You do your best to give our babies the best possible nutrition, from picking the right formula to giving healthy baby food. But when you’re tired, sleep-deprived, or frazzled from doing several things at the same time, you can make mistakes—like accidentally giving our baby old formula.
When you realize your baby drank old formula, don’t panic. In most cases, your baby will be fine. You just need to watch for signs of a stomach upset, and make sure he doesn’t get dehydrated. You can also avoid future problems by knowing when “old” formula is still safe to use.
Table of Contents
- Observe your baby for the next two days
- Watch out for dehydration
- Know what “old formula” really means – and when it’s a real risk
- Liquid formula
- Powder formula
- Final thoughts
Observe your baby for the next two days
Signs of food poisoning will usually appear within 24 hours. Watch out for vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, or stomach pain. Your baby may also develop a fever, which is his body’s way of fighting infection.
In some cases, your baby may just have a mild reaction to the formula: he feels bloated and uncomfortable, but not in a lot of pain. He may show this by being fussy, or refusing to play or settle down for a nap.
When either of this happens, give your baby plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and help him flush out any toxins in his system. Inform your pediatrician if he develops a fever or diarrhea continues for more than two days.
Watch out for dehydration
The real danger when your baby gets sick from formula isn’t the bacteria itself, but the risk of dehydration.
- Mouth is dry or sticky
- Eyes look sunken
- Fontanelle (soft spot on top of the head) is sunken
- Hands and feet are discolored or cold
- Doesn’t shed tears when crying
- Diaper is still dry even after 6 hours or longer
- Fast heart rate and breathing
Changes in behavior
- Sleeps more than usual
- Doesn’t want to play or interact, even when offered a favorite toy
If you see any of these signs, call your doctor or bring your baby to the clinic. Dehydration can develop very quickly in babies, and can become a serious medical concern if it isn’t treated right away.
Know what “old formula” really means – and when it’s a real risk
How long can you use old formula before it becomes a health risk? That depends on the type of formula you have, and the conditions in which it was stored.
Liquids have to be used very quickly because of the possibility of bacteria growth. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) actually recommends that if the bottle is kept at room temperature, it needs to be consumed within 2 hours.
But what if your baby didn’t drink it, or didn’t finish the bottle? Here are different scenarios of “old” formula and what you can do:
- Prepared formula can be stored in the refrigerator for 24 hours, if the baby didn’t use it at all
- Leftover formula in the bottle can be refrigerated for 1 hour, but must be thrown away after 2 hours. That’s because oral bacteria in saliva can still multiply despite refrigeration and heating.
- Unopened liquid formula can be stored in a cool and dry place, with a room temperature of 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit, until its expiry or use-by date.
Powder formula has a longer shelf life, as long as it’s stored properly: lid tightly closed, in a cool and dry indoor place, and used within the manufacturer’s expiry or best-by date.
However, there are possible scenarios where you think “is this old powder formula still safe to use?”
You left a canister of infant formula in a diaper bag for several weeks
As long as the diaper bag was in a room—and not a car trunk or other dark, damp area where bacteria can multiply faster—it is still safe to use.
There’s a big sale on infant formula, but the expiry date is near
Infant formula is expensive, and we can’t blame budget-savvy moms looking for a good deal. Manufacturers do give some elbow room for expiration, so if you use it within 1 or 2 months of its expiry date it is still safe to use.
Just make sure the can isn’t damaged, and check the powder for signs of mold, a musty smell, or change in consistency and color.
You bought a new can of powdered formula, but it looks different from the usual
If you open a brand new can, but the powder looks or smells old, or there are signs of hard clumps and caking, then that’s a sign that something went wrong with the packaging.
For some reason, air and moisture was able to enter the can while it was in the warehouse or during transportation to the stores. Take a picture of the can and your receipt (this is for your own files), and then return the item to the seller and ask for a replacement or refund.
You can also contact the manufacturer directly, through their hotline or sending a direct message to their social media channels, to report the problem.
This is one case when you shouldn’t use the old powder, because you don’t know how long the formula has been exposed or what conditions it’s been stored in.
In most cases, babies can drink old formula and be perfectly fine. Just observe your baby for signs of food poisoning and dehydration, and contact your doctor if you’re concerned (trust your mommy instincts!).
You can also practice guidelines for safely storing, heating and using formula—whether it’s a half-finished bottle, or an unopened can.
And like all parenting matters, consider your baby’s needs and your lifestyle when you choose a formula—especially because in everyday life, there will always be situations when you can’t use the milk right away.
For example, if you always end up throwing away liquid formula, consider switching to powder or mixing up smaller portions. If you like the convenience of ready-to-serve liquid, then get an insulated bag where you can store the milk whenever you and your baby go out of the house.
With a little preparation, you’ll never worry about giving your baby old, unsafe formula and prevent the milk from spoiling in the first place.