As a mother you are always fretting about your baby and wondering if you are doing things right for the little one.

Quite rightfully so!

Your little one is so dependent on you for all his/her needs. He/She is unable to speak and convey what is needed. You are always trying to guess and fulfill these needs.

Your baby is not a miniature adult, is she? You know that it is a crucial period for your child when survival is the primary goal. Basic immunity, baseline health status, and growth of vital organs like the brain are completed even before you know it.

It is no wonder that you need to do things right in this initial period and for some reason if you are unable to breastfeed, then you need to know all the dos and don’ts while using formula milk.

It is only after you begin using formula feeds that you realize that you need reassurance for several of your doubts. When to feed, how to feed, how to prepare, preserve, and use.

An important aspect is not to use formula feed beyond the time that is good for your baby. Whether the food goes stale or loses its nutrition value, in either case, it is better to discard and use freshly prepared formula. It is not as if you are also consuming the same food, so you need to know facts and ways to pick up if the formula is losing its freshness.

Let us explore some practical questions in the following paragraphs.

As for most foods, prepare cleanly, use quickly and if you cannot use quickly, store safely – this is the rule of thumb. We are talking about powdered baby formula here specifically as it requires preparation and handling.

You need to remember that powdered baby formula is treated to be fresh while packed and it loses its freshness once opened. This happens more quickly after reconstitution.

Powdered formula can harbor bacteria called cronobacter and though this is rare, you need to be aware. This information is more important for parents of babies who are underweight, premature, weak, too young, or with weak immune systems.

Additionally, bacteria like Salmonella and Shigella are also known to grow in poorly preserved baby formula. So, you see how important handling and storage of the baby formula is.

Babies often do not work on a schedule, one day may not be similar to the next. Needs keep changing and it is often difficult to follow the clock. You may prepare the baby formula and your baby may not be in the mood for a feed.

He/She may have a small helping and you are left with the remainder. You may not have a clue when your baby may have the next feed. What to do with the left-overs and how long is it fit for consumption?

You should prepare only the prescribed amount of baby formula every time to avoid having to store for later. But even then, your baby may not feel like having the entire amount. At times, your baby may just have a few gulps and leave the rest.

Should you keep at room temperature, should you refrigerate? Well, if you foresee that your baby may consume within an hour, please leave it out, do not refrigerate. If you feel that your baby may not feel hungry within an hour, then please refrigerate immediately. That way it will remain fresh, and the nutrients will not be compromised.

Additionally, leaving reconstituted baby formula at room temperature is a fertile ground for growth of bacteria and that can spoil your baby’s delicate tummy. Your baby may reduce feed, and this will affect the weight and immunity of your baby. So, follow these instructions perfectly!

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How long can a reconstituted formula last after preparation when refrigerated?

Now, if you have kept the prepared baby formula left after feeding in the fridge, then you can be rest assured that you have hampered the growth of bacteria considerably. Just be sure to put it in the fridge immediately.

In such a situation, you can safely use a bottle of reconstituted formula the next day too, within 24 hours.

You might also need to make a few bottles if you are not around or if you need to feed your baby at work. Be sure to maintain the temperature and consume as soon as possible.

How long will a can of powdered baby formula be good?

Always check the expiry date on the can of baby food before purchasing. If for some reason you are stacking a reserve of baby food, be sure to check the expiry every time you open a new can.

Never use a can beyond the date mentioned with ‘Use by’.

Once opened, for most purposes, use the can within a month. However, it is better to check instructions on the label to be sure.

Once opened, either put the lid on tightly or transfer the contents to an airtight container. Place a spoon in the container and do not use it to prepare the baby formula. The contents should be dry and should not be exposed to moisture. Store the container in a cool and dry place in the house.

Baby formula should not be stored in cars, or anywhere outdoors. Also, do not refrigerate.

Can you reuse a heated bottle of baby formula?

Many parents need to store bottles of prepared baby formula in the refrigerator. You need to heat the bottle before feeding your baby. In case your baby does not finish the bottle of baby formula, you might wonder if you can re-refrigerate.

Well, the answer is a definite NO!

Again, bacteria can grow in the bottle once it has been sucked at by the baby.

Also, a bottle of prepared baby formula heated in this manner lasts only for an hour a room temperature unlike the 2-hour rule for freshly prepared one.

Liquid Baby Formula

If you are one of those parents who use liquid baby formula, then you should read below to help you with some of your questions.

Liquid baby formulas are concentrated and ready-to-use substitutes to breast milk. Though expensive, these products are great as they are easy to use. These products are sterile or free from microorganisms and hence extremely hygienic. They are best for premature, fragile babies.

Concentrated formulae need dilution with water, use clean water for dilution.

Others that are ready-to-use do not need dilution and are the easiest to use.

However, these bottles should be used immediately. If not, cover the bottle or can and refrigerate immediately. Use only within 48 hours. At room temperature, use within a couple of hours maximum.

Once sucked on, the bottle must be used or discarded within one hour.

While using baby formula, some of the rules are pretty generic no matter what product you use. Use prepared products that have been sucked on by the baby only once. Discard immediately no matter how much of the preparation is left.

You may feel tempted to store and reuse. But by doing so, you are encouraging growth of bacteria and contamination of the prepared baby formula. Once your baby’s mouth has sucked at the nipple, bacteria from the baby’s mouth have been transferred to the nipple and they multiply with time with the fertile and concentrated baby formula which acts as an efficient breeding ground.

This will end up doing more harm than good. It is not going to be beneficial economically too, if that is what you are concerned about. You will end up spending more on your baby’s health. So, best avoided.

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Dr Kavita Ramanathan

Dr Kavita Ramanathan is a practising pathologist with over 12 years of clinical experience. Having completed her MBBS and MD in Pathology from the University of Mumbai, she went on to work for several institutions in India. As a medical writer, she writes to give practical tips to the non-technical audience.

As a mother to a young girl, motherhood is a topic that is close to her heart. Her own experience in raising her daughter while balancing her residency and medical career has taught her many practical aspects of successful child-rearing. Her knowledge of medicine and skill as a writer appeals to a broad spectrum of parents and mothers.