Formula Safety 101

Hi there, Mamas!  This weekend (Derby weekend!) last year I covered the dietitian’s booth at a health fair at the hospital at which I worked.  It was the “Safety Fest” – a family-oriented event where kids received free bike helmets.  Unfortunately, our table didn’t have any fun games, so it was a good opportunity to people watch.

With a five-month-old just on the happy side of colic (read: we didn’t go many places if it could be at all avoided – L was nearly always cranky and hated the car), I was amazed to see so many families with babies around the same age or younger than her.  With it being the “Safety Fest”, I was distributing information about food safety (not that exciting, but very important – we don’t want our kids or ourselves down with a stomach bug from food poisoning), among other things.  If I were working that health fair this year, I would definitely have brought some information on formula safety.  baby bottle

As a nursing/pumping Mama, I didn’t give that much thought to formula, but when pumping or if we traveled, I was always sure to have my cooler and ice pack handy to make sure the milk stayed at a safe temperature until L was ready to “eat” or it could be refrigerated.  It shocked me to see many of these families with bottles of formula (or possibly breast milk – I didn’t ask) kept in the cup holders of the strollers on this reasonably hot day (I left with a minor but visible “farmer’s burn” where my hospital-provided T-shirt sleeves ended).

See here for information on Getting Through the Six-Week Growth Spurt

I’m sure that these parents weren’t intentionally trying to harm their babies, but there is a good chance that formula or breast milk could have spoiled and certainly bacteria were multiplying in their nice, warm saunas.  Babies are especially susceptible to illnesses because their immune systems are not fully developed.  Plus, would you drink milk that had been sitting out in the hot sun for hours?  In this case, ignorance is not bliss. cartoon bottle mom

Follow These Tips for Safe Formula Feeding:

  • Check the expiration date.  This may seem like a no brainer, but start off on the right foot by ensuring that the formula is in date.
  • Sterilize your supplies.  This is advisable at least the first time, before they’re ever used.  Follow manufacturer’s instructions for this.
  • Wash your hands.  Just as you would wash your hands before preparing your own food, it’s equally (possibly even more) important to wash your hands before preparing baby’s.
  • Clean the top of the can.  This may seem unnecessary, but contaminants like dust or bacteria may have accumulated on the top.  Wouldn’t want that getting into baby’s bottle!
  • Use clean water.  Tap water can be used, as long as a boil order isn’t issued for your area.  If you prefer to sterilize your water, that is certainly fine.  Just make sure it’s cooled before giving it to Baby.  Bottled water will also work.
  • Mix according to directions.  These may vary between brands or between powdered mix or concentrated liquid.  For most powder formulas, you add the water first and then add unpacked, level scoops of powder, then shake to mix.  If too little water is added, the formula will be over-concentrated.  This can lead to dehydration and take a toll on Baby’s kidneys.  If too much water is addedthis will dilute the formula.  Not only will Baby be deprived of nutrients and calories (essentially starving), but excess water can also lead to water intoxication.  This is very serious, possibly leading to seizures, coma, or even death.  (Water intoxication can also occur by diluting breast milk.  If you are nursing at the breast, Baby’s suckle will ensure that he or she is getting enough liquid, although more frequent nursing sessions may be needed if it’s hot.  If pumping, Baby will drink enough to where his or her thirst is regulated.  If you have concerns that your baby is dehydrated, talk to your child’s pediatrician right away.)

See here for Four Ways Breast Milk is Like a Willy Wonka Creation

Time-Sensitive Guidelines for Safe Formula

  • Make no more than can be used within 24 hours.  If you’re making bottles ahead of time, be sure to refrigerate them immediately!
  • Use prepared bottles within one hour.  Formula is typically safe at room temperature (not elevated outside temperatures) for one hour.  If Baby hasn’t finished it by then, pitch what’s left.
  • Keep it cool on the go.  If Baby will be eating “on the go”, be sure to bring prepared bottles in an insulated bag with an ice pack or bring some ready-to-use formula with you.

Be sure to stay up-to-date on formula recalls to ensure that your baby’s formula is safe for him or her to consume.  As always, be sure to follow manufacturer’s recommendations and advice from your baby’s pediatrician or personal RDN

See this article for information on adding rice cereal to Baby’s bottle.

Here’s to raising healthy, happy babies, Mamas!  How do you keep formula (or breast milk) safe when you’re on the go?

Photo credits: 

  • Milk bottle by kjnnt at
  • Mom feeding baby by Boians Cho Joo Young at

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