Everything you need to know about formula-feeding

Everything you need to know about formula-feeding

How you feed your baby is up to you and if you've chosen formula, here's everything you need to know about formula-feeding.

Whether you plan to formula feed your baby from the start, want to supplement your breast milk with formula, are switching from breast milk to formula, or because you've tried breastfeeding and it just isn't working for you and your baby, we're here to help.

There are many different formulas available these days and if you're unsure about which one to choose and why, you can ask your doctor which kind is best for your baby.

Do not try to make your own formula at home. Online recipes may look healthy and promise to be safe and nutritionally complete, but they can have too little or too much of important nutrients which can cause serious health problems for your baby.


Here's everything you need to know about formula-feeding.

Everything you need to know about formula-feeding

Formula types include:

  • Cow's milk-based formulas: Most formulas are made from cow's milk. These formulas have added iron, which babies need. Use only iron-fortified formula, unless your doctor advises you not to.
  • Soy-based formulas: These are for babies born with congenital lactose deficiency or galactosemia. This type of formula is also used by parents who do not want their babies to eat animal protein. Give only iron-fortified soy formula, unless your doctor says otherwise. (Many babies who are allergic to cow's milk also are allergic to the protein in soy formulas, so soy-based formulas generally don't help with milk-protein allergies.)
  • Hypoallergenic formulas: For babies who can't tolerate cow’s milk or soy formulas, like those with allergies to milk or soy proteins. The proteins in hypoallergenic formulas are broken down so they are easier to digest.
  • Specialized formulas: These are designed for premature babies.

Formula comes in three basic forms:

  • Powder: These require mixing with water and cost the least
  • Concentrate: Liquids that require diluting with water
  • Ready-to-use (or ready-to-feed): Liquids that can be poured right into bottles. These are the most expensive but are convenient if you're traveling or can't get to a clean water supply.

It's vital that you always carefully follow directions on the label when preparing formula, and never add more water than directed.


Whatever formula you choose, check the expiration date and don't use formula from leaky, dented, or otherwise damaged containers.

And do not water-down formula as it reduces the amount of nutrients in each bottle.

How often should I feed my baby formula?

Newborns and young babies should be fed whenever they seem hungry. This is called on-demand feeding and it can be exhausting.

After the first few days of life, most healthy formula-fed newborns feed about every 2–3 hours.

As they get bigger and their tummies can hold more milk, they usually eat about every 3–4 hours.

As babies get older, they’ll settle into a more predictable feeding routine and go longer stretches at night without needing a bottle.

Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about feeding your baby, especially if your baby is very small or is not putting on weight.

How do I know when my baby is hungry?

There are a few hunger cues you'll learn to recognise as you settle into motherhood.

These include:

  • moving their heads from side to side
  • sticking out their tongues
  • placing their hands, fingers, and fists to their mouths

Read more on the signs your baby is hungry.

Babies should be fed before they get upset and cry, as crying is a late sign of hunger.

But crying doesn't always mean hunger.

How much formula is safe?

In the first few weeks, you should give 2- to 3-ounce bottles to your newborn and you can give more or less depending on your baby’s hunger cues.

This general overview from Nemours KidsHealth is a very useful guide to at how much your baby may be eating at different ages:

  • On average, a newborn drinks about 1.5–3 ounces every 2–3 hours. This amount increases as your baby grows.
  • At about 2 months, your baby may drink about 4–5 ounces every 3–4 hours.
  • At 4 months, your baby may drink about 4–6 ounces at each feed, depending on how often they eat.
  • By 6 months, your baby may drink 6–8 ounces about 4–5 times a day.

Just as it's important to look out for signs your baby is hungry, you also need to watch for signs that your baby is full.

These include:

  • sucking with less enthusiasm
  • stopping
  • turning away from the bottle.

Growth spurts

As babies grow, they eat more at each feed and can go longer between feedings.

But you'll notice times when your little one seems hungrier than usual.

These are short periods of rapid growth, called growth spurts. These can happen at any time, but in the early months are common at around:

  • 7–14 days old
  • between 3–6 weeks
  • 4 months
  • 6 months

But don't overthink it. Your baby will guide you so just follow their cues and always speak to your doctor if you have concerns.

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