For something that’s incredibly common, there isn’t a lot of discussion around how to integrate breastfeeding with regular formula feeding. One reason might be that, for many families, the combination can feel so seamless that it may not need much discussion. Other families can have trouble finding the information that they need. Whether formula has come to you by choice or necessity, we are here to help demystify the combo-feeding process!
For the first few months, babies need about 24-32 ounces of formula in 24 hours. If you’re combo feeding, they will likely drink less than these amounts. There is a lot of room for flexibility, which can make things confusing. You can directly breastfeed and then top up with formula, you can breastfeed with an at-breast supplementer, you can mix bottles if you’re pumping, or you can breastfeed all day and do formula all night. There isn’t a right and wrong way to do it — just what works best for you and your baby. And don’t be afraid to experiment! As long as your baby is making enough diapers and growing steadily, you can try on some different methods of combo feeding.
Supplementing because of low milk production
Sometimes adding formula isn’t a family’s first choice, and there are a lot of emotions that come with this adjustment. Everything you’re feeling is okay. If you’re struggling with low milk production, breastfeeding has likely been time consuming and painful, which may have taken the joy of feeding away from you. Sometimes adding formula allows you to start fresh. Know that formula is an amazing medicine and food supply in so many ways.
If you decide to continue to breastfeed in addition to formula feeding, any breastmilk you provide can still be beneficial for comfort and antibodies. If you’d like more information, check out The Low Milk Supply Foundation.
Supplementing to share responsibility
Some families introduce formula supplements after a period of full breastfeeding because they want to be able to share the responsibility for feeding with a partner, or if they’re going back to work and don’t plan to pump. For these families, it’s a good idea to ease into supplementing one feed at a time, so the breastfeeding parent’s body can start to lower milk production while, hopefully, avoiding painful engorgement, clogged ducts or mastitis. In these cases, it can also be helpful to introduce a bottle part-way through a feed the first few times. This will allow Baby to get some breastmilk before getting formula, so that by the time they get a bottle, they won’t be quite so hungry and may be happier and more willing to try new things than they would if they were hungry and fussy.
- If your little one doesn’t take to the taste of formula right away, you are not alone. Formula just tastes a little different than breast milk, and some breastfed babies are suspicious of the change in taste when they first try it. It is possible and perfectly healthy to mix pumped breast milk with formula to give your little one a flavor that’s a bit more like what they’re familiar with.
- Babies are smart – if they can smell that the breast they’re used to being fed from is nearby, they may not be as willing to explore the bottle, so it can be helpful for the first few bottles offered to come from someone other than the breastfeeding parent.
- Adding regular pumping to the routine can help maintain your milk supply when supplementing if you wish.
- If you plan to maintain a breastfeeding relationship and are worried about how combo feeding will impact that, there are a few things you can try! Paced Bottle Feeding, comfort nursing, and some contact naps or breast sleep can help to keep baby happy at the breast.
Infant feeding is complicated and rarely is it all or nothing. Combination feeding can be a great way to maintain the benefits of breastfeeding, to help your baby grow, and/or to make infant feeding work for your family.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- “How to combine breast and bottle feeding.” NHS choices. UK.GOV, February 10 2016. Retrieved October 26 2017. https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/combining-breast-and-bottle.aspx.
- “Mixed Feeding.” Australian Breastfeeding Association. Australian Breastfeeding Association, August 2017. Retrieved October 26 2017. https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/mixed-feeding.
- “Mixed feeding: Combining breastfeeding and bottle feeding.” NTC. NTC, January 2016. Retrieved October 26 2017. https://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/mixed-feeding-combining-breast-and-bottle-feeding.