasant for both parents and their baby.
Caring for a newborn is a huge learning curve, and feeding your baby (whether breast or bottle) will also take some practice. Learn how to formula feed your baby safely, and be as prepared as possible to minimize disruptions for nighttime feedings. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to speak to a healthcare provider.