The Must-Know Basics of Preparing Formula for Your Baby

If a mother chooses formula to feed her baby, there are some important basics and guidelines to follow to prepare it correctly.

According to the CDC, 80% of parents will use formula before their baby turns one year old. Additionally, 60% of moms report that they didn’t breastfeed as long as they intended to, often leading them to supplement their baby’s diet with formula.

While there are many reasons behind these stats (don’t get me started on how social programs in the U.S. aren’t designed to support new parents), the fact is: the majority of parents in the United States use formula. And yet, it seems that our medical system mostly offers support, instruction, education, and guidance geared towards breastfeeding only

This means that parents often find themselves staring at the endless options in the formula aisle, stressed and confused, with no direction about how to formula feed safely and successfully. If you’ve felt guilt and shame on top of a total lack of knowledge about formula, you are not alone. This guide can help.

preparing formula for your baby

Five formula feeding basics for new parents

There are a few “formula basics” that you need to know if you’re considering switching to formula or supplementing.

Note: Be sure to save and download the formula feeding checklist below. You’ll also find a helpful list of our must-have formula feeding tools.

1. Treat formula like food.

That’s because formula is food. As such, you need to make sure to wash your hands before preparing bottles to prevent bacterial contamination.

2. Add water first then add powder.

If you’re using powdered formula, add water to the bottle first before scooping in the powder. This will ensure the correct ratio ends up in the bottle.

When it comes to water, many families can safely use room temperature tap water for mixing. As long as their tap water is safe to drink and the baby is not immunocompromised, tap water is sufficient.

As always, check with your pediatrician about what they recommend!

3. Use “level, unpacked scoops.”

This means that you’re bringing the scoop up from the container and then leveling it with a knife (or a clean finger). Do not tap the scoop, as this will cause the formula to pack and throw off the ratio.

4. Add level scoops to the water.

Do not add anything else to the bottle unless explicitly instructed to do so by your pediatrician. I do not recommend adding rice cereal or baby food to the bottle, increasing choking risk. Probiotic drops may be added safely but always check with your child’s doctor before introducing something new!

5. Stir, don’t shake.

You’re probably used to seeing people shake a bottle to mix the formula and water, but try not to do this. Shaking causes air bubbles to form, which can give your baby excess gas. Use a spoon or a knife to stir instead of shaking.

Feeding Baby with Tongue Tie

Formula basics printable checklist

This handy checklist is perfect for printing out and keeping it in your kitchen for reference. Besides saving you time and energy, this formula feeding checklist is also an excellent resource for babysitters and grandparents who don’t make bottles every day. You can download a PDF version of the formula basics checklist below.

formula basics infographic

Guidelines for safely storing a formula bottle

There’s a lot to learn about how to prepare a bottle for a baby. Once the bottle has been safely prepared, you can either feed the bottle to the baby immediately or store it away for future use.

These are the guidelines to store a prepared bottle safely:

A bottle of prepared, unused formula can be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours and can sit out at room temperature for two hours.

Once you’ve begun feeding, the formula must be discarded within one hour to reduce the risk of bacteria growth that can be introduced to the milk from your baby’s mouth.

Final thoughts on safely preparing formula

Following the steps I shared can make formula feeding a safer, more successful, and less stressful experience. I hope you feel empowered and more knowledgeable as you start to formula feed your baby.

As always, please consult your baby’s pediatrician with any questions, especially if you have concerns about digestion, feeding issues, or lip or tongue ties with your baby.

More formula feeding resources from Mallory

If you’re looking for more details on formula feeding, I have a comprehensive PDF resource The Formula 101 Handbook – which covers everything you need to know about formula feeding with confidence. I also offer personalized formula recommendations and one-on-one feeding consults.

Hello Postpartum exclusive discount: You can use code HELLO for 10% off any of the resources mentioned above.


Editor’s picks: formula feeding must-haves

It’s no secret that babies require things, and formula feeding is no exception. While some baby items may be unnecessary or excessive, there are a few helpful tools you should on-hand when preparing and feeding formula to your little one.

  1. A formula you like and trust
  2. Bottles that baby likes (we tried a lot and love these bottles best!)
  3. A space-saving drying rack
  4. Bottle brushes and bottle soap
  5. On-the-go formula storage container
  6. A dishwasher basket (this basket pairs with the bottles mentioned above)

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Mallory Whitmore

Certified Infant Feeding Technician

Mallory is a Certified Infant Feeding Technician and founder of The Formula Mom. She's a mother of two and is passionate about helping mothers make informed and confident formula feeding decisions that make everyone healthy and happy

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