Preparing a bottle of formula for your child

Breastfeeding gives your baby the best possible start to life, by making sure they’re getting exactly what they need to grow and develop in a healthy way. The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends breastfeeding your baby exclusively for the first 6 months of their life. After 6 months safe and nutritious complementary foods should be introduced to supplement continued breastfeeding for at least 12 months.

You may have taken the decision to feed your baby with formula instead of breast milk.  If so you will need to find a formula that’s right for your baby – and knowing how to safely and correctly prepare it will become important too.

There are a couple of things to check before you start preparing a bottle of formula for your baby. Firstly, make sure that all of the bottles and equipment you’re using have been sufficiently sterilised - see Sterilising bottles and other equipment. You’ll also need to choose the right teat for your child.

There are a lot of different shapes and sizes available so check that you have a teat flow rate that’s right for the age of your child, with a steady drip of milk (it shouldn’t pour out in a stream). And check the condition of the teats often, making sure they’re always well cleaned and in good condition (not cracked) – you should replace them regularly as well.

How to prepare the formula

  1. Use a clean, sterilised surface to prepare the bottle. Check that the bottle and equipment have been sterilised too
  2. Wash your hands thoroughly with warm soapy water and dry with a clean cloth or paper towel
  3. Boil safe drinking water and leave it to cool.  If you’re using a kettle, wait until the water has finished boiling and switches itself off. If you’re using a stove top pan, make sure the water comes to a rolling boil before turning the stove off
  4. Follow the instructions on the formula packaging for the water to powder ratios. These can differ between brands and types of formula
  5. Pour the correct amount of water into the bottle using the volume lines provided, and make sure you use full, levelled scoops of powder
  6. Attach the teat and collar to the bottle and cover it with a lid. Then gently shake or swirl the bottle until the formula is mixed and the powder is completely dissolved in the water.
  7. Check the temperature of the formula by placing a couple of drops on the inside of your wrist – it should feel slightly warm to the touch. If it’s still too hot, you can cool it by holding the bottle under a cold running tap or placing it in a container of cold water.
  8. After the feed, discard any leftover milk – never reheat or warm old feeds

It’s best to make the formula fresh for each feed, but if you can’t, a freshly made bottle can be left at room temperature for up to two hours – or in the bottom half of the fridge, at the back (where it’s about 2 - 4°C) for up to four hours. If you’re out and about and need to feed your baby away from home, you should refer to the article Travelling with formula – day to day and big trips. 

And if you’d like some more information about safely preparing formula for your child, have a read through the Ministry of Health’s article Feeding your baby infant formula.

Deeper reading

Ministry of Health - Feeding your baby infant formula - Accessed 12th January 2016

World Health Organisation - How to prepare formula for bottle-feeding at home - Accessed 12th January 2016

National Health and Medical Research Council (2012) Infant Feeding Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.