Can you breastfeed and formula-feed a baby? The short answer? Yes. It’s called combination feeding or more commonly combo feeding. If you’re looking to supplement and extend your breastfeeding journey or if you want to add baby formula to your routine to make feedings possible by other parents or care-takers, combo feeding can be a great solution.
Breastfeeding and formula feeding is a personal decision, but sometimes either may not be an option depending on your and your baby’s health.
After sitting down with Tiffani Ghere, pediatric dietician, certified specialist in Pediatric Nutrition and Bobbie medical advisor, it turns out that formula milk and breast 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 explains, “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 to foster the incredibly special bond with the newest addition to your family.”
Let’s look into the benefits of both infant formula and breast milk, key differences between the two, and how you can transition between them.
What you should know about breastfeeding and formula feeding
Often times, there’s a conversation about taking part in only one option or the other. It can make new parents feel that they have to make a choice. 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.
A mother’s intuition helps decide the feeding choice
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. Talk to your health care providers and your baby’s pediatrician so that you can feel confident in the decision that works best for you and your family.
Nipple confusion and the indifferent breastfed baby
When you mix both formula feeding and breastfeeding frequently in a baby’s diet, they likely won’t fuss about the real nipple or the bottle nipple they’re getting. Most of the time they won’t even know the difference, and nipple confusion isn’t as prominent as most expect.
Some doctors may recommend exclusive breastfeeding 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 organic baby formula and breast milk are really two separate mixtures, it’s best to introduce the formula slowly to better support your baby’s digestion. 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 be found wholly in our breast milk. But, thanks to modern science, there are very similar-composed baby formulas that can be found in the shopping aisle.
That being said, pay attention to which baby formulas have the quality ingredients and sourcing that you are looking for. If organic and non-gmo are important for you, there are options. If you are looking for cow’s milk vs a vegan formula, you can specifically look for that as well.
Talk to your pediatrician about vitamin D supplements—whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding—to ensure your baby is getting all of the nutrients they need.
Breastfeeding poop can be different than formula poop
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 different or irregular. Formula poop can be different than breast milk poop. Make a note of how your baby is digesting their new diet, and seek the advice of your pediatrician if you have any concerns.
Your baby will give the “Feeling Full” signal
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.
Benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby
We don’t often talk about this, but breastfeeding delivers many benefits not only to your baby but also to you! The list of benefits to you and baby is long, here are a few key benefits worth mentioning:
- Babies may have a more well-supported immune system during childhood due to antibodies in breastmilk.
- Colostrum (found in breast milk) can support 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.
- Breastfeeding may help lower the risk of certain diseases like ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and diabetes.
Why parents 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 are many reasons you may formula feed from day one or exclusively breastfeed for a finite period of time after birth before making the add or switch to baby formula. You or your baby may develop medical conditions, you may have issues producing enough breast milk, you may be returning to work or many other factors may influence this decision.
- Formula feeding is very convenient, so babies can be fed any time they express hunger cues.
- Availability of the exact amount of milk needed means pumping doesn’t need space on your personal schedule.
- Allows teamwork–your partner and other caretakers have the ability to help feed if needed.
- Allows you the ability to schedule feedings, especially with low milk supply not being a concern.
- Allows you to be less worried about your diet, including the revived ability to consume alcohol.
Doctors may recommend supplementation
Sometimes, the choice to nurse 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, like dramatic changes in a baby’s weight.
It’s important to remember, there’s no reason to feel pressure that your breastfeeding journey didn’t go as planned. The way a baby’s body reacts is simply not something you’ll be able to control or fix.
A doctor may recommend formula 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 the transition from breast milk to baby formula affect mom?
Medical experts suggest making a clean switch if you feel comfortable doing so, or doing it as a transition if that works best for you.
To ensure a smooth transition, you can try these techniques to start:
Start with 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.
Some parents like to start by replacing the night bottle with formula. This can help by allowing other people to participate in the feed as well, and it can become part of the regular nighttime feeding routine.
Build up the formula usage 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.
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. You can store up the extra breast milk and extend the feeding journey using both breast milk and formula.
Our take on combo feeding
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.
If you choose to breastfeed, formula feed, or both, this is 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!