The major health organizations — including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Medical Association (AMA), the American Dietetic Association (ADA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) — agree that breast milk is the ideal form of nutrition for babies (especially during the first 6 months). However, only you can decide what's best for you and your baby. And commercially prepared formulas are designed and strictly regulated to provide the nutrients your baby needs.
Whether you've decided to formula feed your baby from the start, are supplementing your breast milk with formula, or are switching from breast milk to formula, you're bound to have questions. Here are answers to some common inquiries about formula feeding.
Is it OK to prop a bottle in my baby's mouth?
No. You shouldn't leave your baby unattended or feeding from a "propped" bottle. Propping a bottle is a choking hazard and can also lead to ear infections and baby bottle tooth decay, a serious dental condition that results from formula (as well as breast milk or juice) pooling in your baby's mouth. Always hold your baby during feedings.
It is OK to let my baby sleep with a bottle?
No. You should never put your baby to bed with a bottle. Like propping a bottle, it can cause choking, ear infections, and tooth decay.
How will I know if my baby has an allergy?
Some babies are allergic to the protein in cow's milk formula. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include:
- abdominal pain
- even some blood in the baby's stools
Report any of these symptoms to your baby's doctor, and follow his or her advice on switching to a special hypoallergenic formula. But even if the doctor suspects an allergy, don't spend too much time worrying that your child might be allergic forever. Kids often outgrow milk protein allergies within a few years.
Is soy formula safe for my baby?
Most doctors usually recommend giving babies cow's milk formula unless there seems to be an allergy or intolerance, in which case the doctor may recommend soy or hypoallergenic formula. Soy formula — with added iron — contains the nutrients your baby needs.
Some parents may worry after hearing or reading about certain soy concerns, particularly about phytoestrogens (hormone-like chemicals from plants) that are found in soy formulas. These concerns need to be studied further, but so far research has not found definite evidence that soy formulas negatively effect a child's development or reproductive system.
Soy formula should be used under the direction of your doctor, but it can be an alternative to cow's milk formula for full-term infants. However, soy formulas are not recommended for premature infants.
Do I need to give my formula-fed baby vitamins?
No. Commercial infant formulas with iron are manufactured to contain all the nutrients your baby needs.
Does my baby need fluoride supplements?
Infants —whether breastfed or formula-fed — do not need fluoride supplements during the first 6 months. From 6 months to 3 years, babies require fluoride supplements only if the water supply is severely deficient in fluoride. Ask your doctor about what your little one needs.
My baby is really fussy. How can I help?
Your baby's fussiness may or may not have anything to do with gas or the formula, nipple, or bottle you use. Some babies are simply colicky (continuously crying for long periods of time), especially during the first 2 to 3 months.
If your baby does seem to be gassy or colicky, here are some things that may help ease the gas pains and comfort your little one:
- Walk with your baby or sit in a rocking chair, trying various positions.
- Try burping your baby more often during feedings.
- Place your baby belly-down across your lap and rub his or her back.
- Put a warm towel or warm water bottle on your baby's belly, checking first to make sure it's not too hot.
- Hold your baby upright.
- Put your baby in a swing — the motion may have a soothing effect.
- Put your baby in an infant car seat in the back of the car and go for a ride. The vibration and movement of the car often calm a baby.
- Try playing music — some babies respond to sound as well as movement.
- Try turning on the dishwasher, clothing dryer, or a white noise machine. The continuous gentle noise may sooth a crying baby.
Sometimes, fussiness and gas may be a sign of milk allergy or lactose intolerance. But be sure to talk to your doctor first before switching your baby's formula. Let the doctor know how your baby is acting so that he or she can rule out any other possible causes.
Is it normal for my baby to spit up after feedings?
Sometimes, babies spit up when they:
- have eaten too much
- burp (the notorious "wet burp")
- cough or cry
Many infants will spit up a little after eating or during burping because their digestive tracts are immature. That's perfectly normal. But spitting up isn't the same as vomiting all or most of a feeding.
If you're concerned or your baby is vomiting (that is, forcefully vomiting much of a feeding) more than once a day, call your doctor. In rare cases, there may be an allergy, digestive problem, or other problem that needs medical attention.
It also may help your doctor to properly diagnose the problem (if there is one) if you keep a record of exactly how often and how much your baby seems to be spitting up. He or she should be able to tell you if it's normal or something that's cause for concern.
But again, it's important to remember that spitting up is usually perfectly OK. If the doctor says your baby's spitting up is normal, here are some ways to help alleviate it:
- Burp your little one every 3 to 5 minutes during feedings.
- Try giving smaller feedings more frequently.
- Hold your baby upright after feedings.
- Don't jiggle, bounce, or actively play with your baby right after feedings.
- Make sure the nipple hole in your baby's bottle is the right size for your baby. For example, fast flows may cause babies to gag or may simply give them more than they can handle, whereas slower flows may be frustrating to some babies and may cause them to suck more vigorously and gulp too much air.
- Keep your baby's head above his or her feet while feeding (in other words, don't hold your baby in a dipped-down position when feeding).
- Raise the head of your baby's crib or bassinet. Roll up a few small hand towels or receiving blankets (or buy special blocks) to place under (not on top of) the mattress. But don't use a pillow under your baby's head, and always put your baby on his or her back to sleep.
Also, keep in mind that many babies grow out of spitting up by the time they're 1 year old.
How do I safely switch to a different formula?
Before making the decision to switch, be sure to talk to your doctor. Parents often assume that formula plays a part in a baby's fussiness, gas, spitting up, or lack of appetite. But often that's not the case.
If giving the OK to switch formulas, your doctor will recommend a way to do it so that your baby's feedings and digestion aren't interrupted. The doctor may suggest mixing the two formulas together little by little, then eventually eliminating the original formula altogether.
Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: March 2009