Guest Post: Formula feeding tips – since you’ll be hard pressed to find them elsewhere

Like a good cup of tea, some ideas need a bit longer to steep. Therefore, while I try and get my next post (one that is not merely a post, but a call to action for all FFFs) to sound somewhat coherent, I’m going to share the following guest post from Firgas Esack, who wrote me a spectacular email a few months ago. I loved what she had to say, so I asked if she could elaborate. She obliged. And I am thankful she did, because I think her essay kicks ass. 

I’ll let Firgas explain her point of view, but I do want to say that I share her outrage at the lack of quality information regarding formula feeding. I’ve tried to make up for that lack of info with my FFF Quick-and-Dirty Guide to Formula Feeding, which I’ve been sloooowwwwly building over the past year or so. It sucks eggs that you need to rely on a blogger who doesn’t have an M.D. for this type of info, but I’m working on it, y’all. (The fact that there isn’t better medical advice on formula feeding, not the M.D. – although that would be cool… Dr. Fearless…. paging Dr. Fearless….oh, lay off, a girl can dream.) 

I’ll be back either tomorrow or this weekend with a new post (at this point, I’ve built it up to such a degree that it better be really good, which of course means I need to spend more time checking it for typos) but for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the literary stylings of Firgas Esack. Oh- and speaking of a nice cup of tea, she’s British. British people like tea. Almost as much as I like cliched metaphors.


Formula Feeding Tips- Since You’ll Be Hard Pressed to Find Them Elsewhere

by Firgas Esack

If you googled ‘Formula Feeding’ and you came to this site I’m guessing this makes you one of the following:

Category A: Like my partner and I, you’ve chosen to formula feed your child.

Category B: for whatever reason, you didn’t set out to formula feed your child but now you have to.

Category C: you are a staunch breastfeeder and are trawling the internet for someone to pick a fight with.

Now, the internet is a pretty helpful place. Over the years I have gained many a skill – from unblocking my sink to knitting legwarmers – but  (with the exception of this site) there are criminally few sources of honest-to-goodness facts, tips and advice on formula feeding – and if you fall into Category A or B this is probably what you are currently looking for.

Ditto midwives. Whilst I was pregnant I lost count of the pamphlets I was given about breastfeeding. There were cartoon ones, for the more playful would-be-BFer. There were ones that explained mastitis in plain English. Politically correct ones with multicultural mammary representation. Ones championing local volunteers who offer to visit my house and patiently show me how to put my boob into my child’s mouth correctly.

But with FF not so much. Yes, sure – the pamphlets mention the subject. As an afterthought or an appendix. Possibly with diagrams so archaic and clinical they resemble the Biology textbook which explained baby making to me in the first place. Furthermore, if a medical practitioner ‘doesn’t support’ formula feeding are they really experts to seek advice from?

I could also get some ‘information’ on the subject of FF from one of the many Mummy chatrooms out there. But try and read more than four responses into any thread and doubtless it will be crashed by a Category C person suggesting your DD or DS will be struck down with Leukaemia, live life as the class dunce or possibly grow gills as a result of consuming formula.

Even ACTUAL FORMULA BRANDS require me to tick a box before entering their website essentially declaring myself as a second class mother before reading about their product.

As I said at the top of this post, we chose to FF. But even if we hadn’t, the choice still exists as that: a choice. Yet whilst I can find plenty of guidance on how to build a bomb, roll a joint or start a cult on the interweb, I still found myself having to call up premium rate helplines advertised on the backs of formula packs – whispering into my BlackBerry so as to somehow not let on my ineptitude to my son – in order to find answers.

So – for the benefit of Category A and B readers – here are some of my FF tips based on our experiences. I’ll just add here that I live in London, UK:

  1. People will have you believe sterilizing takes a science degree to master. Sterilizing is a doddle if you get a steam sterilizer. Don’t bother with the fluid (unless you like the smell of bleach) but we recently went traveling and found those sterilizing tablets brilliantly convenient.
  2. We had no idea what brand of formula to buy. In fact, I bought every brand in the supermarket and made a spreadsheet comparing all the nutrients. But our son liked Aptamil the best, so that’s what he drinks.  And as for the cost of FF, yes – it’s not cheap. But then neither is eating mackerel and camembert daily to ensure your breastmilk is rich in Calcium and Omega 3. Nor are Pirate parties, piano lessons or the little one’s future obsession with Ben Ten for that matter.
  3. Babies are happy to drink formula at room temperature or even cold. Obviously warming bottles is ideal but you drink cold milk so why shouldn’t they? Don’t beat yourself up if it’s 2am and you can’t get the bottle warmer to work or can’t face asking the smug waiter in a restaurant to heat one up.
  4. People zealously proclaim that BF babies have sweeter smelling poop. Personally, I’m not that into sniffing baby poop so have no great desire for it to smell of candyfloss. But if your bambino’s botty is producing something that’s a strange colour (grey, green…) it’s most likely temporary and most likely caused by him working some dirt or other through his system. Dirt most likely NOT from FF but from the big wide world he’s now exposed to.
  5. With formula it is easy to get your little one onto a feeding schedule that resembles yours: breakfast, lunch, supper – and a couple of snacks. You’re unlikely to overfeed if you do this and it’s a bit more sociable for all concerned than cluster breast feeds. Category C people make a lot of noise about overfeeding: as a parent you’ll be controlling your child’s portion size for many years to come so it’s no harder with a bottle than with a bowl of ice cream. Trust your instincts.
  6. Many formula companies offer a version marketed for ‘hungrier babies’. This is a little confusing (surely all babies are hungry?) but essentially fills them up so that you can hold off weaning for longer. We found a little bit of mix and match works well: hungry food at night and regular during the day.
  7. There are various schools of thought about giving water as well as formula. Unless you live somewhere really hot (i.e. not London!) you only need an ounce or so of water per day, tops. We offered our son boiled, cooled water in a tippee cup from around 12 weeks – he controlled how much he wanted and he learned to use the cup. Interestingly on our recent traveling adventure we discovered that formula companies in warmer climates make powdered fennel tea to rehydrate FF babies – it is meant to be beneficial and it’s a nice idea to have a child that prefers herbal tea to Sunny Delight later in life.
  8. Bottles come in all sorts of shapes and many people think it is the bee’s knees to have a bottle that resembles a breast. In our experience, the cheapy, straight up and down ones you get from the chemist are easier for the baby to drink from without trapping air bubbles and therefore less likely to cause hiccups or spit up.
  9. Finally, if anyone genuinely thinks that FF reduces their ability to bond with their baby then I’d question what the heck they are doing with their little one the rest of the time. Love is expressed in so so many more ways than via the medium of lactation!

If you’re a Category C reader (and you’re still reading this) please don’t let me stop you voicing your opinion. The internet also supports freedom of speech. But my happy, smiley four month old son sleeps like a professional and thrives on formula – especially when his Daddy gives him his bottle. And (I’ve just checked) he doesn’t seem to have any gills.


Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Formula feeding tips – since you’ll be hard pressed to find them elsewhere

  1. LOL! Loved this. Can we all throw in our own ‘findings’ about FFing? I agree with the one about bottle warming being unnecessary though of course children vary so much it’s hard to say for sure. Our baby actually dislikes warm/hot bottles and food so after a point we’d mix the bottle and put it in the fridge before going to sleep and then grab it when needed (so much for the stereotype that FFing is more work when you have to get up and make a bottle and heat it at night). We were told by our ped re: sterilizing that the hot water in the dishwasher is sufficient so we didn’t even buy a separate sterilizer.

  2. I agree entirely. There is a great lack of good information about infant formula, formula feeding, mitigating risks and practical issues but LOTS of misinformation (even in your blog FFF and I know that you are an intelligent woman with a lot of knowledge and a real interest in the subject and I’m sure this info was passed on from somewhere else). Mothers, fathers and health professionals all want and need more and better info- currently the only easily available source of info is from those who have a financial interest in baby feeding- and the info is poor quality. The UK has some good info on how to use formula with regards constituting and cleaning but that is just the very tip of the iceberg and that’s only one country. I have had some discussions with the Australian Breastfeeding Assoc about working on some materials for parents and health profs (after all virtually every breastfeeding mother is also a formula feeding mother) but I don’t know if they will go with it or not…..something needs to be done.

  3. This is great! I also found the temperature thing to be true–initially I warmed all bottles (by microwave. If you do it for 10seconds, and shake it up to disperse hot spots, this is perfectly safe. And if you have pre-made the bottles before going to bed, all it takes to warm it is 10 seconds, you will not be up for hours making bottles, like some of the militant lactivists suggest.) Eventually we offered room temp or cold bottles from the fridge, and my boys didn’t seem to care.

    I was also told that the hot cycle on the dishwasher was sufficient, no need for a sterilizer or to boil bottles in a pot on a stove. Honestly, I didn’t think sterilization was a big deal since 1)we have clean water 2)my babies were constantly exposed to non-sterile items that they put in their mouths, so usually I just washed the bottles with soap and hot water in the sink. If I had to do it again, I would use the dishwasher regularly.

    For those of you with twins who might not have thought of this: you can feed two babies simultaneously with bottles. If they are small enough, you can lay them on a boppy pillow in your lap. If they are too big for that, put them in bouncy seats and sit between them. This came in handy at 3am, since my husband and I set up a shift system, so we could both get some sleep.

  4. “Personally, I’m not that into sniffing baby poop so have no great desire for it to smell of candyfloss.” This is why I adore the British.

  5. I should perhaps begin by saying that yes I breastfeed, but I’m not “trawling the internet to pick a fight”, I visit this site in order to educate myself about ff issues and to learn to see things from a different perspective. Your blog post was interesting and gave me insight into the problems of lack of quality information about formula feeding. Anyway, here are some of my thoughts about your nine-point list:

    #1 I don’t have any experience with this, so I take your word for it. I’ve also been told like one commenter said, that the hot cycle (it needs to be at least 80 degrees Celsius) on the dishwasher is sufficient, if the bottle is used immediately after taking it out of the washer.
    #2 Agreed, best to go with what the baby likes and seems to tolerate the best – though I found your comment about mackarel and camambert for breastfeeders a bit ridiculous and unnecessary (human milk composition doesn’t vary greatly, even undernourished moms in developing countries produce similar milk to well-nourished moms in developed countries)
    #3 Not fully agreed, isn’t the point of warming formula to aid digestion? Since formula is already harder for the baby to digest than breastmilk, won’t it make it even harder on the baby’s digestive system if the formula is not body temperature? Obviously warming it won’t make any difference to the nutritional value and so on, but any foods colder than body temperature will take longer to digest. Comparing cold formula for a baby to adults drinking cold milk is like comparing apples and oranges, an adult’s digestive system is obviously fully developed and can tolerate a lot of things a baby’s digestive system can’t. For an older baby I don’t think the occassional room temperature bottle would cause any harm, but I wouldn’t advise parents to give a newborn cold formula unless I had some scientific research to back that up.
    #4 Babies’ digestive systems are not fully developed and therefore easily upset, not all babies tolerate formula too well, so it can actually be a good idea to examine diaper contents (and of course the baby’s general well-being) and maybe switch to a different formula if things don’t seem ok. There was a recent case in Australia (don’t know if it happened anywhere else) where the formula manufacturer’s “new and improved” recipe actually caused some babies to become sick: and poop changes were one of the first signs in some cases that something was wrong
    #5 I’d rather say: trust your baby’s instincts. Read your baby’s hunger cues and be sure to follow signs after feeding to ensure you’re not overfeeding (spitting up/vomiting, crying, pulling up legs to the abdomen, and behaviors that resemble colic) and remember that newborns can only digest so much at a time. The advice I’ve read suggest small amounts (30-60 ml) and more frequently (8-12 times per 24 hours) in the very beginning, gradually increase the amount in the bottle and then you can also increase the time in between bottles if your baby seems content. Your suggestion of an “adult” feeding schedule (five meals a day) would be ok for perhaps a six month old baby (that can digest maybe 180-240 ml at a time), but it would definitely not be ideal for a newborn according sources such as the American Academy of Pediatrics:
    #6 Agreed, with older babies this sounds like a good idea.
    #7 Agreed.
    #8 Agreed, the “breast-like” (none of which actually mimic human breasts very successfully) bottles aren’t necessarily best, but it can be a good idea to research different types before buying. Preferences and priorities vary, but bottles with vent systems that eliminate vaccuum and air bubbles are generally considered good for reducing colic and bottles that require both suction and compression to release milk allow the baby to regulate intake and are therefore considered to reduce the risk of overfeeding.
    #9 Well, I agree with you but at the same time, research shows that brestfed babies are held more – simply because it’s a necessity when breastfeeding to hold your baby close, so the closeness, cuddles and face-to-face time are automatically included without requiring a conscious effort. I mention this, not to put down ff parents, just to make a point that it is something you do need to be aware of and perhaps make a conscious effort to give your baby “extra” cuddles – on top of what you already are doing, of course – because babies do need it, much more than we can imagine.

    Again, thank you for your insights and ff perspective! I’ve learnt a lot on this blog and it makes it so much easier to discuss with formula feeding moms in real life – friends, relatives or acquaintances – not being (completely) ignorant or oblivious to some of the issues they are facing.

  6. I know this was a while ago but #5 is downright dangerous. Babies are highly varied. “Overfeeding” is when your child is gaining too much weight for height or throwing up- not eating at inconvenient hours. If a baby needs 100 oz of formula a day to grow healthily, that’s what that baby needs. If a baby only needs 20 oz a day, that’s what that baby needs,

    Rigid schedules for any baby feeding can result in dehydration and failure to thrive.

    Listen to your baby’s cues. Look at the whole picture (weight AND height gain overall, how many wet/dirty diapers, etc) and not just some “ideal number”. Remember that babies are different sizes so need different amounts (I see SO many people asking how much babies need at X week).

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