Formula feeding

Formula is man-made milk that is designed for babies and can be used in combination with, or instead of, breastfeeding. Formula feeding is perfectly safe, just make sure you take care every time you make a bottle.

Some women have difficulty breastfeeding or are unable to and others may choose not to. Whatever your reasons, you shouldn’t feel, or be made to feel, guilty or pressured about your decision to use formula. Your baby needs you to stay healthy and happy, not stressed or worried about using formula.

Your midwife or health visitor should give you all the information you need to make sure your baby stays well fed and you can formula feed safely. If you have any questions, just ask. Don’t struggle on alone.

How do I formula feed my baby?

The most common way to feed a baby with formula milk is with a bottle. There are lots of different bottle brands and styles to choose from. Teats can either be made from rubber or silicone and vary in shape. There’s no evidence that one is better than the other, so it just depends on what you like and if your baby has a preference. You may find that you try several different brands before you find one that works well for you and your baby.

What kind of milk should I use?

Most infant formula brands are either first milks or follow on milks. There are also formulas that are marketed as comfort milk (for babies with digestive problems such as colic) and hungrier baby milk.

Some mums feel that these types of milk make a difference, but there is no evidence that you need to change from a first milk to any other type.

First milk is the only food your baby will need for the first 6 months. After that, you can introduce them to solid food alongside first milk.

You can start giving your baby ordinary full-fat cow’s milk instead of first milk when they turn 1.

Talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP if you think your baby might be allergic or intolerant of formula. They may be able to prescribe a special formula feed.

Formula milk is available in two forms:

  • ready-to-feed liquid infant formula, which is sterile
  • powered infant formula, which isn’t sterile.

Ready-to-feed formula

Because ready-to-feed formula is sterile it is suitable for more vulnerable babies. This includes babies born prematurely, with a low-birthweight or that are more prone to infection.

Ready-to-feed formula tends to be more expensive than using powered infant formula.

“I used to always carry a bottle of ready-to-feed formula with me, so that I always had something if needed. It was definitely more expensive and I couldn’t afford to use it all the time, but when out and about, and especially when away on holiday, it was much more convenient for me and my baby.”

Sharon

How much formula milk does my baby need?

Newborn babies need quite small amounts of formula to start with. Based on average energy needs and baby weights, your baby will need:

Aged up to 2 weeks

7-8 feeds a day, 60-70ml a feed (420-560ml per day)

Aged 2-8 weeks

6-7 feeds a day, 75-105ml a feed (450-735ml a day

Aged 9-14 weeks

5-6 feeds a day, 105-180ml a feed (525-1,080ml a day)

Aged 15-25 weeks

5 feeds a day, 180-210ml a feed (900-1,050ml a day) 

Aged 26 weeks

4 feeds a day, 210-240ml a feed (840-960ml a day)

Remember that this is just a guideline. All babies are different, and your baby’s needs may vary.

Responsive feeding

Some mums who aren’t breastfeeding may worry that they are missing an opportunity to bond with their baby. But you can still develop a loving relationship and strong emotional bond with your baby by formula feeding responsively. This means focusing all your attention on your baby during feeds and responding to their needs.

You could try:

  • sitting comfortably, holding your baby close and looking into their eyes while feeding
  • holding your baby fairly upright, supporting their head
  • brushing the teat against your baby’s lips – when they open their mouth wide, allow them to draw in the teat
  • pulling gently on the corner of your baby’s mouth to release the teat if it becomes flattened during feeding
  • offering your baby short breaks during the feed so they have a chance to burp
  • supporting your baby to pace the feed – they can put their tongue over the hole to slow the flow or push the teat out of their mouth when they’ve had enough
  • never forcing your baby to feed or take ‘all’ the milk if they don’t want it
  • feeding your baby skin to skin – this means having your baby on you, their naked skin next to yours with a blanket over both of you for warmth.

It’s best to limit the number of people feeding your baby to you and your partner for the first few weeks.

How can I bottle feed safely?

It’s important to try to reduce the chance of your baby getting an infection as much as possible by cleaning and sterilising your feeding equipment. To do this, you could try:

  • using a cold-water sterilising solution
  • steam sterilising
  • sterilising by boiling.

Whatever method you use, make sure you:

  • wash and sterilise any feeding equipment before each feed
  • wash your hands every time you handle feeding equipment and formula
  • clean and disinfect the surface area you’re going to use
  • clean the feeding bottle and teat in hot, soapy water as soon as possible after a feed, using a clean bottle brush
  • rinse all your equipment in clean, cold running water before sterilising
  • don’t leave any bottles with feeds at room temperature as this allows bacteria to multiply
  • make up feeds one at a time, as your baby needs them
  • follow the manufacturer’s instructions if you use sterilising equipment.

More support and information

Remember that you can ask your midwife or health visitor for advice.

The First Steps Nutrition Trust is an independent public health charity that provides information and resources about eating well, including infant milks.

The Unicef Baby Friendly Initiative provides useful resources for parents, including a Guide to bottle feeding.

 

Read more about feeding your baby

  • A photo of a mum breastfeeding her baby with bottles visible on the table in the foreground

    Combine feeding

    Combine feeding is when you offer your baby bottles of expressed breast milk or formula alongside breastfeeding. It’s sometimes called combination or mixed feeding, or partial breastfeeding.

  • A breast pump.

    Expressing

    Expressing milk means squeezing milk from your breast so you can store it and feed it to your baby later.

  • 'FAQ' written in pink chalk on black board.

    Formula feeding FAQs

    We’ve answered your questions about formula feeding.

  • 'FAQ' written in pink chalk on black board.

    Breastfeeding FAQs

    Here are some answers to common questions about breastfeeding.

  • Mum breastfeeding baby.

    Breastfeeding information and support

    Breast milk is a fantastic first food for your baby because it protects them from illness. Breastfeeding has lots of benefits for you, too.

  • Mum breastfeeding baby.

    Feeding your baby

    Feeding can be a lovely time to get to know your baby and to bond. At the start you’re going to be doing a lot of feeding.

Sources

Sue Macdonald, Gail Johnson, Mayes’ Midwifery. Edinburgh: Baillir̈e Tindall Elsevier, 2017)

Department of Health and the Baby Friendly Initiative (2015) Guide to bottle feeding https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2008/02/start4life_guide_to_bottle_-feeding.pdf

First Steps Nutrition Trust (2018) Infant milks: A simple guide to infant formula, follow-on formula and other infant milks https://www.firststepsnutrition.org/parents-carers

NHS Choices. How to make up baby formula https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/making-up-infant-formula/ (Page last reviewed: 02/10/2010. Next review due: 02/10/2019)

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    Last reviewed on May 9th, 2019. Next review date May 9th, 2022.

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