What to know about formula feeding a newborn

Whether you’re learning to feed your first baby or your fourth, one thing is certain: You’re a great mom no matter what’s led you to formula feeding. 

Australian Lactation Consultant Susie Prout says, “Whether a baby is exclusively breastfed, mixed fed with expressed breastmilk and formula, or bottle-fed with formula only, this is the mother’s personal decision and she has done the very best that she can, with the information and support that was available to her at that time.”

And we couldn’t agree more. 

So now that we’ve established that you’re the bee’s knees, let’s talk about the mindf*ck that is formula feeding a newborn. We bet you’ve got questions. Here are some of the main ones that crop up for moms beholden to the (particularly aggressive) newborn formula feeding schedule.

Formula Feeding Basics

What is formula feeding?

It’s an entirely legit way to keep your newborn nourished and on track with their growth and development. Infant formula is used when breast milk isn’t an option for whatever reason.

Is formula feeding bad?

Hell no! 

While the World Health Organization considers breast milk ‘ideal’ for newborn babies, formula feeding is a suitable alternative. It contains similar nutritional content to breast milk, so formula-fed babies can grow up just as healthy, strong, and hella cute as breastfed babies.

We love how Claire McCarthy puts it in an article for Harvard Health:

“Formula isn’t evil… There are many other ways besides breastfeeding to help babies grow and be healthy; it’s important to keep that perspective.”

(If you’ve got the guilts about using formula, please read the full article – it’s very good!)

What are the benefits of formula feeding?

A main benefit to formula feeding is that the responsibility of feeding isn’t solely on you as the mother. You can get help with night feeds or go to work and still ensure your baby is fed. 

Formula is also slower to digest than breastmilk, so newborns on formula may not need to be fed as frequently. (No promises, though. Newborns can just be unreasonably hangry.)

Can I breastfeed and formula feed my newborn?

Of course you can! This is known as ‘mix feeding’ or ‘combination feeding’, and Susie has provided us with tips on how to supplement formula while breastfeeding effectively. (She’s great like that.)

What type of baby formula should you use?

It’s best to get advice from your pediatrician on this, particularly if your baby has any health anomalies. There’s a heck of a lot of options out there, so it can get overwhelming.

Formula comes in three forms: 

  • Powder – Bought in cans, you mix the powder with water to prepare. This is the most economical (read: affordable) formula option.

  • Liquid concentrate – Again, you add water and shake. It’s a bit less work than powder, but is more costly.

  • Ready-to-feed formula – It will cost you an arm and a leg, but it’s the easiest option, with less potential for human error.

While most formulas are based on cow’s milk, you can also purchase different types for babies with allergies or medical conditions:

  • Soy-based formulas – Sometimes used for babies with lactose intolerance.

  • Protein hydrolysate formulas – Used for babies with protein allergies who can’t have cow’s milk or soy-based formulas.

  • Enhanced formulas – Some formulas have added nutrients or probiotics.

You can give different formula types a try, but Susie highly recommends getting medical advice when choosing or changing formulas. She says, “Your pediatrician may recommend a prescription formula or a hydrolyzed formula… Often mums will try and work out whether their baby has an intolerance on their own. I highly recommend speaking with your child health nurse or doctor if you are concerned about the formula that you’re using.”

How much does baby formula cost?

Depending on what type you use, it can cost anywhere from $800 to $2,800 in a year. (But breastfeeding isn’t exactly free either. Research shows moms can spend $1,000 per year on breastfeeding paraphernalia!)

When do you stop feeding a baby formula?

Formula feeding can certainly wreak havoc on your family’s budget, so you may be wondering ‘when can I stop feeding my baby formula?’

Susie says, “If you’re exclusively formula feeding your baby, you will need to give them formula for the first 12 months. After this time you can gradually wean them off and introduce dairy and calcium in their foods, as well as cows’ milk and water to drink.”

How to Formula Feed

How often should a newborn feed on formula?

Most sources recommend feeding your baby according to their hunger cues rather than adhering to a strict formula feeding schedule. In saying that, babies do tend to follow a similar feeding trend. A feeding schedule for a 6-month-old formula fed baby, for example, will look quite different to a 4-month old formula feeding schedule. 

Hopkins Medical Centre offers a simple yet useful formula feeding chart for the early months of a baby’s life. It recommends:

  • Six to eight 4–6oz feeds in the first month
  • Five to six 5–6oz feeds in the second month
  • Five to six 7–8oz feeds between three and five months.

How do you know if your baby is hungry?

Learning about baby hunger cues is probably more useful than referencing a general baby formula feeding chart. Nurse, midwife, Lactation Consultant, Baby Sleep Consultant and mother-of-three Jen Butler advises that common hunger signs can include:

  • Hand sucking
  • Lip smacking
  • Rooting (searching for teat)
  • Trying to suck on ANYTHING
  • Grizzling and crying.

Check out her Insta post on hunger signs in newborns vs older babies.

How to prepare baby formula 

This is important! The World Health Organization has a guide on How to Prepare Formula for Bottle-Feeding at Home, and advises cleaning your hands, benchtops and formula feeding equipment thoroughly.

When it comes to prepping a bottle, how you do it depends on the specific type of formula. Always read the label carefully. Susie says, “Take note of the water to formula ratio, as this is imperative to get right.”

Formula Feeding Safety and Quick Tips

Can you feed a baby cold formula?

You sure can! Some babies may prefer it at room temperature, though. And if you’re not sure of the water quality, it should be boiled and then cooled.

Can I refrigerate formula after feeding?

Nope. Once your baby has fed from a bottle, throw the rest of it out.

How long is formula good for after feeding?

According to the WHO, two hours at most.

Can you feed a newborn too much formula?

You can. It’s not too common (as babies are more likely to throw a tantrum than put up with being overfed). The key is to trust that they know how much they need. Don’t force it.

Do formula fed babies cluster feed?

Susie says, “Cluster feeding is mostly associated with breastfed babies, however some formula babies will have a period of time where they are more fussy, feed more often, on and off the bottle, seem overtired and don’t want to be put down. They generally take less milk than their normal feed but feed much more frequently for a few hours. This is generally in the late afternoon/early evening time.” (AKA ‘witching hour’.) 

“Cluster feeding formula babies don’t just do it for hunger. It can be to self regulate when overtired at the end of a day, for comfort, for bonding and even as a soothing mechanism for colic. Cluster feeding is a normal, albeit overwhelming part of newborn feeding.”

Can you prepare formula in advance?

Okay, we probably could have put this question at the start. It’s on every formula mama’s mind. And we get it. Fiddling with formula tins, and bottles, and bowls of water at 2am is no one’s idea of a fun time. 

How to formula feed at night / How to make formula feeds in advance

“If you need to prepare infant formula in advance,” Susie says, “you can prepare it and put it straight into the fridge (below 5 degrees). It then has to be used within 24 hours and within 1 hour of it being removed from the fridge.” 

She does note the potential risks of doing this, though:

  • Mixing the wrong amount of formula to water (which, when tired, can be easy to do).
  • Using bottles that have been sitting made up for too long a period. 

But a mama’s gotta do what a mama’s gotta do. If you’ve gotta prep it in advance, try using reminders or sticky-notes to keep on top of when you made the bottles up.

Have more formula q’s we haven’t answered here? Check out more bottle-feeding articles here.

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