While breast milk is the best food for babies, mothers may decide to bottle-feed their newborns, or to switch from breastfeeding to formula, for any number of reasons. If you’re bottle-feeding your baby, here are the basics you need to know.
What to feed baby
The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS), Dietitians of Canada and Health Canada recommend that babies who are not breastfed should receive a commercial infant formula for the first nine to 12 months of life. The formula should be cow’s milk-based; use soy-based formula only if your baby can’t take dairy for health, cultural or religious reasons. Iron-fortified formula is recommended, and special formulas are available for premature or allergic infants. You should consult your Pharmacist about the formula that is best for your baby.
Most formulas also come in three styles: ready-to-serve, liquid concentrate, and powdered concentrate. When mixing formula, it's essential to follow instructions precisely. If the formula is consistently too dilute (that is, if too much water is added), baby will not get all the nutrients she needs and runs the risk of malnutrition. On the other hand, formula that is too concentrated is also hazardous. A baby's kidneys can't handle the overload of salts, minerals and protein, and she could become seriously ill.
While there is some debate on the value of sterilizing bottles and nipples after the first use, most health experts agree that sterilizing is a good idea until your baby is four or five months of age. This allows him time to develop some tolerance for bacteria that could otherwise be present in his bottle. Of course, cleanliness of his feeding equipment is always essential.
To properly sterilize, feeding equipment should be washed in hot, soapy water and rinsed well. Then all items should be placed in a large pot with a lid, covered with water, and boiled for at least five minutes. Your maternity hospital or public health department can give you detailed instructions on proper sterilization.
Prepared bottles should be refrigerated immediately and used within 24 hours. For a newborn, discard any formula remaining after a feeding. Store partly used cans of formula according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Formula can be served cool, lukewarm or at room temperature. Warm the bottle just before feeding—don't let it gradually come to room temperature as this may encourage bacterial growth. The safest way to warm formula is in a pan of hot water. Always test the temperature by shaking the bottle gently, then dripping a few drops on the inside of your wrist. Health professionals advise against using a microwave, because the heat is unevenly distributed and there may be scalding “hot spots” in the bottle.
Formula should drip freely at a rate of one drop per second. If the nipple hole is too small, it may be enlarged using a needle that has been sterilized. If formula flows in a stream, replace the nipple. When it's time to feed your baby, cradle her in your arm with her head tilted back slightly. Keep the bottle tilted up and the nipple always full to prevent your baby from swallowing air.