Can you breastfeed and formula-feed a baby? The short answer? Absolutely, and it’s called “combination feeding.”
But, of course, we’re not here to only give out the short answer. We already know there’s too much that goes into motherhood that demands further explanation, and you deserve all of the information you can get, right?
Simply put, breastfeeding and formula feeding is a personal decision, but sometimes, it may not be an option depending on the health of both you and your baby.
After sitting down with Tiffani Ghere, a registered dietician and certified specialist in Pediatric Nutrition, it turns out that formula milk versus human milk aren’t black and white options: “Parents have choices when making decisions about feeding their babies. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing choice.”
Ghere continued to explain: “Breastfeeding, supplementing, or formula feeding all promote the growth of a healthy baby. The most important goal is providing enough nourishment to the baby, while minimizing the stress on a new mom in order to foster the incredibly special bond with the newest addition to your family.”
With that said, we’ll look into the benefits of both infant formula and breast milk, the differences between the two, and what to do when making the transition between the two.
What You Should Know When Partaking in Both Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding
Oddly enough, there’s always conversation about taking part in only one option or the other. It can make new parents feel as if it’s a “one or the other” option. Hardly ever are both options discussed together as combination feeding. But did you know it’s actually easier to do combination feeding than what you might think? We’ll give you a few pointers about what to take into consideration if you do decide to have both bottles of formula and baby bottles of breastmilk on your little one’s menu.
Trust Your Intuition
Following your intuition is always best! Trust what you think is right for your baby. You have the power to make great decisions for your baby, so don’t let anyone sway you otherwise (with the exception of health care providers or your baby’s pediatrician, of course!).
Nipple Confusion and the Indifferent Breastfed Baby
When you mix both formula feeding and breastfeeding frequently in a baby’s diet, they won’t actually fuss if it’s the real nipple or the bottle nipple that they’re getting. Most of the time they won’t even know the difference and nipple confusion isn’t as prominent a problem as most people expect; this indifference especially comes in handy if you notice you have sore nipples from trying to meet your hungry new baby’s needs for nutrition.
Regardless, to prevent any confusion, some doctors may recommend exclusive breastfeeding only for the first few weeks until you introduce a bottle of formula in order to give them an easier introduction.
Create Similarities in the Feedings
Give your baby as much of a similar experience as possible. This will give them a more familiar routine that they can look forward to, and it can help eliminate any nipple confusion they may experience.
Pro tip: When formula feeding, give your baby skin-to-skin contact and switch them from side to side to give them the illusion of breastfeeding. This can help make the transition much easier for both you and your baby.
Space Out Formula Feedings
Since baby formula and breast milk are really two separate mixtures, it’s best to introduce the formula slowly in order to better prepare the baby’s digestive system. You can slide in a bottle of formula a couple of hours after the initial feeding session to get your infant used to the taste. This can make things much easier for you in the long run.
Choose Formula Closely Related to Breastmilk
Our breast milk supply provides nutrients that can only really be found wholly in our breast milk. But, thanks to modern science, there are very, very similar-composed baby formulas that can be found in the shopping aisle. That being said, make sure to pay attention to which baby formulas say they’re made specifically to supplement, and spend a little time to research the ingredients your formula-fed baby doesn’t miss out on any nutrients that natural milk production offers.
Altered Stool as a Result
Since there’s a different type of milk entering your baby’s system, it makes sense that it may exit differently too. Just keep this in mind and watch to see if your baby’s stool looks to be unhealthy or irregular. If so, then there could be an issue with how your baby is digesting their new diet, and you may want to seek the advice of your pediatrician.
Your Baby Will Give the “Feeling Full” Signals
Your baby will become well-versed in telling you when he’s no longer hungry. Trust and watch to make sure his weight gain patterns are normal as he grows and develops, as this is a great sign of properly taking to his combination diet.
Why Women Choose to Breastfeed
Believe it or not, breastfeeding actually delivers a multitude of benefits not only to your baby, but also to you! In fact, there are quite a few ways that your own milk can be considered life-changing for your baby. Here are some of the most popular reasons for breastfeeding:
- Babies have a more well-supported immune system during childhood
- Colostrum (found in breastmilk) can improve the baby’s digestive system to help with growth and proper functioning
- Breast milk adapts as your baby grows
- Even partial breastfeeding may promote quicker recovery after giving birth
- Breastfeeding saves money
Why Women Choose Formula Feeding
If you’re in the market to begin formula feeding, that’s okay, too! Again, there is no wrong answer when it comes to this lifestyle choice. With all of life’s twists and turns, there’s a ton of reasons that you may only breastfeed for a short period of time after birth before making the switch to baby formula, such as medical conditions you or your baby may develop, issues producing enough breast milk, and much more.
Like breastfeeding, there are also amazing benefits for both you and your child when it comes to formula milk:
- Formula feeding is very convenient, so babies can be fed at any time
- Availability of the exact amount of milk needed means pumping doesn’t need space on your personal schedule
- Allows teamwork–your partner has the ability to help feed if needed
- Allows you the ability to schedule feedings, especially with low milk supply not being a problem
- Allows you to be less worried about your diet, including the revived ability to consume alcohol
Doctors May Recommend Supplementation
Sometimes, the choice to breastfeed versus formula feed is truly out of your control. If a baby isn’t reacting well to your breastmilk, there could be a deficiency or even an allergy that needs to be addressed. It could also be the way the baby’s body reacts to different ingredients or products.
However, no matter what the following list entails, it’s important to remember, it’s never your fault. The way a baby’s body reacts is simply not something you’ll be able to control or fix.
A doctor may recommend supplementation if:
- A newborn loses a percentage of their body weight during the first few days of life
- A newborn gains significant weight after the first few days of birth
- A baby becomes dehydrated and demonstrates this through fewer wet diapers
- A baby appears dissatisfied after feeding, and therefore may need more
Ghere also shared with us: “Supplementing may start as early as the first few days of life if the baby has lost too much weight and/or mom’s milk supply hasn’t been established. Other moms begin around 3-4 weeks to get the baby used to some bottle feeding, to allow others to feed the baby, or if mom has to return to work.”
She even goes on to say that supplementation can be in support of the mother’s health as well: “The truth is supplementing happens whenever mom doesn’t have enough milk, the baby needs more than mom can supply, or someone other than mom is feeding the baby. It’s not an all-or-nothing choice. New parents need options and the flexibility to meet both the baby’s and mom’s needs.”
The decision or recommendation to supplement is always for the good of both parties, and no one would want it any other way!
How Does Adding Formula Affect You?
While it’s easier to transition to formula from breastfeeding, it should be done in a gradual and slow manner. There are also formulas that are made to closely replicate breast milk, too, in case your baby doesn’t accept the new mixture initially.
To ensure a smooth transition, these are some of the precautions that should be taken:
Only Feed One Bottle of Formula Per Day
A new routine might throw your body off its game, and your body’s milk production system may not understand the transition right away. If you’re pumping multiple times per day and then instantly move to pump only once per day, your milk supply can drop pretty rapidly and may not be there if you really need it down the line.
Build the Formula Up Slowly
Your body may not demonstrate that it can handle the new immediate routine either. In fact, it may even cause breast engorgement or blocked milk ducts, which will cost much more harm than good for you.
Don’t Stop Pumping Right Away
Even if your baby is on a new schedule, that doesn’t mean your body will match up right away. It’s okay to still pump even if it’s not being used. It may even get rid of the heaviness you might feel if the breast milk isn’t released.
So, can you truly breast and formula feed a baby simultaneously?
After looking at both options and weighing the benefits of each, there truly is no wrong decision when it comes to formula feeding versus breastfeeding. It is a personal choice, unique to each situation.
Just know if you choose to breastfeed, formula feed, or both, all options are perfectly fine unless otherwise directed by your pediatrician–we can’t stress enough that your pediatrician is the true expert to your specific journey with your little one! Remember, no two families’ journeys are the same!