What Is Baby Formula?

Paulla Estes
Paulla Estes

Although breast milk is the best form of nutrition for babies, there are times when breast feeding is not an option and many parents and caregivers turn to baby formula. Formula comes in liquid, liquid concentrate, or powder form, and can serve as the primary source of nutrition, vitamins, and iron in the first months and sometimes years of a child’s life. It is a safe, healthy substitute for breast milk and, contrary to some reports, feeding an infant with formula does not have to take away from the bonding process between mother and child.

There are numerous types of baby formula available.
There are numerous types of baby formula available.

Baby formula was invented in the mid-1800s by Swiss chemist Henri Nestle. When Nestle encountered a mother who was unable to breast feed her premature baby, he created a mixture to feed the child. He called his baby formula Farine Lactee Nestle. Today, there are a large variety of companies that make and distribute formula. All that is sold in the United States must meet the strict standards of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Baby formula was created for women unable to breastfeed premature babies.
Baby formula was created for women unable to breastfeed premature babies.

Many types of baby formula are available and the choice can be daunting to the new parents of a tiny infant. It is available with or without iron, with or without cow’s milk, and there is formula that is soy-based. Sometimes, it is labeled to have specific vitamins added. As if this weren’t enough, there are countless brands from which to choose. Every baby is unique in his or her needs, so parents and caregivers should check with their baby’s pediatrician to find out which type is best for their baby.

When preparing baby formula, parents should sterilize the bottles and nipples thoroughly. If a concentrated formula is being used, water should be boiled for at least one minute before mixing it in with the concentrate. Babies normally nurse until they have had enough. Parents should begin by putting 3-4 ounces (89-118 ml) of baby formula into a bottle; most likely the baby will not finish the bottle. If the baby does empty the bottle, parents should prepare a larger amount for the next feeding.

While there are many homemade baby formula recipes, the FDA, as well as most health care professionals, does not recommend that parents make it at home.

Paulla Estes
Paulla Estes

Paulla is a freelance writer and website editor who currently lives in Maine. Paulla has a B.A. in English Literature from George Mason University and over 15 years of experience as a freelancer. She relishes the flexibility and consistency of working on wiseGEEK articles, as well as the opportunity to constantly learn something new.

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Discussion Comments


A good breast pump costs $100 to $350 but that's still less than formula in the long run - healthier too. WIC can sometimes help with getting a breast pump for mothers who need one.


Sunny27- You are so right. A twenty-three ounce can of Similac or Emfamil runs anywhere from $26 to 28, and that usually only lasts a few weeks.


I just want to add that most parents use Emfamil or Similac. These companies also offer new and expectant parents coupons on their formula. You just have to sign up on their web site and they will send them to you. Baby formula is expensive. Every little bit helps.

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