Outside of the debate on what type of food is best for babies, there are tons of moms who are trying to manage both nursing and formula feeding at the same time. And it’s not exactly a unique situation to be in.
So many mamas these days (celebs included) are coming forward and explaining their struggles with motherhood and feeding their babies. Whether it’s too much milk or not enough, or an uncomfortable latch versus an impossible one, moms everywhere are on the defensive when it comes to discussions about feeding their babies.
But the truth is, there are so many variations of feeding that will still practically guarantee a healthy and happy baby. So to that end, it’s important to discuss one of these feeding variations in depth: supplementing with formula while breastfeeding.
Whether it’s a mama who has to work and needs to fill in the gaps as she doesn’t pump enough milk or a mom who stays home but has other kids to tend to while the baby needs to eat, bottle feeding formula often becomes a helpful solution in so many scenarios. Here are 20 things moms need to know to do it well and with less stress!
20 Newborn Tummies Are Tiny
Many mamas start to formula feed while breastfeeding because they’re concerned about how much their little ones are eating. Especially in the early days of nursing, though, a baby’s tummy is super tiny. That means that if moms are feeding a full two-ounce pre-mixed bottle of formula after nursing, that’s way too much!
Many lactation consultants use a small bead to symbolize the baby’s stomach, and thus encourage moms to not worry too much in the first few days about their milk supply. Colostrum is a great source of nutrients, after all, so a lot of formula isn’t necessary to top off in the beginning.
19 It Is Possible To Overfeed
Part of the problem with giving babies too much to eat is that they don’t typically know when to stop. The younger a baby is, the more likely it is that they’ll just drink whatever you give them, whether it’s a bottle that’s full to the brim or just a small amount.
Studies have shown that babies who are breastfed tend to be able to stop when full when they’re older, while babies who are bottle fed without any pacing tend to not know when to stop eating. Lots of studies suggest a link between bottle feeding and babies having high BMIs later in life, so overfeeding isn’t a good idea.
18 Formula Can Clog Things Up
While you might feel relief when you start feeding formula—after all, it’s nice knowing how much your baby is really getting—know that it’s not all smooth sailing from that point. Especially after being exclusively breastfed for a matter of weeks or months, a little baby may have trouble adjusting to formula.
Because they’re all made differently—whether you choose organic, soy, goat’s milk, or others—you might notice that your baby doesn’t poop as often at first. On the other hand, they could also be making lots more explosive diapers. Good to know their tummy’s full, though, right?
17 Food Allergies Are Real
When a baby doesn’t grow the way a mom (or her doctor) expects from drinking just breastmilk, the solution is often to switch to formula or at least supplement. But part of the problem could be allergies, since many babies become sensitive to what’s in their mom’s diet when nursing.
While formula might be a solution for a baby with this problem, it could also make things worse since many formulas contain ingredients that can cause allergies for sensitive babies, too. There are hypoallergenic formulas, too, though—so that’s something to discuss with your doc if you’re concerned about your little one’s ability to deal with new food!
16 Paced Feeding Helps Mimic The Tap
One of the most recommended things to do with a breastfed and bottle fed baby is to try and mimic nursing at every feeding. This means using paced feeding, where you feed slower than normal to try and make sure the baby is “working” for the food. Otherwise, they might overeat just because it’s available.
For moms who want to keep feeding milk from the tap while supplementing with formula, giving more formula when it’s not necessary can cause pumping or directly nursing to become obsolete. Many lactation consultants also suggest pace feeding so that babies don’t get too “lazy” to work at eating when it’s time for mom to nurse.
15 Babies Have Hunger Signs
Whatever form of feeding you use with your baby, it’s important to know that babies show signs of hunger when they need to eat. Even the newest baby can show you he’s hungry—by “rooting,” or wiggling his head looking for something to slurp on, by mouthing on his hands, and lastly, by crying.
If your baby seems unsettled after nursing, you might need to supplement, but you also might not! Learning your baby’s hunger cues can help you figure out when to feed more and when to try other ways of soothing your little one. Sometimes it really is just gas!
14 Bottle-Fed Babies Sleep Deeper
One of the things that worried me when I started giving my baby bottles of formula was that he seemed unresponsive afterward. As a second-time mama who had struggled with nursing both times, I kind of freaked out. But when I asked our pediatrician, she told me that babies who drink formula will sleep deeper.
It has to do with how their tummies digest the milk—and a baby who is well-fed will sleep longer and be harder to wake up than a baby who’s ready for another snack. It’s not fun for a mom who’s worried when her baby won’t wake up, but it can be normal for your tot to snooze a little deeper.
13 Formula Can Make Babies Sleep Longer
For the same reason that bottle-fed babies sleep more deeply, they can also sleep longer. Their stomachs take a bit more time to digest formula than breastmilk, so you may notice they’re taking longer naps or going for longer stretches without waking at night. For this reason, many parents tend to give formula bottles at bedtime feedings, to try and help their babies sleep longer so everyone gets a more restful night.
The one thing you don’t want to do when formula feeding and nursing, though, is adding cereal to your baby’s bottle—ask your doc if you have questions about this one!
12 Mixing Isn’t A Good Idea
While many NICUs mix breastmilk with formula to make sure babies are getting the maximum calories and nutrients per feeding, it’s not really a good idea to do at home. Mostly because whatever breastmilk you’ve pumped or hand-expressed could be wasted when it’s mixed in with formula!
Some babies are picky about taste, while others just can’t (or don’t want to) finish a full bottle at every feeding. It was a lot of work, but I always fed the pumped milk first, and then followed up with formula after. There’s no one “right” way to do it, but keeping the milks separate ensured I didn’t let any valuable mama milk go to waste!
11 Ounce For Ounce Isn’t Accurate
Although there are guidelines for formula feeding babies of any age, every infant is still different. Some babies might want two ounces every two hours—even as they get older—and other babies might want four ounces every four hours, and so on.
The best thing to do is learn through trial and error what your baby needs and how she needs it. This could mean you serve up an ounce at a time until your tot is satisfied, either after a direct nursing session or after a bottle of mama milk. Either way, recognizing that each baby has different needs is especially important when you’re talking about feeding them.
10 Nurse First, Bottle Feed After
This one is a must for mamas who want to maintain their milk supply, even if they’re not providing all their baby’s caloric needs for the day. By nursing first, you’re letting your baby do the work to keep your milk coming. You’re also making sure that they’re not filling up on formula first, and then getting too lazy or too overfed to bother with nursing directly.
Of course, some mamas pump milk for bottles and then fill in the gaps with formula, and that’s fine too—the point is to make sure you’re telling your body there’s still a demand for that milk.
9 Baby Might Refuse Mom’s Bottle
If you’ve been nursing for a while and decide to add in bottles, it could be a struggle at first. Especially with older babies, many moms say that their little ones want nothing to do with a bottle. One trick that sometimes help is having another caregiver—like dad—handle the bottle feeding while you manage the feedings straight from the tap. This way, the baby doesn’t smell you (and the milk) and get confused or frustrated that the “real” milk-makers aren’t available.
Over time, it can get easier, so you may not have to trade off feeding duties forever—but it can help during the transition phase!
8 The Bottle Doesn’t Matter That Much
When I had my first son, we tried so hard to nurse well that I scoured the internet and all my local stores for the “right” bottles to help with breastfeeding. These days, that’s easier—and more daunting—than ever because there are literally hundreds of bottles that claim to mimic the real thing or at least be friendly to breastfeeding. But I later found out that the bottle doesn’t matter all that much.
What does matter is ensuring that the baby is latching properly, whether it’s onto a bottle or elsewhere, and that they’re “working” for their meal—actively latching and sucking to get the milk out, not just letting it dribble into their mouths.
7 Bottle Flow Is A Big Deal
Along with pace feeding, the next most important thing when picking a bottle is getting one that’s the right flow. Most lactation consultants recommend using a slow flow bottle for babies who also nurse—this way, the flow isn’t so fast that they learn to prefer the bottle since it’s easier.
A slower flow bottle also makes sure that the baby isn’t drinking the milk as it just pours out of the bottle—they’re not going to overeat when they have to actively suck to get the food. This can get tougher as your baby gets older, but you can usually buy replacement pieces if the bottles you buy aren’t the right flow.
6 Mixing Properly Is Important
Although as mentioned, NICUs often whip up special formulations of breastmilk and formula for babies, parents at home shouldn’t take chances when making their babies’ meals. You should always follow the directions on the formula you’re using—taking care to wash your hands before prepping it, using the right amount of water, and putting the proper amount of powder or liquid per serving.
Some parents think that adding extra water is a good idea in hot weather, but that’s one of the no-no’s with formula feeding: just follow the directions, and your baby will get what they need from each feeding.
5 Calorie Content Can Vary
While formulas have their nutrition facts listed, it’s a bit of a guessing game when it comes to moms’ milk. Unless you express some and send it off to a lab to be evaluated (and even that is iffy because human milk changes all the time—even between feedings), you have no way of knowing how many calories or how much fat or how much of anything is in your milk.
On the other hand, formula has a specific amount of nutrients per serving, something that’s predictable and steady regardless of the time of day or your baby’s developmental stage. It’s helpful to be aware of this fact, just because babies can grow differently with formula versus breastmilk.
4 The Less They Drink, The Less You Make
For moms who are struggling to keep up with their babies’ demands at the tap, it’s understandable to be stressed out about switching to formula. And for moms who need or want to do so, that’s fine! But if you want to keep nursing or pumping and also formula feed to fill in the gaps, it’s important to pump or nurse regularly to stimulate your milk supply.
Overall, the less milk the baby drinks, the less you’ll make, and that means you might become fully dependent on formula after a while. If you don’t want that, make sure to encourage your baby to nurse as much as possible and also pump in between feedings if there’s time.
3 Diapers Might Get Worse
When I first started giving my baby formula after trying to nurse exclusively, his diapers were not pleasant. While all the baby books say that nursing babies produce mustardy poop that doesn’t smell very much, my formula-fed baby started having clay-like poops from his soy formula (we soon switched) and was very gassy.
Some babies take to formula with no diaper issues, and others might have tons of tummy trouble until they’re done transitioning, or until you pick another formula to try out. Either way, most pediatricians recommend switching milks slowly so that the baby’s tummy (and your nose) has time to adjust.
2 Some Babies Make Their Own Schedule
While you might introduce formula just to top your baby off after nursing (there’s a lot of pressure on nursing moms to “double check” baby’s intake), some little ones just won’t take it. Of course, that’s something you’ll want to talk to your pediatrician about, but often, if the baby won’t take a bottle after nursing, she’s probably just not hungry. It is possible for moms to exclusively nurse and still feel like there’s not enough milk coming out, when their baby is still meeting milestones and growing well.
Of course, when in doubt, always see your doctor—but more nursing isn’t always a bad thing if it means dropping a formula bottle but still having a full and happy baby!
1 You’re Doing Your Best, And That’s What Matters
Having a full and happy baby is the thing that leads us to this last point: feeding your baby formula doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, even if your milk-makers won’t quite cooperate. Plenty of moms struggle with nursing for physiological and other reasons, and plenty of other moms choose formula feeding for their own reasons—reasons that are none of anyone else’s business.
As a mom who’s been on both sides of the feeding struggle, I feel pretty confident that I’m qualified to say that nursing is difficult and rewarding at the same time, but parenthood in general is the same—and not exclusively nursing for any reason doesn’t make you any less of a mama.