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Home > Health Library > Bottle-Feeding
This topic discusses using a bottle to feed formula to your baby. To learn about using a bottle to feed breast milk to your baby or to learn about breastfeeding, see the topic Breastfeeding.
If you are having a hard time breastfeeding and are trying to decide whether to switch to using formula, know that the first few weeks of breastfeeding are the most challenging. You may want to talk to your health care provider to help you make your choice. Some moms choose to both breastfeed and bottle-feed their babies.
You may not be able to breastfeed for different health reasons, such as if you've had breast surgery or if you have certain infections. While breast milk is the ideal food for babies, your baby can get good nutrition from formula. Formulas are designed to give babies all the calories and nutrients they need.
There are many types of infant formulas for you to choose from. Almost all infant formulas have some iron in them. If your baby is at risk for low iron, talk to your health care provider about the type of formula your baby needs. Most of the time, parents start with formulas made from cow's milk.
Talk to your health care provider before you try other types of formulas:
When you make formula, use safe water and be sure your hands and equipment are clean. Follow the advice of your health care provider, and read the label on the formula package. Make sure the formula is not too hot or too cold when you give it to your baby.
The length of time between feedings varies. As you get to know your baby, you will be able to notice his or her signs of hunger and fullness. Don't hesitate to call your health care provider if you are worried about whether your baby is eating enough.
After formula is mixed, it needs to be used within 24 hours to be safe. Throw away any formula left in the bottle after you feed your baby, because bacteria can grow in the leftover formula. Reheating or refrigerating won't kill the bacteria.
When your baby is 12 months old, he or she can start to drink whole-fat cow's milk. Other kinds of milk, such as goat's milk, soy milk, fat-free milk, 1% milk, or 2% milk, don't have as many nutrients as whole-fat milk. It is best not to give your baby these kinds of milk if you can give whole-fat milk instead.
Most babies can start bottle-feeding within hours after birth. Most newborns feed about 6 to 10 times every 24 hours. Average feeding amounts will vary depending on your baby's age and how hungry he or she is at that moment.
A baby drinks from a bottle of formula for about 5 to 25 minutes at a time. Pay attention to your baby's nutritional needs and cues. Don't be concerned if your baby doesn't eat much at one feeding. He or she is likely eating enough over the course of a day or two. Forcing your baby to drink more formula than he or she needs can cause tummy aches and spitting up. But don't ever hesitate to call your health care provider if you are worried about whether your baby is eating enough.
You may have the following concerns about bottle-feeding your baby:
Try to buy your formula and supplies before the baby is born. You can buy infant formula as a liquid concentrate or a powder that you mix with water. Formulas also come in a ready-to-feed form, which costs the most. Always use an iron-fortified formula unless your health care provider advises otherwise. If you have questions about which infant formula is right for your baby, talk with your health care provider.
When you buy baby bottles and nipples, make sure you have a supply of small bottles [about 4 fl oz (120 mL)] for your baby's first few weeks. You may want to buy a variety of different bottle nipples so you can experiment to see which type your baby prefers.
Some things to keep in mind when you prepare infant formula:
Always wash your hands before feeding your baby.
During the first few weeks, burp your baby after every 2 fl oz (60 mL) of formula. This helps get rid of swallowed air, reducing the chances of your baby spitting up. Most babies need less frequent burping as they get older.
You will know your baby is full when he or she stops sucking continuously. Usually, as babies get full, they pause frequently during feeding. Also, your baby may spit out the nipple, turn his or her head away, or fall asleep when full. Throw away any formula left in the bottle after you have fed your baby, because bacteria can grow in the leftover formula.
Feeding is a good time for social contact with your baby, so don't rush. Look into your baby's eyes and talk or sing while you are giving the bottle. This contact helps your baby feel close to you and is important for healthy growth and development. Wear a short-sleeved shirt to give more skin-to-skin contact. Sit in a comfortable chair with your arms supported on pillows.
Call your health care provider if your baby:
Your baby needs routine medical checkups. During these checkups (called well-baby visits), your baby's height, weight, and head circumference will be measured to find out whether he or she is growing at the expected rate.
At each well-baby visit, talk to your health care provider about your baby's nutritional needs, which change as he or she grows and develops. At about 6 months, most babies can start to eat solid foods. Some babies may be ready for solid foods at 4 or 5 months.
A well-baby visit is a good time to talk about any feeding problems or developmental concerns that you have. You may want to make a list of questions before your visit.
Early and regular dental care is important for your child. Talk with your health care provider about how to care for your child's teeth after they start coming in, which is usually between 6 and 12 months of age. For more information, see the topics Teething and Basic Dental Care.
Wagner CL, et al. (2008). Prevention of rickets and vitamin D deficiency in infants, children, and adolescents. American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Pediatrics, 122(5): 1142–1152.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Feeding your baby: Breast and bottle. In SP Shelov et al., eds., Caring For Your Baby And Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 5th ed., chap. 4, pp. 91–93. New York: Bantam.
Erler C, Novak J (2010). Bisphenol A exposure: Human risk and health policy. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 25(5): 400–407.
Greer F, et al. (2006). Optimizing bone health and calcium intakes of infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatrics, 117(2): 578–585. Also available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/117/2/578.full.
Kirby M (2011). Infant formula and complementary foods. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 99–105. New York: McGraw-Hill.
O'Connor NR (2009). Infant formula. American Family Physician, 79(7): 565–570.
Simmer K, et al. (2011). Longchain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in infants born at term. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (12).
Stettler N, et al. (2011). Feeding healthy infants, children, and adolescents. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 160–170. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Trahms CM, McKean KN (2012). Nutrition in infancy. In LK Mahan et al., eds., Krause's Food and the Nutrition Care Process, 13 ed., pp. 375–388. St Louis: Saunders.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2012). Consumer factsheet on lead in drinking water. Available online: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/lcr/fs_consumer.cfm.
Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2011). Life cycle nutrition: Infancy, childhood, and adolescence. In Understanding Nutrition, 12th ed., pp. 529–568. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth..
Current as of:
December 17, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: John Pope MD - PediatricsKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: December 17, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:John Pope MD - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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