Formula feeding

Infant formula is made for babies up to 12 months who are not breastfed.

If you’re considering using infant formula for your baby, read the HealthEd resource Feeding your Baby Infant Formula. It will tell you:

  • what equipment you need
  • how to prepare formula safely
  • how to bottle-feed your baby.

Not all baby bottles have accurate volume lines on them so check yours does by looking for the standard mark EN14350 on the bottle or packaging. Otherwise take your baby bottles to a pharmacy and ask a staff member to check if your bottles are accurate.

Risks with formula feeding

The compositions of breast milk and formula have important differences. Babies are at greater risk of infection with formula, as people may:

  • use ineffective sterilisation techniques
  • use unsafe water
  • reconstitute formula incorrectly
  • store milk powder and/or reconstituted milk incorrectly.

Breast milk:

  • varies in composition over the lactation period and during a single feed to meet the child’s individual and varying appetite and thirst (and hence nutrition and fluid requirements)
  • contains many beneficial bioactive components that assist in baby's gut maturation, physiological development and immunity
  • provides nutrients (eg, protein, calcium and iron) that are more easily digested than those in formula
  • contains the polyunsaturated fatty acids required for retina and brain development
  • contains taurine for fat absorption

Because of these important differences, infant formula does not decrease, and may increase, the risk of infectious and chronic disease.

Never use cows’ milk in place of breast milk or formula

Whole cows’ milk is not suitable for babies under 12 months. Use breast milk or formula as the main drink until baby is 1 year old. Infants fed cows’ milk before 1 year of age are at particular risk of developing depleted iron stores.

Most infant formula is based on cows’ milk. The Food Standard Code for infant formula requires that infant (up to 6 months of age) formula meets the complete energy and nutritional for a healthy full-term infant up to 6 months of age. Around 6 months of age, an infant should also be receiving complementary foods.

In this section

  • Formula should not be marketed for babies under 6 months. Find out how to lay a complaint if you see or experience inappropriate infant formula marketing. Read more
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