Preparing formula feeds in advance

Important notice:

Breastfeeding is best for babies and has many benefits for both you and your baby. It is important that you eat a healthy well-balanced diet in preparation for and during breastfeeding. Follow on milk should only be used as part of a mixed diet from 6 months. Talk to a healthcare professional.

There’s so much to think about when you’re taking your baby out and about. Do you have enough nappies? Wipes? And what about formula? No one wants to get caught out with a hungry baby, but how do you ensure you are safely prepared for the day?

When you need to formula feed your little one away from home, NHS advises that you take with you:

  • A measured amount of formula powder in a small, clean and dry container
  • A vacuum flask of hot water that's just been boiled
  • An empty sterilised feeding bottle with cap and retaining ring in place

The vacuum flask does not need to be sterilised, but should be clean, and only used for your baby. Make up a fresh feed only when your baby needs it; if the flask is full and sealed, the water will stay above 70C for several hours. (The water must still be hot when you use it, to destroy any bacteria in the formula powder.)

Remember to cool to drinking temperature (approx.37°C) by holding the bottle under cold running water, and feed immediately, and ALWAYS test the temperature of the milk before feeding.

However, if it’s not possible to do the above, for example, if you need to take a pre-prepared feed into nursery, the advice is to:

  • Prepare the feed at home, cool it under cold running water or in a bowl of cold water and then cool it for at least one hour in the back of the fridge.
  • Take it out of the fridge just before you leave and carry it in a cool bag with an ice pack, and use it within four hours. If you don't have an ice pack, or access to a fridge, the made-up formula must be used within two hours.

If made-up formula is stored:

  • In a fridge – use within 24 hours
  • In a cool bag with an ice pack – use within four hours
  • At room temperature – use within two hours

This advice works for nursery days, or days out. But what if you’re going further afield?

Flying with a bottle-fed baby

There are a few things to keep in mind when planning your first adventure with your little one. Here are our top travel tips for formula feeders.

If you're flying, there's some good news: the 100ml carry-on limit for liquids doesn't apply to formula milk or baby foods. This means you can bring a reasonable amount of each to meet your baby's needs for the journey. There’s no legal limit to how much you can take however check with your airport before you travel.

We'd suggest packing either travel-size ready-made formula bottles, or for powdered feed several feeding bottles in addition to pre-measured amounts of formula powder in clean containers, so you make with boiled water at the airport or on the flight.

Alternatively, you can wait until you've gone through security and purchase ready-to-drink baby formula at an airport chemist. Most UK airports, including Gatwick and Heathrow, will even let you reserve some in advance for your journey. This is a far more convenient option.

Remember to pack or buy enough formula to cope with any flight delays you might encounter – they're bad enough without adding a hungry baby to the mix!

During your flight, you might want to also offer your baby occasional drinks of cooled, boiled water; the dry atmosphere on an airplane is very dehydrating, and it can affect babies much more quickly than adults.

Things to remember when on holiday with a formula-fed baby

Once you've arrived, there are a few things to remember before you and your baby hit the beach or the pool.

Tap or bottled water?

First, the tap water abroad may not be suitable for drinking, and even if you boil it, it might well have different levels of minerals than your baby is used to at home. To avoid a tummy upset, you'll probably want to make up formula using bottled water instead (and yes, it still needs to be boiled and cooled first!) Look for a brand with less than 200 mg of sodium (Na) and less than 250 mg of sulphate (SO or SO4) per litre. Most bottled waters have significantly less sodium than 200mg/litre and choosing a water with a level of 20mg Na/litre or less would ensure that a made-up infant formula is closer in sodium composition to breastmilk.

Sterilising abroad

Bottles and teats still need to be sterilised, too if your baby is under 6 months old, but this needn't mean lugging along your electric steriliser; try using cold-water sterilising tablets instead, or if you'll have access to a microwave, bring along a compact microwave steriliser. If you're into more minimalist travel, you could always opt for disposable, pre-sterilised bottle liners and teats.

Finding your formula brand

If you're travelling in Europe, you might see your brand of formula in the local shop, but there may be some slight compositional differences compared to the formula you buy in the UK. Your safest bet is to pack enough formula powder for your entire trip in your hold baggage, plus a bit extra. (This isn't a bad thing; remember you can use the extra space on the way home to fit in all your holiday shopping bargains!)

If you're heading off for the day, pack several pre-measured “dry” bottles, plus a vacuum flask of just-boiled water. The water should stay above 70C for several hours in a flask that is full and sealed. Make up a fresh feed only when your baby needs it, and remember to cool the feed to drinking temperature (approx.37°C) by holding the bottle under cold running water. Feed immediately, and ALWAYS test the temperature of the milk before feeding.

Stay hydrated

If it's going to be hot where you're going, keep in mind that babies can become dehydrated much more quickly than adults. Offering a bottle or cup of cooled, boiled water in between feeds will help keep your little one happy and healthy.

Reviewed on 23.11.2022 by Helen Farnsworth, Nutritionist