Feeding your baby formula after the NICU

Your baby's health care provider will tell you the type and amount of formula to feed your baby. Some babies leave the hospital on regular infant formula. Others need a special formula that has more calories or specific nutrients.

Before your baby comes home from the NICU, be sure you have enough formula for about two weeks and enough bottles and nipples for one to two days. That way, you can fix enough formula and bottles for a day or two.

You might also want to get an inexpensive bottle warmer. It will heat the formula to just the right temperature. Do not put a baby's bottle in a microwave. Microwaves often heat unevenly. A "hot spot" of formula could burn your baby's mouth or throat.

Babies are usually fed "on demand." This means you feed your baby whenever she is awake and hungry.

If your baby sleeps for long periods of time, her health care provider may tell you to wake her up every few hours to eat. Ask the provider if you are unsure about whether to wake your baby or not.

You may have to try different bottle and nipple combinations to see which your baby likes. There are many options. Clean and store the bottles and nipples as recommended by the manufacturer. You don't have to sterilize them unless your baby's health care provider says to do so.

Preparing formula

Prepare the formula exactly as recommended by either the manufacturer or your baby's health care provider.

  • Some liquid formulas are ready to use. This means that you just put the formula in the baby's bottle, warm it if necessary, and feed it to your baby.
  • Other liquid formulas are concentrated. You need to add water to the formula before giving it to your baby.
  • Powdered formula must be mixed with a specific amount of water. It's usually one scoop of formula to 2 ounces of water. Each can of powdered formula contains the proper-sized scoop. Put the water in the formula first, then add the formula, and shake well to mix. Powdered formula is the least expensive option.
  • If your baby is using a special formula or high-calorie formula, the nutritionist will tell you how to mix it correctly.

If your baby doesn't finish all the formula in the bottle within one hour, throw it away. Give her a new bottle of fresh formula at the next feeding. Bacteria can contaminate unfinished formula and make your baby sick.

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August 2009

Most common questions

How do I calculate adjusted age for preemies?

Chronological age is the age of a baby from the day of birth. Adjusted age is the age of the baby based on his due date. To calculate adjusted age, take your baby's chronological age (for example, 20 weeks) and subtract the number of weeks premature the baby was (6 weeks). This baby's adjusted age (20 - 6) is 14 weeks. Health care providers may use this age when they evaluate the baby's growth and development. Most premature babies catch up to their peers developmentally in 2 to 3 years. After that, differences in size or development are most likely due to individual differences, rather than to premature birth. Some very small babies take longer to catch up.

Is it OK to invite people over after leaving the NICU?

Babies who've been in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) are often at higher risk of getting an infection than other babies. Be careful where you take the baby and who comes to visit her. But you don't need to stay in your house alone for the first months after your baby comes home.

If you do have visitors, make sure they wash their hands before touching the baby. Also, don't let adults or children who are sick, have a fever or have been exposed to an illness near her. Lastly, ask visitors not to smoke in your house.

My baby has developmental delays. Where can I find help?

Some babies leave the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) just fine while others may have developmental delays. The earlier these delays are identified and treated, the more likely your baby will be able to reach his potential later in life. Most NICU babies will be evaluated before leaving the NICU to see their strengths and any areas that can be improved. If you think your baby has developmental delays, talk to his health care provider about where to find early intervention services. Contact state and local programs for help.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).