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As you know, doctors and health organizations agree: Breastmilk is the healthiest thing to feed your baby. That said, that's not always possible to do, at least not exclusively, for so many reasons. That's why we've got these tips—to help you navigate the ins and outs of choosing formula and bottles, plus tips on warming, water, holding baby, and more.
Unfortunately, just because it's sold in a store, it doesn't mean a formula is optimal for your baby. Food Babe has an amazing (though slightly outdated) chart evaluating the healthfulness of various formula. You want to look out for sugar source and content (is it corn syrup? Not so great. Brown rice syrup from a source that diligently tests for arsenic? Much better.); unnecessary extra ingredients, and more. Baby's Only formulas rate quite well and they have a regular dairy, a low-lactose, and a soy for babies allergic or sensitive to milk.
If you're going plastic, keep an eye out for a BPA-free label, or better yet, choose glass. Dr. Brown's, Lifefactory, and more have options. They can be spendier, but it might be worth it to buy fewer and wash more often. Look around. As for nipples, make sure you have an age-appropriate one—newborn nipples have a smaller hole, and they get progressively larger for older babies. This is so baby doesn't get flooded with too much, too soon. But if baby looks like he's pulling hard to get the milk out, size up to a wider hole.
When you're bottle-feeding, especially in the beginning, it's important to not overwhelm baby with fluid. Make sure she's propped up on you at an angle (not flat on her back), and that your bottle is at an angel as well—if the bottom of the bottle is too high she'll get flooded, too low and she'll get air bubbles. To avoid the latter, make sure the head of the nipple is always full of milk.
Baby might want to suck down a whole bottle in one second, but don't let him. His tummy is tiny—about the size of his fist—and in the beginning you want to go easy on it. Also: burp. Mid-feed, pop baby over your shoulder and gently (but not too gently!) pat her mid back to get those bubbles up. Even if you don't get a satisfying belch, you're doing good work—sometimes those air-releases are quiet.
Never prop your baby with a bottle alone. It can be dangerous and deprives babies of their favorite thing in the world: you! Use this time to snuggle, bond, and eye-gaze with your littlest wonder. This is one of the reasons breast-feeding is so exalted—cuddling and bonding lead to thriving, happy babies.
Another way to mimic, and therefore get the benefits of, breastfeeding is to feed baby on opposite sides, either every other feed or mid-feed. Meaning, if you normally hold him in your left arm crook while holding the bottle with your right hand, reverse it. This helps with the brain development that goes along with eye contact.
Make sure you're using high-quality water. If you live in an older apartment building, there could be lead in the pipes—one trick is to let the water run for a moment before using. Check with your town or city and see if there are any tap water concerns. If so, get a filter—built-in, Britta, or other.
Microwaving formula is an absolute no-no; the heating method can create "hot spots" in the milk you might not detect when you test a drop or two on your wrist. Bottle warmers are acceptable, but use caution with these, as well—you do not want to over-heat the milk. A slower, but safer option is simply setting the full bottle in a bowl of warm water or running it under a warm faucet. Then always test on your most sensitive skin—the back of the wrist is a convenient go-to.
Finding the right formula can be an art. If she's been constipated for more than a few days after starting a new formula, or if you're getting "pesto poo," it might be time to experiment with a new one. Though docs differ on this, some say that regular green poop is a sign of dairy intolerance (one that's often outgrown by age 1). If that's the case, try a soy formula (Baby's Only has an organic one) or a low-lactose one (there are a few options out there) and see how she does. Also watch for signs of intestinal distress—bloated belly, extreme fussiness—and see if a different formula sets her right after a week or so.
If you're formula-feeding instead of breastfeeding, you have your reasons. And they're not anyone else's business. Some people will definitely be judgy—directly or with their eyes. Don't let them harsh your mellow. Just own your decision, whether you happily opted for it, chanced into it, or felt like you had no choice. It's what's happening. Your baby is healthy, strong, and loved. So send those haters a little love too—they judge you because they judge themselves in some other area of motherhood.