Fed is Best: Finding the Right Formula

Fed is Best: Finding the Right Formula

Breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone—and that’s fine! Ditch bottle-feeding guilt and learn how to find the right bottle, nipple, and formula for your baby.

By Alice Oglethrope

For a lot of different reasons, breastfeeding doesn’t work for every mom or every baby. But since newborns have to eat eight to 12 times a day, setting you both up for feeding success is so important. So whether you’re doing a breastmilk and formula hybrid or all formula, the good news is there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nourishing your baby—the right path for you and your baby is the one you take. Full stop. (And you’re not alone; by 6 months, 75 percent of babies receive at least some formula.) Also, the “causal” relationship that’s been so hyped between breastfeeding and positive outcomes may not be so clear; for example, a 2015 study showed that breastfeeding has no benefit over bottle feeding when it comes to a child's IQ.

Let go of any guilt. No matter which method you choose to feed your baby, the quiet moments spent together during meals can be incredibly special. But that’s only true if you avoid beating yourself up for not breastfeeding. This can be hard—two-thirds of moms who bottle feed end up feeling guilty about it—but formula is specifically designed to have all of the nutrients your baby needs to thrive. Rest assured you will be able to create an incredibly close bond with your baby during mealtime. Look into your baby’s eyes, talk softly, and cuddle. You can even mimic the skin-to-skin contact that happens while breastfeeding by going topless during feedings.

OK, now that you’re confident in going the formula route, are you ready to rock mealtime? Here’s how to make bottle feeding not just feel easier, but also become one of the things you look forward to the most.

Figure out the right fit. It can sometimes take a little trial and error before finding the perfect bottle for your baby. Bottles come in glass, plastic, and silicone and they each have their pros and cons. For example, glass bottles are chemical-free but are usually pricier while plastic bottles are more durable but could have compounds in them you may not be comfortable with.

You aren’t done making decisions yet! Chances are your baby will have an opinion on the bottle nipple’s shape and flow and it might take a few attempts with a variety of options to find the one your baby prefers the most. Nipples come numbered according to their flow speed. Start out with the smallest number available (if the hole is too big, your newborn might gag or swallow too much air, which can lead to acid reflux). And try a few different nipple shapes—they can be rounded, flat, wide, or narrow and some babies prefer one over another.

Find a formula for success. Shopping for baby formula can be a bit overwhelming. There’s formula made from cow’s milk or soy, formula made for babies with allergies and low birth-weight babies, formula with iron added and without, formula in liquid form and powder form, brand-name formula and generic formula. Phew!

The first thing to know is you should probably go for one with iron added (talk to your pediatrician first, but it’s commonly recommended for most babies). Your baby’s pediatrician will also tell you if you need to use a specialty formula due to an allergy or low weight. But the rest is up to you and your baby (they may end up preferring one formula over another). One comforting fact is that any formula made in the U.S. is strictly monitored by the FDA. That goes for organic and non-organic as well as name-brand and generic. It’s really about trying different ones to see what makes your baby feel the best. One of our favorites is Hi Bobbie, which is organic and modeled after breast milk and free of corn syrup (yep, if you can even believe it, some formulas use corn syrup as a sweetener).  

Fine-tune your approach. While you can offer formula straight out of the fridge, your baby might prefer it warm. In that case, place the bottle in some hot water for a few minutes (just always test out the temp on your inner wrist before feeding it to your baby, and never microwave formula, which can lead to hot spots that cause burns).

If your baby has excessive gas and you’re using powdered formula, try not to mix it up right before a feeding. You need to shake the powder and water together pretty vigorously, which can add in air bubbles, so let it sit for a minute to release some of those newly formed air bubbles. 

Hold your baby close, angle the bottle out instead of holding it straight up (this way your baby will still have to suck to get the formula out), and let your baby take breaks (this is a great time to get in some burping!).

Remember, the healthiest and happiest baby is a fed baby. Experiment to find the right bottle, nipple, and formula for your baby, and know you’re giving them all the love and nourishment they need.