What You Absolutely Need to Know About Formula Feeding

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So – for whatever reason you’ve determined you are going to be using formula to meet your baby’s nutritional needs. Let me say this to you – good job, mama. Don’t let anyone else (or that little voice in your head) beat you up for doing the best you can to take care of your baby. The most important rule: feed the baby.

So, since you’re using formula, let’s talk about some things that you might not know or think about that can make formula feeding both simpler and safer.

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Talk to your doctor about which option is best for your child.

Types: Most children will do fine with standard, milk-based formulas. If your child shows sensitivities to this formulation, your doctor may suggest either a soy-based or protein hydrosolate version.

Preparations: Again, most children will do fine with the powdered version of infant formula, which is also the least expensive. However it is important to know that powdered formula is NOT sterile. This means that infants with compromised immune systems, preemies, or other issues may benefit from using ready-to-use formulations, which are sterile when prepared, but are also the most expensive.

{ MORE: Should You Give Your Baby Probiotics? }

Name-brand vs. Generic: When determining whether to use name brand or generic, aside from the cost savings, know that all formula sold in the United States is required by the FDA to contain the nutrients that infants need within a specific range (more than the minimum but no more than the maximum). The difference comes in with other ingredients used in the formula. You may find that your child tolerates one brand or generic better than another – feel free to use the one that agrees with your needs the best.

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Be a clean freak.

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This is the one time I’ll encourage you to give in to all your germaphobe tendencies. Thoroughly clean the counter where you’ll be working, the container of formula you’ll be opening, the bottles and nipples you’ll be assembling, and your hands. Think about what your supplies come into contact with while you’re working. Using powder? You know that little scoop that they store inside? Don’t set it down somewhere it could pick up debris or germs that will then end up in the formula powder.

Experts suggest that you sterilize all bottles and nipples at least once before first usage. After that, ensure that you are thoroughly washing all parts with hot water and soap (completely disassembling the bottles and all components each time you wash). Store bottles fully assembled to keep dirt and other particles from getting inside the bottles.

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Mix it up carefully.

I mentioned before that powdered infant formula is NOT sterile. What does that mean? According to the WHO, “It may contain bacteria that can cause serious illness in infants. By preparing and storing powdered infant formula correctly, you can reduce the risk of illness.”

To take care of this issue, it is recommended that you prepare formula with water that has been heated to at least 70? C (158? F). This will destroy any bacteria present in the powder.

{ MORE: 2015 ABC Kids Expo: Phillips Avent }

Keep in mind that the EPA says you shouldn’t use hot water straight from the tap. If your pipes have lead in them, this can lead to excess lead levels in the bottles. Heat water on the stove (a tea kettle is great for fast heating!) or by using another heating element.

Always follow the amounts carefully when mixing, and do not add more or less water or formula unless specifically instructed to do so by your doctor.

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Know how to properly store prepared formula.

The WHO says it is safest to prepare a fresh feed each time, to reduce the chances of any bacteria growing in the formula. However, as a parent living in reality, with screaming babies and middle of the night feedings, and all the rest, I’m going to be honest here and say that while that may be ideal, it’s not realistic for most people. So what should you do to maximize safety?

  • Once prepared, formula should not be left at room temperature for more than one hour.
  • Keep prepared formula in the back of the refrigerator, where the cool temperatures are most steady.
  • Do not store formula in the fridge for more than 24 hours.
  • Do not re-use formula if the baby doesn’t finish the feed from that bottle.
  • Ready-to-feed formula can be refrigerated for 48 hours, but should be discarded past that time.
  • Mark all prepared formula with the dates so that you can determine proper use and disposal.

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Consider how – and whether – to heat bottles.

First – you don’t need to heat your baby’s bottles. Room temperature or even cool formula offers the same nutrients and value. You can try offering your baby formula without warming and gauge the reaction. If you do this from the start, you may be able to remove one step from your preparations in the future!

{ MORE: Why Breastfeeding Is Not High On My List of Priorities }

If you do opt to warm bottles, do not use the microwave. Just don’t. It seems faster and you can swirl and shake the bottle and tell yourself it is good, but it can leave hot spots due to uneven heating that can hurt your baby – and you don’t want that. Heat up some water, give the bottle a nice, relaxing soak, and try to wait patiently for the right temp.

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Feed appropriate amounts.

No matter what you’re feeding your child, there will always be the concern “is he getting enough (or too much)?” Even when you’re packing up school lunches, the question hangs on. So how do you know? There are guidelines – based on age and number of daily feedings. You can find those here.

But there is more to it than that. Learn your baby’s cues. Crying is a late sign for hunger (and can often mean other things besides the desire for a bottle). Feed on demand, and don’t force feeds.

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Be aware of the dos and don’ts.

  • Do keep prepared formula cool when you’re out until you’re ready to feed, or use ready-to-feed formula when traveling.
  • Don’t forget to check expiration dates and packaging and discard anything questionable.
  • Do take the time to make feeding a bonding experience for you. Cuddles, skin-to-skin time, and eye contact are not exclusive to breastfeeding mothers.
  • Don’t add anything to formula – like rice cereal or other additives – without specific instructions from your doctor.
  • Do work with your baby’s cues to find the right feeding schedule.
  • Don’t force a feed because you don’t want to waste formula. If your baby seems uninterested in completing a feed, follow his lead and discard the rest of the bottle.
  • Do ensure that anyone feeding your baby – from a spouse to a care provider – knows the correct procedure for preparation and for storage of formula.

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You can breastfeed and formula feed in whatever combination works for you.

Of course there are limitations to this. You can’t feed formula for a week and then think your breasts are just going to start pumping rivers of milk. But there is no need for an all-or-nothing mentality. One formula bottle does not have to mean the end of breastfeeding. In fact, the two can co-exist for the duration of the first year and beyond. There are many resources that discuss the benefits and possibilities of combination feeding. If you feel like this is an option for you, find a supportive lactation consultant or counselor who can help you to establish schedules and techniques to make this work for you.

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But you don’t have to apologize for feeding your child.

It often seems that everyone has an opinion on this subject, from family members to random strangers in public and on the internet. I’m going to tell you a secret … it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you follow the most important rule: feed the baby.

For a majority of mothers, formula feeding is not a first choice. It is wonderful that so many women see the benefits of breastfeeding and do their best to make it work. But if it doesn’t work – for whatever reason that may be – the baby still needs to eat.

So remember that you are meeting your child’s needs and showing your love each time you feed them, whether it is breastmilk or formula, in a bottle or from a breast or through a tube. Knowing that you are doing your best is good enough for your baby, so let it be good enough for you, too.

{ MORE: 4 Breastfeeding Challenges I Didn't Expect }

Anything I missed? What do you want to know about safe formula feeding, or feeding in general? Share in the comments!

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What You Absolutely Need to Know About Formula Feeding

Sara McTigue is a secret agent, cupcake chef, award winning author, photographer, and PTA mom. At least, that is how things look in her mind. When she isn’t testing the bounds of her imagination, she is a mom to three amazing and hilariously funny children, wife to a charming and handsome man, and thoroughly addicted to reading. With a BS in English Education and an MA in English Literature, words – and their ability to shape our lives and thoughts – are an everyday fascination. Af ... More

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