Guide to bottlefeeding baby

If you're bottlefeeding your baby here's what you need to know about formula and equipment.
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  • Updated:24 Jul 2003

01 .Choosing a formula

Baby drinking milk

If you don’t breastfeed your baby you’ll need to choose a formula; cow’s milk shouldn't be used as the primary milk drink in the first year of life. Infant formulas are designed to mimic, as far as possible, the composition of breast milk. They have the right balance of vitamins and minerals and the fat they contain is more easily digested than that of cow’s milk.

For more information about feeding baby see, Food for Kids. Alternative, you can find more information in our Nutrition guide for breastfeeding mothers.

Cow's milk formula

Most formulas are based on cow’s milk, but there are products which use protein derived from soy beans and also specialised formulas for specific dietary needs (these are usually not available over the counter). Cow’s milk formulas are based either on casein, the main milk protein, or whey. Whey-dominant products more closely resemble breast milk.

If you decide to use an infant formula during the first twelve months of your baby’s life we suggest that you use one of the whey-dominant formulas. The label will indicate whether the product is whey- or casein-dominant. Shop around for the best price; sometimes a particular formula will be cheaper at a pharmacy or supermarket. Make sure you use all the product within the time specified on the pack after opening it, and seal the pack immediately after each use.

The carbohydrate in milk formulas is usually lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk, except in some cases where the lactose has been broken down to its constituents, glucose and galactose, for digestion by lactose-intolerant babies.

Soy formula

Soy formulas are designed for use when a baby becomes temporarily unable to digest lactose, for example, after gastroenteritis, and are prescribed if the baby is intolerant of cow’s milk protein. In soy formulas carbohydrate is added as sucrose or corn syrup solids, or a mixture of both. Soy-based formulas are made so that they contain slightly more protein than milk formulas because the body uses vegetable protein less efficiently than animal protein.

Soy-based and modified lactose formulas are suitable when recommended by your doctor. According to the Australian College of Paediatrics’ policy statement on soy protein formulas there’s a tendency to wrongly diagnose food allergy in infants and the indiscriminate use of soy formulas should be avoided. Food intolerance of any kind is a matter for expert dietary diagnosis and advice.

Another possible problem with soy-based formulas is the potential effects of phytoestrogens in soy on hormones, but there needs to be more research on this. The effects of genetically modified soy beans may also be a concern, but again more investigation is needed.

Goat's milk formula

Goat’s milk is sometimes fed to babies instead of cow’s milk. It lacks some vitamins that the baby needs and is often sold in an unpasteurised state (therefore containing potentially disease-causing organisms). It shouldn’t be used unless recommended by your doctor. Also, if you wish to change your regular brand of formula to another, check with your doctor or early childhood nurse first, to ensure that the formula you choose is appropriate for your baby.

Get advice

Most formulas are available over the counter. Other formulas designed, for example, for short-term use in babies with severe digestive problems can be obtained only under medical authority. Formulas may be purchased in single-bottle sachets, in tins of various sizes, as powder or as concentrated liquid. Correct preparation and storage are vital for the health of your child.

Our general advice however, is that wherever possible, mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed their babies.

Please note: this information was current as of July 2003 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


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02.Bottle feeding equipment



There’s quite an array of baby feeding bottles on the market. Many brands are available, in glass or plastic, patterned or shaped, of 240 mL or 120 mL capacity. The smaller size is useful for young babies who don’t take large volumes and for giving drinks of water or juice to breastfed babies. Shaped bottles, such as with a hole in the middle, may be suitable for older babies to grasp, but they could make cleaning more difficult.

If bottle feeding is the only method of feeding your baby, you’ll need six to eight bottles. If you’re breastfeeding and intend to express, you’ll at least need two or three; otherwise it might be a good idea to have one on hand (for water, in necessary) to start with.


There’s a choice of material (rubber or silicone), shape and flow rate available.

Rubber vs silicone: Apart from the aesthetics of brownish rubber (latex) versus clear silicone, there are several reasons for choosing the latter. Silicone is more durable and better able to withstand repeated washing, boiling and sterilising. Rubber tends to become sticky and friable after a while.

Some years ago, the presence of nitrosamines in rubber teats caused concern, as they are known to cause cancer in animals. When CHOICE found nitrosamines in its 1986 test of teats, we advised that to be on the safe side silicone teats should be used. Some health authorities now advise that there’s no proof that rubber teats can cause problems.

Shape: You can choose from the traditional bell shape or the ‘orthodontic’ teat which some manufacturers claim resembles the mother’s nipple during breastfeeding. However, these claims are inconclusive, as are claims that they’re better than bell-shaped teats for mouth development. Your baby may show a preference for either type.

Flow rate: Flow rates are usually specified: ‘slow’ for 0–3 months, ‘medium’ for 3–6 months and ‘fast’ for over 6 months. Also available are ‘juice’ or multi-holed ‘trainer’ teats. Inspect all teats frequently (pull on the bulb portion to test their strenth) and discard worn or faulty ones immediately.

Bottle brush

You need a wire-handled nylon bristle brush to clean the bottles before sterilizing; those with a teat brush on the other end are useful. Wash bottles and teats in hot soapy water to remove all traces of milk or formula, as any left could provide a breeding ground for bacteria. You should also squirt the water through the hole in the teat.

Measuring jug/spoon/knife

You’ll need these if you’re using formula so you can measure the right amount. This is extremely important: with too much formula you may overload the baby’s delicate digestive system and kidneys and supply too many calories; too little and the baby may not get enough nutrition.