If you will not be breastfeeding your baby, formula can be given to babies beginning at birth. If you know for sure that your baby will not be breastfed, it is a good idea to have the basics of formula feeding down prior to delivery. For example, you may want to choose which formula to feed your baby and have it with you when you deliver. Formula is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so as long as you are choosing a major infant formula, including generic brands, the ingredients will be very similar.
Unless your doctor has advised against it or you know there is a medical reason against it, beginning with a cow’s milk–based formula is advised. The protein in this formula is obtained by processing cow’s milk and breaking it down into smaller protein blocks, which your newborn can easily digest. Never feed a baby cow’s, goat’s, or sheep’s milk that you find in a supermarket.
The proteins in this milk are too complex and will hurt the baby’s delicate digestive system. On the other hand, formula includes all the macro- and micronutrients necessary for newborn growth and development. Giving your newborn something outside of either breast milk or traditional infant formula puts them at risk for serious health consequences.
If you will be qualifying for WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), you may want to find out which formula is available. It may or may not be the same formula that is offered to you in the hospital. While babies often change easily from one brand to another, some mothers like to begin with the same formula they will eventually be given by WIC to be more consistent. Which WIC formula is available in your area depends on which formula company has contracted with WIC and is not based on one being superior to another.
Before delivery, have several bottles sterilized and ready. Newborns typically drink just a half-ounce to start and rapidly increase to an ounce or more in a few days. In the hospital, nurses will give you bottles. In the beginning, you will be preparing many very small bottles each day so you want to have them ready. Plan on sterilizing the bottles at the end of each day so you will have a clean supply ready when you need them. If you have a dishwasher with a hot water cycle and a heated dry cycle, the bottles can be washed there. If not, boiling all parts for five minutes will do just fine.
You should use one bottle each feed. If the baby does not finish the bottle do not store the rest for later. Begin with a fresh bottle each time. You can use ready-made (liquid) formula or make your own with powdered formula and water. If your water is from a safe water source according to your local health department, then it can be used to prepare formula. If you are unsure, boil the water for one minute, let it cool and then prepare formula. Bottles can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance and warmed as needed. If you are using powdered formula mix one level scoop with two ounces of water and shake well to combine. Using the wrong ratio of formula to water can be dangerous for your baby. Some families prefer to mix one large container of formula each day, pouring it as needed into a bottle for each feed.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, August 2019
- Babies can be fed formula as early as right after birth.
- Before the baby arrives, sterilize many bottles and parts to have them ready.
- There should be one bottle per feed—do not store leftovers for later.