Infant formula feeding

A commercial infant formula product can be used as an alternative to breast milk until your pēpi (baby) is 12 months old. If cannot breastfeed, or have chosen not to, infant formula is a safe and nutritionally adequate food when prepared cleanly and correctly.

How to feed is an important decision

Choosing how to feed your pēpi is an important decision. If you are thinking about using formula, talk with your midwife, doctor, or nurse first to make sure it is the right choice for you.

Things to think about when deciding how to feed your pēpi

The list below has things to consider before you decide.

  • Breastfeeding is the best way to feed your pēpi.
  • The cost of infant formula and feeding equipment on your household budget.
  • The time involved in preparing formula compared to the convenience of breastfeeding.
  • Giving infant formula to a breastfed pēpi will reduce your breast milk supply.
  • If you decide not to breastfeed or to stop breastfeeding, it is possible to restart but it will be difficult.

How infant formula is different to breast milk

The make-up of breast milk and infant formula have important differences. When prepared and used correctly, infant formula provides safe and complete nutrition for babies up to 6 months of age who are not breastfed. However, infant formula does not contain all of the beneficial ingredients that are naturally present in breast milk and are what makes it the best food for babies.

Babies are at greater risk of infection with formula if a caregiver:

  • does not clean and sterilise all feeding equipment
  • uses unsafe water
  • makes up formula incorrectly
  • stores infant formula powder or reconstituted formula incorrectly.

Breast milk:

  • changes its composition over time and during a single feed to meet the child’s individual appetite and thirst (hence nutrition and fluid needs)
  • contains many beneficial antibodies, enzymes, hormones and other components that assist in baby's development and building immunity
  • provides nutrients that are more easily digested than those in formula, for example protein, calcium, and iron.

Choose an infant formula

Choose a formula based on cows’ milk, unless your midwife, doctor, or nurse recommends a different type of formula for your pēpi.

Before you buy a commercial infant formula, check the label for the appropriate age group to be fed to and the use by date.

Infant formula that is past its use-by date is not safe to feed your pēpi.

Research suggests that no particular infant formula offers benefits over any other.

Feed your pēpi safely

Powdered infant formula is not sterile, which means it may contain low levels of bacteria. These bacteria very rarely cause illness in babies when the formula is prepared and stored correctly.

Infant formula must be prepared and stored carefully to minimise the growth of any bacteria that could harm your pēpi. Follow the instructions on the formula tin carefully.

What you need for formula feeding

If you formula feed you will need:

  • feeding bottles and teats with caps, collars, and sealing discs
  • a bottle brush and teat brush
  • sterilising equipment, such as a pot to boil the feeding equipment in, a steam steriliser, or cold-water sterilising chemicals
  • a covered container to cool the boiled water in 
  • infant formula powder.

Preparing a formula feed

Formula should be made up fresh for each feed. Harmful bacteria can grow in prepared formula, and the longer the formula is kept before use, the greater the risk of your pēpi getting sick. 

From birth until your pēpi is at least 6 months old, all water used for formula should be boiled and cooled to room temperature on the day you use it. Make sure you leave enough time for the boiled water to cool to room temperature (until it no longer feels warm) before it is needed.

Always read the formula labels carefully and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.