If you formula feed your baby, there are some important basics and guidelines to prepare it correctly and safely. This article outlines everything you need to know.
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), most 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 stare at the endless options in the formula aisle, stressed and confused, with little to no direction 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.
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.
- Treat formula like food
- Add water first then add powder
- Use level unpacked scoops
- Add only formula to the bottle
- Stir, don’t shake
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 must wash your hands before preparing bottles to prevent bacterial contamination.
2. Add water first then add powder
If 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 only formula powder to the bottle
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, as it increases the 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.
Checklist: preparing formula for baby
This handy checklist is perfect for printing and keeping 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 daily.
You can download a PDF version of the formula basics checklist below.
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 feed it to the baby immediately or store it away for future use.
These are the guidelines for storing a prepared bottle safely:
A bottle of prepared, unused formula:
This can be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours and sit 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.
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, you should have a few helpful tools on-hand when preparing and feeding formula to your little one.
- A formula you like and trust
- Bottles that baby likes (we tried a lot and love these bottles best!)
- A space-saving drying rack
- Bottle brushes and bottle soap
- On-the-go formula storage container
- A dishwasher basket (this basket pairs with the bottles mentioned above)
Final thoughts on safely preparing the 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 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.
Other helpful formula-feeding articles
- Standing Up for Your Rights as a Formula Feeding Parent
- How to Stop Night Feedings: A Step-by-Step Guide
- What You Didn’t Know About Bottle Feeding Your Newborn
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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