Although cow’s milk is part of the normal diet of most Western nations, it is not suitable for young babies. The naturally intended food for babies is breast milk, and a baby who is not being breastfed must be fed with special formulas developed to approximate breast milk, which has more sugar and less protein than cow’s milk.
Provided the manufacturer’s instructions are followed exactly, most babies will thrive on formula. It is quite wrong to think that a slightly stronger formula might give the baby more nourishment. If the mixture is made stronger than the manufacturer recommends, the baby will get too much fat, protein, minerals and salt, and not enough water.
Milk, especially when at room temperature, is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, and it is therefore essential that formula is prepared in a sterile environment. Bottles, utensils, measuring implements, teats and anything used in the preparation of a baby’s food must be boiled and stored in one of the commercially available sterilising solutions. Carers should also wash their hands before embarking on preparation. Made-up formula must be stored in the refrigerator. If these precautions are not followed, the baby may develop gastroenteritis and require hospitalisation.
The baby should be allowed some say in how much food s/he needs. Carers will generally be advised by the hospital or baby health clinic how much to offer the baby (calculated according to weight), but just as breastfed babies have different needs that can vary from feed to feed, so too do bottle-fed babies. Mothers often feel that the baby should finish the last drop in the bottle. But within reason, babies can generally be relied upon to assess their own needs quite satisfactorily.
Just as with breastfed babies, it is generally considered best to feed a baby as and when they are hungry. In the first few weeks this may be at irregular and frequent intervals. It takes about three or four hours for a feed to be digested, and as the baby’s digestive system matures, signs of hunger will normally settle down into a regular pattern.
The rate at which babies feed also varies. Some like to gulp down their formula, while others like to take things easy. The rate of feed can upset a baby if it is too fast or slow for its liking. Teats with different hole sizes can be purchased, and a small hole can be enlarged with a hot needle. Frequent breaks from the bottle during a feed in order to let a burp come up and the milk go down can also smooth the progress of the feed and avoid stomach discomfort afterwards.