Formula Feeding

The term formula feeding means giving your baby formula milk in a bottle. Formula milk is based on cow’s milk that’s been processed to make it more easily digested by a new baby. It’s for babies who don’t get breast milk, or in addition to breast milk. No matter how persistent some women are with attempting to fully breastfeed their baby, they find for one reason or another, that it is better for themselves and their baby to change to bottle-feeding. This can be a difficult decision for some mothers to make, especially if they had their heart set on breastfeeding their new baby.

Seek some guidance from your local Health Nurse. If you are trying to establish breastfeeding, it has been suggested that the early use of bottles and dummies can interfere with the establishment. It can reduce both the infants sucking capacity and stimulation of the breasts. This may result in delayed and poor establishment of lactation.

What you need to know

  • Babies who aren’t breast-fed must only have formula milk – ordinary cow’s milk is not suitable.
  • It’s important to keep all feeding equipment clean by sterilising between uses. This is because formula fed babies don’t get the same protection from infection as breast-fed babies.
  • Bottle-feeding with formula milk, or with expressed breast milk, gives mother’s flexibility when they go back to work.
  • However you feed your baby, you and your baby will love spending the time together. Hold your baby close when you’re bottle-feeding, and enjoy it.

A Guide to Bottle Feeding

You may bottle-feed from the start, or find you make the change from breast-feeding later on.

What you need

If you plan to fully bottle-feed you’ll need:

  • Sterilising equipment
  • At least six bottles and teats
  • Mixing jug
  • Bottle warmer (optional)

For an occasional bottle only, one or two bottles and teats will be fine. You may not need to buy all the sterilising equipment.


Make up your baby’s feeds according to the instructions on the pack. The main points you need to remember are:

  • Ideally boil the water for 5 minutes and then allow to cool.
  • Always put the amount of boiled water in the mixing jug or bottle first, before the powder.
  • Always add the correct amount of scoops, making the feed either too weak or too concentrated can be potentially dangerous. DO NOT pack the scoop too firmly with formula powder. Level off the scoop with a knife. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • You can buy pre-measured sachets of dried milk which ensure you have the proportions right. Ready-to-feed formula is even easier, though it does cost more.
  • Keep made up formula refrigerated and only store this way for 24 hours.
  • Do not add anything else to your baby’s bottle such as cereal powder, honey sugar etc.

Important: Heating bottles of formula in a microwave oven is NOT recommended. The heat can be uneven, leading to scalding hot spots in the bottle.

When you bottle-feed:

  • Hold your baby close, and make sure the teat is always filled (this reduces the amount of air-swallowing).
  • Every so often, you’ll need to take the teat out of your baby’s mouth as the sides stick together and prevent a good flow.
  • Wriggling, crying and pushing the teat out with the tongue may mean your baby needs sitting up to get rid of wind.
  • Do not leave your baby unattended while they are drinking from a bottle.
  • If your baby’s fully or mostly bottle-fed, you may find it easier to make up all the infant formula you’ll need for the next 24 hours, and keep it in bottles in the fridge. Some babies take a bottle straight from the fridge, but most mothers feel it’s kinder to warm it by standing the bottle in a jug of hot water first, or using an electric bottle warmer.

Note: test the formula by shaking a drop or two onto your wrist or the back of your hand. It should feel more or less the same temperature as your skin.

If you need to switch to bottle feeding, do it gradually unless you’re changing over in the first few days. A sudden changeover can mean an uncomfortable build-up of milk in the breasts, which could lead to problems like mastitis. If you think you are developing mastitis contact your doctor immediately. Early treatment is essential.

For more information see Baby Care.

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