Whether a baby has been drinking infant formula their whole life or if they’re transitioning from breast milk to formula, many parents want to know at which temperature it’s best served. Sometimes heating formula is a hassle, so it’s worth knowing if cold formula is okay for babies.
Good news. For a healthy term baby, cold formula is generally fine!
That being said, there is a lot that goes into choosing how to decide at what temperature to serve a baby’s formula:
- Formula temperature a baby prefers
- Practicality for the family (convenience, especially for families who boil water when preparing powdered formula)
- Safety (avoiding overheating)
Today’s post will cover all of the above, including:
- why cold formula is generally okay for most babies
- what to really focus on when preparing infant formula
- tips for a baby who refuses cold formula
Why is cold formula okay at most ages?
First, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies up until about age 6 months drink only breast milk or infant formula. These drinks have all the essential nutrients a young baby needs. They don’t need water or solid foods yet.
As for what temperature to prepare the formula? Even babies have a personal preference as to what temperature they like. Some may prefer it to be warm. Babies who also breastfeed may be accustomed to a warmer milk temperature and prefer their formula to be similar. So, warm formula (but not too warm, more on this later) is still one fine option.
Experienced families and new parents alike may wonder if it’s safe for young babies to drink formula that has not been warmed. The good news is it’s okay for most babies because they can regulate their body temperature well enough. (This linked study was done in premature infants, but it’s reasonable to extrapolate the information). As long as the formula has been prepared safely, then the cooler temperatures are okay.
By cooler temperature, I mean the temperature of the formula prepared with cold water or room temperature water. (Please see this post about when someone might need to boil water when preparing powdered formula).
If a baby has been in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), this does not necessarily apply; families should follow the directions of their own health care team. Your baby’s pediatrician is the best source of information and can help guide you.
Why Would Someone Choose to Offer Cold Formula to Their Baby?
Many people prefer drinks at certain temperatures. In this situation, babies are no different. So, why would someone choose to offer cold formula as opposed to warming it up before serving?
The first obvious one is personal preference. A baby may simply like cold drinks, whether it is formula or water. (Generally, water should not be offered before solids are introduced. Stick with breast milk or formula until then, unless directed otherwise by your baby’s pediatrician). The best way to find out is to offer and see how your baby reacts. And, it is okay to try a few times. We don’t all like something with the very first taste, right?
Secondly, a family may choose it out of convenience. Sometimes it’s just easier to serve formula as it’s made rather than taking an extra step with a bottle warmer. This especially applies to those middle of the night feeds.
On the other end of the temperature spectrum, convenience might mean serving formula warm. If someone uses boiled water when preparing their formula, they must wait until it’s cool enough to serve. Of course, it’s a good idea to check any warm liquid before serving. (The classic way to check: Test a drop of formula on the inside of your wrist to make sure it isn’t too hot). In this case, the ideal temperature (for convenience sake) may be warm.
In other words, the best choice may be different for different babies.
And, for completeness, it’s okay to serve pumped breast milk at either temperature too. Cold breast milk is fine if a baby will drink it.
So, if cool temperature doesn’t matter, what is important when it comes to formula preparation?
First, lowering potential risks of infection is the one of the most important things when preparing baby formula.
There are a few things to think through when preparing infant formula, (all more important than the formula being cold). Tips for safe preparation include:
- Check the expiration date. Expired formula should not be served to babies.
- The formula bottle should be clean, as well as the surface where formula is prepared. Hands should be washed prior to preparing formula
- If it is a formula powder or liquid concentrate, it should be prepared according to the package directions. (This can vary depending on the type of formula. The correct amount of water is especially important. Formula should not be diluted or “watered down.”) Use clean water. As a reminder, the ready-to-feed formula does not need added water.
- The formula should not be too hot. While cold is not often a concern, hot formula can cause scalding burns. One way to avoid scalds is to never microwave formula. If microwaved, “hot spots” can be hidden in the bottle and cause surprise burns, even if the first sips are okay.
- Follow guidelines for storing prepared formula. In other words, once a baby has started a bottle, the bottle should not be stored in the fridge for a future feed. The bacteria from the baby’s mouth can grow in prepared formula and cause illness if the formula is eaten again.
What if a baby really really doesn’t like cold formula?
For many families, cold formula is the most convenient way to prepare a baby’s bottle. And yet, some babies just don’t like the cold temperature.
If offering cold formula is important to you, (for example you plan on traveling a lot when it’s tricky to heat every baby bottle and just want to use available cool water or bottled water), some might suggest you keep offering the colder temperature so that babies may adjust. Some babies may adjust. For the sake of frustrated babies everywhere, please know that some simply won’t adjust well and they may refuse the colder temperatures.
If this is the case, then there are a few options to warming up a bottle of infant formula.
The simplest option requires no specialized supplies. Simply use a warm water bath:
Place hot water in a mug or bowl. Then place the prepared formula bottle in the bowl of warm water. With a few swirls, the formula temperature will rise. It’s still important to check it prior to feeding the baby.
Or, caregivers may also use dedicated bottle warmers, which, incidentally, also use hot water to prepare a warm bottle.
After age 1 year . . .
It’s worth noting that by 12 months of age, children no longer need infant formula. Some families choose to now serve cow’s milk (but they don’t have to). At this age, whether a baby likes cold milk or warm milk is again a personal preference. Either temperature of the milk is okay.
Summary: If a baby is healthy, born at term, and has no underlying medical conditions, then room temperature or “cold” formula is generally fine to serve.
It’s important to keep in mind what is convenient for the family and what an infant prefers. Room temperature or cold formula is a fine option for many families.
If warm infant formula is preferred, care should be taken not to overheat or microwave a bottle of formula. This helps prevent scalding burns.
As always, the priority is making sure all infant formula preparation directions are followed and that all supplies, surfaces, and hands are clean.
Disclaimer: This contains no medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I may earn a small commission on qualified purchases at no extra cost to you. Full disclaimer here.
Maya M. Mahmood, D.O., FAAP is a board-certified pediatrician and mom. She is passionate about parents having evidence-based information to help their families be healthier. Subscribe to the newsletter for regular updates.