Do you want to try combination feeding for your baby but aren’t sure how to mix breast milk and formula into your routine?
First of all, feeding your baby does not have to be an all-or-nothing situation.
You do not have to choose breastfeeding over formula or vice-versa.
The reason us mamas often feel pressured to only breastfeed is that the “gold” World Health Organisation standard is to breastfeed exclusively for one whole year.
This means that if you’re adding in a bottle or two of formula per day, you’re left worried that offering any breast milk is pointless.
The truth is, any amount of breast milk that you can give your baby is amazing. Do not let the word “exclusive” put you off from mixed feeding your baby.
I had two very different feeding journeys with both of my babies.
One was mix fed from just a few days old until around five months when she switched to formula permanently. During this time I was pumping her feeds, so I know exactly how demanding it can be dealing with bottles and boobs at the same time!
With my second, she was breastfed for the first seven months, but we often supplemented with the odd bottle of formula.
In the end, it was all about finding the balance that was right for us. As with so many things in motherhood, there is no right answer.
If you are feeling guilty about this, shut that down right now. We are all doing our absolute best. If you are worrying about this, then it means you care.
A happy mama, is a happy baby. So find your happy medium that works for you, and run with it! That’s all that matters at the end of the day.
Read more: Beginner’s tips to breastfeeding
Is it possible to feed a baby breast milk and formula?
Yes it is possible to feed your baby breast and formula milk.
The fact of the matter is that when you drop breastfeeds your boobs simply adjust the supply.
There may be a few weeks of engorgement and issues with adjusting your supply, but your boobs work on a demand basis. If there is still a regular, daily demand for breast milk, your boobs will produce the goods.
After babies have been weaned, many mamas continue to offer the evening feed just before bedtime, while giving their baby milk and food the rest of the day. See, your boobs just adjust the supply to fit the demand.
However if you would like to mainly breastfeed your baby with the odd top-up of formula, then you will need to maintain regular, full breastfeeds for your baby so that your supply keeps up.
Some health professionals may tell you to avoid mix feeding in the early weeks.
I’m on the fence about this one.
My youngest had formula from day two but still went on to mainly have breast milk with a little formula here and there to give me a break.
Nipple confusion and mix feeding
I’ve never had an issue with nipple confusion but many health professionals say this can be an issue.
Nipple confusion is where your baby is given a bottle and they then begin to favour this over breastfeeding. It can lead to nipple pain as your baby’s latch becomes harder to get right.
As I said, I never had an issue with this but that’s not to say it won’t be a problem for you. If you are worried, try the following:
- Delay introducing the bottle until your baby is around six weeks.
- Continue to breastfeed your baby frequently all day.
- Try a bottle and teat that is specifically designed for breastfed babies. There are many of these on the market. Medela makes a fantastic version.
Can I give my baby occasional bottles of formula?
Yes you can!
You don’t have to have a strict formula and breastfeeding routine. You can just add the odd formula bottle here and there when you need a rest.
The one thing you won’t be able to do is offer the odd breastfeed. You will need to breastfeed regularly throughout the day (especially in the first few weeks) in order to establish and maintain your supply. One breastfeed a week is not going to work for your supply.
In order to make a decision about what’s best for you, think about your daily and weekly routine. When would a bottle of formula help you out the most? If it’s only once a week, fine. If it’s once a day, that’s fine too.
It’s really up to you. But if you do want to maintain your breast milk supply you will need to be putting your baby to the breast several times daily.
Is partial breastfeeding still beneficial?
Yes it is! As I said above, breastfeeding does not have to be an all or nothing affair.
Any small amount of breast milk is going to benefit your baby, because you will be passing on essential vitamins and immunity through your breast milk.
Offering your baby the odd bottle of formula will not cancel out those benefits. Read up more on this over on the KellyMom site.
Benefits of mixed feeding
There are many benefits of mixed feeding that can help both parents to care for their baby.
One of the key issues with breastfeeding is the toll it takes on the mama. Being solely responsible for feeding the baby at all hours is exhausting.
If there are other kids to care for as well, it can really be a struggle.
Here are some amazing benefits to mixed feeding.
- Helps mama breastfeed for longer. Many mamas on the verge of giving up breastfeeding could be pulled back from the brink if they could just have a break. Giving mama a break means she can rest, reset her mental stresses and approach the decision to breastfeed with a clear head.
- Lets dads and other relatives get involved with feeding. You may have a grandparent who is desperate to get a turn at feeding the baby. Or dad may be feeling like a bit of a spare part while you are doing most of the work. Many relatives would love to help you out, and offering the occasional bottle gives them a chance to do this.
- Enables mama to be away from baby if needed. You may have a wedding coming up or other occasion. Ditching exclusive breastfeeding, or expressing plenty of milk to leave for your baby, gives you the chance to have an entire day off if you want! Just remember to take your pump, a good cool bag and spare bottles with you.
How to drop breastfeeds
If breastfeeding is well established then it’s best to think through how you are going to drop feeds rather than go cold turkey.
Engorgement happens when the breast is not emptied regularly enough, or you suddenly stop feeding.
Engorgement is painful and can lead to blocked milk ducts and infection such as mastitis.
When you are dropping a breastfeed, manually express or pump a little at the usual feeding time just enough to take the edge off of your boob’s fullness. Do not pump too much.
If you are in discomfort, you can try a warm shower or wash cloth compress and try to gently hand express some milk. Only express enough to ease the pain, you don’t want to continue signalling to your body to keep making milk.
You can also try lettuce leaves in your bra (really!).
Tips for mix feeding
Make sure your baby gets a full feed
Your baby will go through several different consistencies of breast milk at each feed. The first is the third quencher, which is a slightly thinner milk, and then the rich stuff comes at the very end. Try to make sure you “empty” the breast at each feed. I say empty, but your boobs are never truly empty. It’s a river, not a pond. Just make sure your breast feels much softer by the end of the feed.
As with exclusive breastfeeding, you need to remember to switch sides so you don’t end up lopsided or engorged on one side.
Try a bracelet or hair tie to remind you which side you fed from last time.
Pump if you are missing a lot of breastfeeds
If this is a one-off, for example if you are off to a wedding for the day and cannot breastfeed your baby at all, then you will need to pump or express while you are away from your baby.
If you don’t express the milk somehow, you will be in a lot of discomfort, eventually your boobs will leak and you are at risk of development blocked ducts and an infection.
The quickest way to extract milk from your breast is with an electric breast pump. You could also use a manual pump such as a Haakaa.
Agree the routine with your partner
Whoever is feeding your baby other than you needs to be on board with at least a vague schedule.
You don’t want to be overflowing with milk and in pain while they feed the baby their third bottle of formula in a row.
Agree how you will do this so that everyone is happy, and so that you are comfortable.
Ditch the guilt
There is no need to feel guilty that you are offering some formula. We all do what is right for us and our family.
Official advice is that babies ideally should get six months of exclusive breastfeeding, but ultimately if your baby is fed, loved, clean and warm, you cannot go far wrong.
Sample baby combination feeding schedule
In case you are still confused about how you might weave a bottle feed into your routine, here are some sample combination feeding timings for you.
These schedules would be for a baby of around three to four months who is not yet weaning.
One bottle of formula per day
7am Breastfeed. This is an important time of day to breastfeed your baby, as your boobs may be engorged from overnight. That does of course depend on how many night feeds you had to deliver! But overall it’s a good idea to keep this breastfeed for your own personal comfort levels in the morning.
7pm Breastfeed/formula. If this is your baby’s last feed of the day and they are managing to sleep through then make this your formula feed of the day. This gives you a break to get an early night in case there are any surprise night feeds. If you are swapping this feed for formula, and your baby is sleeping through the night (hooray) then you may want to pump at this time for your own comfort. You can freeze your breast milk to store it for another day, or just pump enough to take the edge off of your discomfort.
10pm Formula. Many parents like to make the 10pm feed, or dream feed, the formula feed. This enables the other parent to get involved with feeding the baby and gives mama a break from breastfeeding.
Two bottles of formula per day
7pm Formula/breastfeed. Which way round you do the second bottle of formula for the day is up to you. How you decide depends on how uncomfortable you get during the evening if you haven’t fed for a few hours. Your boobs will adjust depending on supply/demand eventually. If dropping a feed for formula does leave you uncomfortable, then either manually express or pump the edge off the discomfort.
10pm Formula/breastfeed. If your baby is still feeding in the night you may want to consider a dream feed to help them sleep through until morning. Otherwise you could just feed on demand through the night. Every baby is different. With some a dream feed helps them sleep through and with others it makes no difference to the early morning wake-ups.
And here’s another schedule example, which you can save if you want to keep it. It’s all about making it work for you. The key is to continue putting baby to the breast regularly to keep your supply going. The schedule below works for a baby of around three to four months who is taking three naps per day plus a possible cat nap in the late afternoon. Simply adjust the timings based on your own baby’s awake time and number of daily naps.
If you do find you get a drop in supply at any stage, check out these tips for boosting your breast milk supply.
I hope this post was useful and has given you some good ideas for combination feeding. Do let me know if you have any questions.