All about baby formula and bottle feeding

by Kaiser Permanente |
Father feeding his baby.

Some parents choose to supplement with formula or exclusively formula feed their babies.

There are 3 different types of formula to know about:

  • Liquid concentrate. All you need to do is add water.
  • Powdered formula. You’ll need more time to prepare it, but it’s often the most economical option. If your baby doesn’t finish it, throw the rest away.
  • Ready-to-feed formula. It’s the most expensive option, but it’s ready to use. If your baby doesn’t drink it all, you can refrigerate the leftovers for up to 24 hours.

Always check the formula’s instructions and expiration date. Improperly prepared formula can make your baby sick.

Babies often don’t need formula if breastfeeding/chestfeeding well, but if you aren’t sure, ask your child’s clinician if your baby needs formula. Your clinician may suggest formula feeding if you have trouble producing enough milk. In some cases, clinicians recommend using formula for medical reasons.

What is cue-based bottle feeding?

This method of feeding lets your baby rest between swallows. Hold the bottle horizontal but don’t fill the nipple with milk just yet. While holding your baby upright, offer the bottle. When your baby begins to suck consistently, tilt the bottle a bit until the nipple fills with milk. When your baby pauses to breathe, lean back on the bottle flow so no milk is dripping out, until they are ready to eat again. When your baby shows signs of needing a break, gently twist the nipple and take the bottle out of their mouth. Let the nipple rest just above your baby’s top lip. Your baby will open their mouth again when they’re ready for more.

You’ll be able to tell when your baby needs a break from bottle feeding. Watch for these signs:

  • A worried or serious expression or eyebrows set in a frown.
  • Back arching or frantic arm or leg movements.
  • Gagging, gasping, crying, or vomiting.
  • Stiff arms or legs.
  • Stiffening or spreading the fingers and toes.

Safety tips for bottle feeding

Babies should only feed from clean bottles. Always wash used bottles and nipples. You can hand wash them or place them in the top rack of your dishwasher. In some cases, you may need to soak dirty bottles and nipples first.

Never warm bottles in the microwave. This can burn your baby’s mouth.

Don’t prop up bottles. You always need to hold the bottle while your baby is feeding.

This article has been created by a national group of Kaiser Permanente ob-gyns, certified nurse-midwives, pediatricians, lactation consultants and other specialists who came together to provide you with the best pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and newborn information.

Some of the content is used and adapted with permission of The Permanente Medical Group.