Feeding your baby formula

Mom Breastfeeding

Key Points

If you’re planning to feed your baby formula, ask your baby’s health care provider to recommend one.

When you’re mixing formula, follow the directions on the formula package. Use formula that’s made just for infants.

If your baby was born early or has certain health conditions, he may need specialized formula. 

Call your baby's health care provider if you think your baby isn’t getting enough formula or doesn’t like his formula.

Wash your hands before you get formula ready for your baby. Use clean bottles and nipples and wash them after every use.

How do you choose a formula for your baby?

Breast milk is the best food for babies in the first year of life. But not all moms breastfeed. If you’re not breastfeeding, you can feed your baby formula. Formula is a milk product that you can feed your baby instead of breast milk.

There are three kinds of formula:  

  1. Ready-to-use liquid formula. You pour this formula right into your baby’s bottle.
  2. Concentrated liquid formula. You add water to this liquid formula before giving it to your baby.
  3. Powdered formula (also called dry formula). You add water to the powder before giving it to your baby. Use the scoop that comes with the formula to measure the right amount.

Most formula is made with cow’s milk. If your baby was born preterm (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or has certain health conditions, like a milk allergy or a condition called galactosemia, she may need specialized formula. Babies with galactosemia can’t digest sugar in any kind of milk. Talk to your baby’s health care provider about the right formula for your baby.

When you find a formula that your baby likes, use only that brand. Don't switch between brands. Call your baby’s provider if your baby has gas, a rash, diarrhea or is vomiting. These may be signs that the formula’s not right for your baby, and you may need to try a different one.

Formula is fortified with certain vitamins and nutrients that help your baby grow and develop. Fortified means that vitamins and nutrients, like vitamin D and iron, are added to the formula. Vitamin D helps make your baby’s bones and teeth strong and helps prevent a bone disease called rickets. Iron helps keep your baby’s blood health.

How do you know when your baby is ready to eat?

Feed your baby when she’s hungry. This is called on-demand or responsive feeding. Most newborns eat every 2 to 3 hours, or eight to 12 times over 24 hours. But each baby is different. Your baby may want to feed more or less often. As your baby grows, her feeding patterns may change, and she may go longer between feedings.

Look for and learn your baby’s feeding cues. Feeding cues are ways that your baby tells you that he’s hungry. Feeding cues include:

  • Rooting. This is when your baby turns his head toward anything that touches his cheek or mouth.
  • Sucking movements or sounds
  • Putting her hand to his mouth
  • Crying. This is a late feeding cue. Try to breastfeed your baby before he starts to cry.

Newborns eat about 2 to 3 ounces of formula every 3 to 4 hours. If your baby sleeps longer than 4 to 5 hours at a time, wake her up to feed her. By the end of the first month, she eats at least 4 ounces about every 4 hours. By the time she’s 6 months old, she eats 6 to 8 ounces four or five times a day.

Signs that your baby is full include:

  • He starts and stops feeding.
  • He spits out the bottle.
  • He slows down or falls asleep.
  • He gets distracted easily.
  • He closes his mouth or turns his head away.

To make nighttime feedings easier, put the baby’s crib in your room. Keep the crib close to your bed so your baby’s nearby during the night. The American Academy of Pediatrics (also called AAP) recommends that you and your baby sleep in the same room, but not in the same bed, for the first year of your baby’s life but at least for the first 6 months.

How do you know if your baby is getting enough to eat?

Your baby is eating enough if she:

  • Is gaining weight. Your baby’s provider checks your baby’s weight at each well-baby visit. You can track your baby’s weight, too.
  • Is making two to three wet diapers each day in the first few days after birth, and six to eight wet diapers 4 to 5 days after birth

If you’re worried that your baby’s not getting enough to eat, tell your baby’s provider.

How can you make sure your baby’s formula is safe?

Here’s how to safely get your baby’s formula ready:

  • Only use formula that’s been approved for infants by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These formulas are safe for your baby. Don’t make or use homemade formula. Don’t use formula that comes from other countries. Don’t use formula that’s made for toddlers until your baby is 1 year old.
  • Wash your hands before you get the formula ready.
  • Follow the directions on the formula package. Check the "use by" date on the package to make sure it’s not too old to use.
  • If you use a powdered formula, use only the scoop that comes with the formula. Ask your baby's provider what kind of water to use (tap water from a faucet or bottled water). Use the right amount of formula and water. Too much water may keep your baby from getting the right amount of nutrients she needs. Too little water may cause diarrhea or dehydration (when your baby doesn’t have enough water in his body). Don’t add extra water to the formula.
  • Wash the top of the formula can before you open it. Make sure any equipment you use with the formula (like a spoon or can opener) is clean.

Here’s how to store prepared formula:

  • If your baby doesn’t drink all the formula in his bottle within 1 hour, throw it away. Give him a new bottle of fresh formula at his next feeding.
  • You can store prepared formula in the refrigerator for 24 hours (1 day).
  • You can store ready-made or mixed concentrated formula covered in the refrigerator for 48 hours (2 days). 

Here’s how to make sure bottles and nipples are clean and safe for your baby:

  • Wash your hands before you get a bottle ready for your baby.
  • Scrub nipples in hot, soapy water and rinse them with clean water. You also can boil them for 5 minutes.
  • Wash bottles in hot, soapy water and rinse them with clean water. Or you can wash them in a dishwasher that has hot water and a hot drying cycle.
  • After every feeding, wash bottles, nipples and anything you use to prepare the formula in hot soapy water.

When you feed your baby, tip the bottle to keep the nipple full of milk. Put the nipple in your baby's mouth. Never prop the bottle or put your baby to bed with a bottle; doing these things may make your baby choke.

When can you start feeding your baby solid foods?

Most babies are ready to start solid food when they double their birthweight and weigh about 13 pounds. This usually is about 4 months of age.

Look for cues that your baby is ready for solid food. She may be ready if:

  • She can sit up in a feeding seat and hold her head up with good control.
  • She opens her mouth and reaches for your food.
  • She can move food from a spoon into her mouth.

More information

American Academy of Pediatrics

Last reviewed: April, 2019