Infant formula feeding

How to formula feed your baby

Key points about infant formula

  • Infant formula will meet all your baby's nutritional needs until they are about 6 months old.
  • At about 6 months your pēpi will probably start eating some solid foods but will continue to need formula until 12 months of age.
  • Formula feeding your baby requires planning and organisation to make sure you have what you need when you need it.
  • This page has information about getting started with formula feeding.
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It's fine to choose any 'from birth' formula that suits your budget. There's no independent evidence to suggest that any company's milk is better for your baby.

Choose an age-appropriate formula. Your baby could become ill if you feed a formula intended for older babies. Always read the instructions on the formula tin, and follow these carefully.

Cows’ milk formula is usually recommended for healthy babies who are not breastfed.

If you think your baby may be allergic to cows’ milk, talk to your midwife (or other maternity carer) or Well Child nurse before buying an alternative. Read more about non-dairy and other infant formulas.

Video: What baby formula should I choose?


(KidsHealth, NZ, 2017)

View video transcript(external link)

Your baby's formula needs are are affected by:

  • your baby's age
  • how much they weigh
  • the time of day
  • their activity level
  • their rate of growth.  

The formula tin will list general guidelines. Babies are usually fed on demand, so learn your baby's signals. For the first few days, your baby may finish the bottle.

Most formula-fed newborns will need around 6 to 8 feeds in 24 hours for the first few weeks. Gradually increase the quantity (size) of each feed during the day. When your baby's about 2 months old, there'll probably be 3 to 4 hours between feeds.

Your baby is getting enough formula if they are:

  • content and settle for a couple of hours after a feed
  • gaining weight at a steady rate
  • having 6 or more very wet nappies every day.

Video: How much formula does baby need?

(KidsHealth NZ, 2013)

View video transcript.(external link)

When your baby is hungry, they will show signs of nuzzling, hand-sucking, or mouthing (opening their mouth and turning their head). These signs can happen when their eyes are closed or open.

These early signs are useful when you and baby are learning to feed. Try to feed your baby as often as they show signs they are hungry.

Crying may be the last sign your baby is hungry. Try to feed your baby before they start crying. It’s easier to feed when they are not upset and crying.

Keeping your baby close to you, including sleeping in the same room at night (but never in your bed), will make sure you don't miss the signs your baby is hungry.  It will also help your baby to feel safe and secure and help you bond with each other.

Video: What are the hunger cues for formula feeding?


(KidsHealth NZ, 2013)

Hunger cues for formula feeding: Video transcript(external link)

Ways you can tell if your baby is getting enough milk include:

  • growth and weight - your baby's Well Child Tamariki Ora Health Record includes graphs with your baby's weight and growth
  • lots of wet nappies
  • pooing every day.

Remember, your baby does not need to finish the whole bottle of formula each time.

A crying baby isn't always a hungry baby - there are other reasons for crying.

Your midwife or Well Child nurse will help you to recognise these signs, and make sure your baby is feeding effectively.

Your baby will need to feed regularly at night, so you may have to get up a few times a night to feed them. There is no difference in sleeping patterns between bottle fed and breastfed babies.

Video: How do I know if my baby is getting enough formula?

(KidsHealth, NZ, 2013)

View video transcript(external link)

You'll need feeding bottles and teats with caps, collars and sealing discs. If possible, choose bottles and teats that allow air into the bottle. This makes it easier for your baby to suck out the milk.

You'll also need:

  • a bottle brush and a teat brush
  • kitchen tongs
  • a jug with measuring marks (for measuring water to add to the powder).

Sterilising equipment is necessary for the first 6 months. This can be either:

  • a large cooking pot (large enough for water to cover everything in it) with a lid
  • special sterilising solution (or tablets) and a large plastic container with a lid
  • a steam sterilising unit designed for microwave sterilising or an electric steam steriliser.

Not all baby bottles have accurate volume lines (measure marks) on them. To check that the lines on your bottles are accurate, look for the standard mark EN14350 on the bottle or packaging, or take your bottles to a pharmacy and ask a staff member to check if the bottles are accurate.

(KidsHealth, NZ, 2017)

View video transcript.(external link)

This section is available in other languages on the KidsHealth website(external link)


Bottles with straight sides and wide necks are the easiest to clean. Glass bottles are easier to clean than plastic but break more easily. ‘Disposable’ bottles have throw-away liners only.

Remember that not all baby bottles have accurate volume lines (measure marks) on them. To check that the lines on your bottles are accurate, look for the standard mark EN14350 on the bottle or packaging, or take your bottles to a pharmacy and ask a staff member to check if the bottles are accurate.


  • Newborn babies -–1 hole in the tip of the teat gives a slow flow to encourage strong sucking.
  • Older babies – more than 1 hole gives a faster flow.

Formula should drip from the teat at about 1 drop per second when tipped.

Read the information on the formula tin carefully (including the use-by date) and follow instructions. Make sure you use the scoop that comes in the tin.

Infant formula powder isn't sterile. Handle and store prepared formula with care to keep it safe for baby.

Formula should be made just before use. If this isn't possible, prepared formula may be stored at room temperature for no more than 2 hours, or in the fridge for no more than 24 hours.

For your baby’s first 6 months, all water used for formula should be boiled and cooled on the day you use it.

In cities and towns, you can use water straight from the tap to make formula after your baby is 6 months old. Otherwise continue to boil the water.

Video: How to make baby's formula

(KidsHealth, NZ, 2013)

View video transcript.(external link) 

Washing and sterilising of feeding equipment is very important. It's also very important to have clean hands when handling feeding equipment or preparing formula.

Your newborn baby is at risk of infection so you must wash and sterilise all feeding equipment to kill any bugs until your baby is 3 months old. After 3 months, thorough washing and rinsing is enough.

Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and dry them on a clean cloth or paper towel before sterilising the equipment or making your baby’s formula.

Video: How to wash and sterilise baby formula equipment

(KidsHealth, NZ, 2017)

View video transcript.(external link)

How to clean feeding equipment 


  • Fill the sink with warm soapy water.
  • Use the bottle brush to clean the bottles inside and out.
  • Use the teat brush to clean the teats inside and out.
  • Wash any other items used (such as bottle caps, kitchen tongs, measuring jug).
  • Make sure you remove all traces of milk when cleaning the bottles and teats.

Rinse everything well in hot water and leave them to air dry.

How to sterilise feeding equipment

If sterilising by boiling:

  • fill a large pot with water
  • place all the washed items in the water, making sure no air is trapped and everything is covered with water
  • put the lid on and heat the water until it comes to a rolling boil
  • turn the stove off and keep the pot covered until you need the items.

When you need to make up a feed, wash and dry your hands thoroughly and use the sterilised tongs to lift items out of the pot. If you remove items before you need them, cover and store them in a clean place -– put the bottles together with a teat inside and a lid on.

If sterilising by steam or with chemicals, follow the manufacturer's instructions when using:

  • steam (in an electric or microwave steam steriliser), or
  • chemicals (sterilising tablets or solution).

Holding your baby close while you are feeding them is an opportunity to give them love and cuddles.

Getting ready

Thoroughly wash and dry your hands. Prepare the bottle of formula and wash and dry your hands again.

Some sleepy newborns may need waking up to feed. (If you're worried because your baby is sleepy and hard to feed, talk to your midwife, doctor or nurse.)

Sit in a comfortable chair with your elbows, arms and back supported.

Holding your baby

Your baby needs time for sucking, looking at and listening to you and for skin-to-skin contact. 

  • Hold your baby in the bend of your arm – it may be more comfortable to switch arms mid-feed.
  • Keep your baby nearly upright and the bottle at the correct angle while you feed them – this helps to prevent ear infections caused by the formula flowing into the middle ear.

Don't leave your baby lying with a bottle to suck on – if babies fall asleep with milk in their mouth, the milk can damage their teeth.

Holding the bottle

Hold the bottle:

  • with enough teat in the baby’s mouth to form a tight seal
  • with the teat in the centre of the mouth and over the tongue
  • at an angle so that the formula fills the teat and bottle neck
  • firmly so that the baby can pull against it while sucking.

Winding (burping) lets your baby bring up any air swallowed during feeding. If your baby wants to stop feeding too soon, they may need burping before they can go on feeding.

Video: How to position your baby for formula feeding

(KidsHealth NZ, 2013)

View video transcript(external link)

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Credits: Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Healthify He Puna Waiora as part of a National Health Content Hub Collaborative.

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