Whether you have just started or have breastfed for a while, you may be considering supplementing with formula while breastfeeding at some point in your journey. You may be nervous to do it because you have heard it can make your milk dry up, reduce your supply or make it harder to breastfeed. Before you take that step, consider these facts and suggestions so that you can be sure that you are doing what you feel is best for you and your baby,
Breast or Bottle?
Do you intend to breastfeed or formula feed? If you’re expecting a baby, this is a question that you’re going to hear at least once before delivering your baby. You’ll likely receive advice and hear opinions from your doctor or midwife as well as your friends and random people who spot your baby bump and feel compelled to give their opinions and share their personal experiences.
Ultimately, this is a personal choice that requires you to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision that is best for your baby, your body, and your lifestyle. What you may not hear from other people is that you don’t have to choose breastfeeding or formula feeding. There is a middle ground.
Is It Okay to Breastfeed and Formula Feed?
When you’re asked if you intend to breastfeed or bottle feed, “both” is an acceptable answer. You may hear warnings and horror stories about nipple confusion and diminishing breast supply, but there are ways to successfully blend formula and breastfeeding. There is also one alternative that may convince you to rethink formula supplementation, so keep reading to learn more about your options.
When It May Make Sense to Supplement
If your baby isn’t getting enough breast milk to grow properly, supplementing with a nourishing, high-quality formula is often the solution. This problem is often heartbreaking for mothers to accept because they feel inadequate when unable to nourish their baby according to Mother Nature’s intentions. Rather than sinking into the self-blame game, embrace bottle feeding for all the positive benefits it brings to your life. For instance, you can easily pass the job of midnight feedings to another family member as needed.
Supplementing with formula also makes sense if you need to incorporate bottle feeding into your life for convenience but don’t want to worry about pumping and storing your breast milk. You may just not want to give up those bonding moments of looking down into your sweet baby’s eyes as they suckle on your breast.
Perhaps you want to breastfeed as much as possible in the first year so that your baby receives the health benefits. Research is now proving that babies and mothers receive mental health benefits from the simple act of breastfeeding, so this isn’t just a matter of nourishment.
If you’re returning to work and don’t want to pump and store milk, you will still need to express some milk while you’re away from home. This will keep your breasts from becoming engorged and leaking excessively. Regular expression may also stop your milk supply from diminishing, but that’s a topic that we need to explore in more depth.
How to Supplement with Formula without Decreasing Milk Supply
Be warned! If you have a doctor who suggests supplementing because your baby is not getting enough, he/she may be setting you up for further issues! Your body will naturally adjust the amount of breast milk produced to accommodate the amount of breast milk consumed. It’s a matter of simple supply and demand, and that makes it easy to supplement with formula without supply concerns. You simply need to express milk throughout the day even when your baby isn’t around to consume it automatically or to at least pump the amount to make up for what you a feeding in formula!
The easiest way to do this is to stick to a routine feeding schedule. When your baby receives formula, you still stop to express milk. This will signal to your body that your milk is in high demand, avoiding diminishing supply. Mother Nature doesn’t know the difference between a suckling baby, hand expression, and a breast pump. Demand is demand. Scheduling feedings may seem more complicated than it actually is, so we’ll discuss that in more detail in a moment.
If you supplementing because you already have low supply, do it AFTER a feeding when baby has eaten as much as he or she can. THEN pump to signal to your body to make MORE. Your body will work to produce more milk to catch up with this increased demand! Most women express into bottles or storage containers so that they can refrigerate or freeze the milk for later use. We’ll discuss the option of creating a stash of breast milk in a moment, but for now note that you never have to waste your breast milk.
That milk is pure gold for an infant in need of nourishment, and you can always donate to a breast milk bank if you pump more than your baby can possibly consume. You can learn more through the National Milk Bank or check with your local hospital to see if they have their own program for babies in the NICU.
Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding Schedules
It’s easy to say, “stick to a schedule” when it comes to feeding your baby, but it’s also easy to get confused when creating a schedule that includes breastfeeding and formula feeding. This is because breastfed babies typically eat more often than bottle-fed babies, but your baby is going to receive a little of both.
Babies are also different, so one might get hungry around the same time every day while another’s eating behaviors are completely unpredictable. How are you supposed to stick to a schedule when your baby creates their own timeline each day? It’s easy to get frustrated or discouraged, but you can shift your mindset instead. Rather than focusing on a strict schedule, think of it as building flexible routines.
In general, newborns often eat every two hours, if not more frequently. As your baby grows, you should gradually expand the time between feeding sessions to three or four hours, or perhaps a bit longer. Many babies can eventually go five or more hours between feedings, but some babies simply need to eat more often even when older.
It’s best to pay attention to your baby’s behaviors and moods to determine how often they need to eat. You want to adjust the schedule as they grow while not always requiring them to scream for their meal. It’s a balancing act, but trust your motherly intuition to get it right with time.
Building a Flexible Feeding Schedule
If you have “feed baby” on your schedule for a particular time, you may still decide to get an extra hour of sleep or two if the baby is resting peacefully at that time. You will also have times when your baby just demands a feeding even though it’s not time on the clock. If you think of the schedule as a flexible routine, you can make those adjustments to naturally respond to your baby’s hunger.
Supplementing with formula actually makes it easier to stick to a flexible feeding schedule. You can plan ahead of time to determine when your baby will breastfeed and when he or she will receive a bottle. This allows you to bottle feed when it’s most convenient while reserving breastfeeding sessions for times when you can relax and enjoy the process.
A schedule also allows you to prepare to express your milk in a healthy and sanitary way when your baby isn’t nearby or is receiving a bottle. This works well for mothers who like to schedule their time to get as much done as possible, but remember that you should remain flexible because your baby isn’t aware of the schedule. Take advantage of the bottle when your baby demands an unscheduled feeding but you can’t personally deliver the nourishment. Other caregivers can prepare the formula and hold the bottle.
How often you are supplementing with formula while breastfeeding will depend on your reasons for supplementing in the first place. If it’s merely for convenience in certain situations, then you will give your baby a bottle when those circumstances arise and revert to breastfeeding for all other feedings. If you have concerns about the nutritional quality of your milk or your supply isn’t enough to sustain your baby, then you should work with your doctor to determine how much formula you need to add to your daily schedule. The amount will likely change as your baby grows.
The Intuitive Feeding Schedule
Depending on your lifestyle, you may also give up scheduling entirely. This allows you to simply feed your baby when they ask for nourishment or snuggle time. Keep in mind that hunger isn’t the only reason that babies enjoy breastfeeding. They receive comfort from these feeding sessions and may use the breast to soothe themselves. Babies also feel protected and loved when they’re close to their parent, so they might feed when they need that sense of security.
Even if you aren’t scheduling feedings, you should keep track of how often your baby is feeding and how much milk they’re receiving each day. You can also monitor wet and dirty diapers as an indication of whether your baby is receiving enough milk to thrive.
Need More Scheduling Help for Supplementing With Formula While Breastfeeding?
It’s common for parents to think about coordinating feeding and sleeping schedules. This makes sense, considering most babies fall asleep naturally when their bellies are full and they’re snuggled up warm to a trusted caregiver. If you struggle to settle into a schedule or routine that works well for your entire family, there are some sample sleep and feeding schedules that you can steal from the internet.
Just keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all schedule. Your baby will have a preference for times and frequencies, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t adjust to a schedule that favors your timeline. The older they get, the easier it will be to make that adjustment happen, so have patience.
Alternatives to Using Formula (Creating a Milk Stash!)
Sometimes supplementing with formula while breastfeeding is not the best choice for you. We promised to talk about alternatives to formula, and this is the one that works for many moms. If you need to bottle feed part-time due to circumstances or your lifestyle, formula isn’t your only option. If your milk supply is strong, you can pump into small storage containers or bottles and preserve the milk for later use.
Many working mothers build up a breast milk stash before the end of their maternity leave because they want their caregiver to provide breast milk rather than formula once they return to work. This is often achieved by pumping and storing their milk in the fridge until they’ve accumulated enough to fill a freezer bag. They then pour the milk into the bag and pop it into the freezer. This freezer stash is later used to fill bottles while they’re at work.
You can build up a milk stash even if you aren’t a working mother. This supply will give you the freedom to take a night off or to enjoy an active life beyond the house without depriving your baby of nourishing breast milk. The supply will also give other family members more opportunity to feed the baby and enjoy those bonding moments without relying on formula.
How to Get the Milk Stash Flowing
Are you wondering how you will produce enough milk to sustain your baby today while storing up additional milk for use in the future? There are multiple ways to do this, and the first is by incorporating bottle feeding into your schedule at least for a short period of time. When the baby receives a bottle, you pump your milk into a container and add it to your stash. This ensures that your milk supply stays strong because you’re emptying your breasts according to your baby’s feeding schedule.
If your baby has always been breastfed and will need to adapt to bottle feedings, gradually adding formula sessions will give them some time to adjust to the bottle before you return to work or otherwise alter your schedule. You should also make sure that you select a bottle nipple designed to closely mimic a natural nipple. This will help your baby adjust with minimal nipple confusion, if any at all.
If you want to avoid formula at all costs, get a great breast pump and express extra milk after your baby is adequately breastfed. Most women find that their milk is more plentiful in the morning, and you may even produce more milk later in the day if you pump extra after your baby’s first feeding of the day. (Make sure you are drinking lots of water and try lactation cookies and other foods to increase supply as well.)
Once your baby starts sleeping through the night, you can wake up at night to pump some extra milk. Just make sure that you don’t deplete your supply just before your little one will wake up expecting morning sustenance.
Don’t give up if you’re only able to produce small amounts of milk after your baby breastfeeds. The more consistent you are with your efforts, the more milk your body should naturally supply. Try to stick to a feeding schedule, and the extra milk should come.
Do What Works for You and Your Baby
There is no “right” approach to feeding a baby. You have to find what works best for your family, and you can count on circumstances or your baby’s needs changing with time. If you’re considering supplementation with formula, spend some time thinking about ways that you can adapt pumping and breastfeeding to fit your needs. That is always the most beneficial option for your baby, but there’s also no shame to supplementing with formula when you have good reasons for doing so.
Other Articles That You Might Light:
- When to Introduce a Bottle to a Breastfed Baby (and How!)
- Get a Breast Pump Through Insurance – How to Get Yours Covered (Maybe Free!)
- Tips for Saving and Storing Breast Milk
- Which Formula is Closest to Breastmilk