Using formula and coronavirus

How exactly does coronavirus affect formula feeding? And what if you can’t find your baby’s usual type of formula? Read on to find out more…

Coronavirus has understandably caused many parents a lot of anxiety. This is reflected on the (empty) supermarket shelves and efforts to be super clean. Here’s what this might mean if you use formula and what to do…

The shops don’t have my baby’s usual formula in stock – what can I do?

The major retailers have advised that they are now limiting the number of formula tins/packets customers can buy to prevent stockpiling. It might also be worth contacting your local pharmacy because they may be able to order some for you (Unicef Baby Friendly, 2020).

If the shops have run out of your baby’s usual brand of formula, don’t worry, try another one. There’s no evidence that one brand is better than another (First Steps Nutrition, 2018)

We’re often led to believe that paying more for something means you get something better, right? Well, this isn’t true for baby formula. That’s because all brands of first stage baby formula in the UK have to meet the same nutritional and safety standards – so they’re all very similar in composition (Unicef and First Steps Nutrition, 2019).

Whichever brand you buy, it’s really important that you make up infant formula by following the manufacturer’s guidelines. Adding more water to make the powder go further could be unsafe for your baby’s health (Unicef, 2020).

What can I give my baby if I can’t find any follow-on milk?

Follow-on milk is actually not necessary. The only kind of formula your baby needs in their first 12 months is first infant formula (Unicef and First Steps Nutrition, 2019). If your baby is over 12 months old, you can offer them full-fat cow’s milk instead or a suitable alternative (First Steps Nutrition, 2020)

What can I give my baby if I can’t find any of their specialist milk?

A suitable alternative for a baby under 12 months old to specialist milks, like reflux, hungry baby or colic formulas, would be first stage infant formula of any brand. As mentioned above, they all meet the same nutritional and safety standards.

If you think your baby has a health or feeding issue that a different formula could alleviate, do talk to your health visitor or GP about this (First Steps Nutrition, 2020).

For more information, see our article Why are there different types of infant formula?.

If I’m worried about stocks of formula, can I restart my breastmilk supply?

Some mums do restart their breastmilk supply – it’s called relactation. It is possible after a break of days, weeks or even years.  

For more information, see here or phone one of our breastfeeding counsellors, who will listen and offer information and support (0300 330 0700 between 8am and midnight).

Do I need to be extra careful with my baby’s formula feeding equipment?

Experts recommend being particularly careful with sterilising your baby’s feeding equipment if you might have or do have coronavirus (RCOG, 2020). That means sterilising bottles, teats, bottle brushes and any other bottle-feeding equipment very carefully each time after you use them. It also means storing and handling sterilised equipment in the most hygienic way possible.

For more information, see our article How to sterilise baby bottles, breast pumps and other feeding equipment.

If I think I might have coronavirus, how should I bottle-feed my baby?

As the virus seems to spread through airborne droplets, it makes sense to follow the same recommendations whether you are exclusively breastfeeding, using formula, or a combination of both (RCOG, 2020). Here are the recommendations:

  • Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before you touch your baby or their feeding equipment.
  • Try not to sneeze or cough on your baby.
  • Think about wearing a mask while you’re feeding your baby.

(RCOG, 2020)

What if I’m combination or mixed feeding?

If you’re using a combination of breastmilk and formula milk, it might be helpful to maximise the amount of breastmilk your baby receives. That’s because there’s lots of evidence that every drop reduces the risk of infectious diseases (WHO, 2009; Riskin et al, 2012; Unicef, 2020).

Our friendly and knowledgeable breastfeeding counsellors can support you with increasing your milk supply, if that’s what you would like to do.

Further information

We support all parents, however you feed your baby. You can call our feeding support line on 0300 330 0700 (option 1) to talk to a breastfeeding counsellor about your questions or concerns, whether you’re breastfeeding, using formula milk or introducing solids. They have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising, and will offer relevant information and suggestions. The line is open everyday from 8am to midnight, including bank holidays.

Interactive, engaging and social, our live online antenatal course is a great way for you to meet other local parents, and get essential unbiased information and knowledge about pregnancy, birth and early days with your baby.

Read the the NHS advice on what you should do when you’re self isolating Take a look at the latest public health guidance for pregnant women and parents.

Click on the following links for guidance on self-isolation and social distancing in Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, French, Gujarati, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Urdu and Welsh.

For more information about coronavirus in various languages see here.

RCOG. (2020) Coronavirus infection and pregnancy. Available at:  https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy/covid-19-virus-infection-and-pregnancy/ (accessed 18th March 2020)

Unicef; First Steps Nutrition. (2019) Responsive bottle feeding. Available at: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/04/Infant-formula-and-responsive-bottle-feeding.pdf (accessed 18th March 2020)

Unicef (2020) Baby Friendly Initiative statement on infant feeding during the Covid-19 outbreak. Available at: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/03/Infant-feeding-during-the-Covid-19-outbreak.pdf (accessed 18th March 2020)

First Steps Nutrition. (2018) A simple guide to infant milks. Available at:  https://static1.squarespace.com/static/59f75004f09ca48694070f3b/t/5b325b5d2b6a28fb4e3d1233/1530026845937/Infant-milks_a_simple_guide_May2018a.pdf (accessed 18th March 2020)

First Steps Nutrition. (2020) Infant milks in the UK, a guide for health professionals. Available at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/59f75004f09ca48694070f3b/t/5e3c57479875fd7261b6f4fe/1581012818249/Infant_Milks_January2020_finalb.pdf (accessed 18th March 2020)

Riskin A, Almog M, Peri R, Halasz K, Srugo I, Kessel A. (2012) Changes in immunomodulatory constituents of human milk in response to active infection in the nursing infant. Pediatr Res. 71(2):220-225. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22258136 (Accessed 19th March 2020)

WHO. (2009) Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. SESSION 2, The physiological basis of breastfeeding. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK148970/ (accessed 19th March 2020)

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