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Feeding is a chance to feel close to your baby.

Feeding is a chance to feel close to your baby.
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How to feed your baby with formula

7-minute read

There are a few important guidelines to remember when feeding your baby using a bottle. You will also find some helpful tips and commonly asked questions.

A step-by-step guide to preparing a powdered-formula feed:

  • Step 1: Fill the kettle with at least 1L of fresh tap water (don't use water that has been boiled before).
  • Step 2: Boil the water. Then leave and allow it to cool until lukewarm at least 30 minutes.
  • Step 3: Clean and disinfect the surface you are going to use to prepare the formula.
  • Step 4: Wash your hands thoroughly, using soap, and dry them.
  • Step 5: If you are using a cold-water steriliser, shake off any excess solution from the bottle and the teat, or rinse the bottle with cooled boiled water from the kettle (not the tap).
  • Step 6: Stand the bottle on a clean surface.
  • Step 7: Keep the teat and cap on the upturned lid of the steriliser. Avoid putting them on the work surface.
  • Step 8: Follow the manufacturer's instructions and pour the correct amount of  previously boiled (now cooled) water that you need into the bottle. Double check that the water level is correct. Always put the water in the bottle first before adding the powdered infant formula.
  • Step 9: Loosely fill the scoop with formula, according to the manufacturer's instructions, and level it off using either the flat edge of a clean, dry knife or the leveler provided. Different tins of formula come with different scoops. Make sure you use only the scoop that is enclosed with the powdered infant formula that you are using.
  • Step 10: Holding the edge of the teat, put it on the bottle. Then screw the retaining ring onto the bottle.
  • Step 11: Cover the teat with the cap and shake the bottle until the powder is dissolved.
  • Step 12: Test the temperature of the infant formula on the inside of your wrist before giving it to your baby. It should be body-temperature, which means it should feel just warm, but not hot.
  • Step 13: If there is any made-up infant formula left after a feed, throw it away.

Dos and don'ts of making up infant formula

Making formula – dos and don’ts
  • As manufacturers' instructions vary as to how much water and powder to use, it is important to follow the instructions very carefully.
  • Do not add extra powdered infant formula when making up a feed. This can make your baby constipated and may cause dehydration. Too little powdered infant formula may not provide your baby with enough nourishment.
  • Do not add sugar or cereals to the feed in the bottle.
  • Never warm up infant formula in a microwave, as it can heat the feed unevenly and may burn your baby's mouth.

Bottle and formula preparation tips - video

Video provided by Raising Children Network.

Infant formula and allergies

If you think your baby might be allergic to infant formula, talk to your doctor before making any changes. 

Cow’s milk-based formula is suitable for most healthy full-term babies, and is recommended over any other type of formula, such as that made from soybeans or goat’s milk.

Australian guidelines do not recommend using other types of formula, including formula labelled as hypoallergenic, for preventing allergies. However, special formulas may be used on the advice of your doctor, if your baby can’t have cow’s milk-based products for medical reasons.

Bacteria in infant formula

Powdered infant formula is not a sterile product. Even when tins and packets of powdered infant formula are sealed, they can sometimes contain bacteria but the risk of a harmful infection remains low if the formula is prepared properly.

Infants are not at risk from bacteria when formula is prepared properly with lukewarm (body temperature) previously boiled water, and used within one hour of being made. However, babies may be at risk when conditions allow bacteria to multiply to harmful levels, such as through poor storage practices.

To effectively control the growth of bacteria:

  1. Formula should always be prepared in a clean area.
  2. Fresh water should be boiled, then allowed to cool until lukewarm.
  3. After adding the powder to the measured water in the bottle, mix well and test the temperature of the milk with a few drops on the inside of the wrist. It should feel just warm, but cool is better than too hot.
  4. Ideally only one bottle of formula should be prepared at a time, and it should be offered to the baby without delay.
  5. A feed should take no longer than one hour. Discard any formula that has been at room temperature for longer than one hour.
  6. Discard any formula left at the end of the feed must be discarded.
  7. If formula is prepared in advance (for example for a babysitter) it must be refrigerated (at 5°C or below) and used within 24 hours. Alternatively, refrigerate prepared sterilised bottles of boiled water and use as required, first warming by standing bottle in a container of warm water and then adding formula. 

Preparation and hygiene of infant formula

A baby's immune system is not as strong or as well developed as an adult's. This means that babies are much more susceptible to illness and infection. Therefore, good hygiene is very important when making up a feed.

All equipment used to feed your baby must be sterilised. Bottles, teats and any other feeding equipment need to be cleaned and sterilised before each feed to reduce the chances of your baby falling sick or getting diarrhoea. Boiling is the preferred option for sterilising bottles and other feeding equipment.

It is best to use boiled drinking water from the tap to make up a feed. Do not use artificially softened (a process that removes certain ions) water or water that has been previously boiled then left sitting around.

Tips for bottle feeding

Get everything you need ready before you start feeding. Find a comfortable position to hold your baby while you're feeding. You may need to give your baby time. Some babies take some milk, pause for a nap, then wake up for more. Remember, feeding is a chance to feel close to your baby and get to know them.

Keep the teat full

When feeding, keep the teat full of milk, otherwise your baby will take in air. If the teat becomes flattened while you're feeding, pull gently on the corner of your baby's mouth to release the vacuum. If the teat gets blocked, replace it with another sterile teat.

Holding your baby

Hold your baby on a slight incline for feeds, with their head supported so that they can breathe and swallow comfortably.

Babies and wind

Your baby may need short breaks during the feed and may need to burp sometimes. When your baby does not want any more feed, hold them upright and gently rub or pat their back to bring up any wind. This may be a very small amount.

Throw away unused formula

Don't forget to throw away any unused formula or breast milk after the feed.

Go with the flow

Babies differ in how often they want to feed and how much milk they want to take. Feed your baby when they're hungry, and don't try to force them to finish a bottle.

Don't leave your baby

Never leave a baby alone to feed with a propped-up bottle as they may choke on the milk.

Ask for help

If you would like support or further information on bottle feeding, talk to your midwife, child health nurse or other mothers with experience of bottle feeding.

More information

Visit the Raising Children Network website for more advice, including on:

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Last reviewed: November 2018

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