Meet Me in the Middle: Tips for Supplementing Breastfeeding With Formula Feeding

Meet Me in the Middle: Tips for Supplementing Breastfeeding With Formula Feeding

Fellow mamas, a moment of commiseration: why does feeding a new baby feel so confusing? This thing that feels like it should be natural--well, sometimes it just isn’t. And on top of that, we live in an age of paradox around feeding new humans.

Think about it: we’re sent home from the hospital with ready-made formula, but we’re told breastfeeding is best. And don’t even get me started on our maternity leave policies: how are those supposed to jive with the message that we should be breastfeeding until age 2? My Mama self and Mama-advocate self feels steam coming out of my ears just thinking about it.

So today I want to offer you some middle ground for consideration. It won’t be right for every family, sure. But it’s a topic that doesn’t get much play in doctor’s offices or Mom’s groups or lactation consults, and I think it really should. We’ll hear from the super-knowledgeable Kelly Rutan--Co-Owner of Raleigh Doulas and a ProDoula certified Postpartum & Infant Care Doula, a ProDoula certified Postpartum Placenta Specialist, and a ProDoula certified Infant Feeding Specialist.

Ready? Let’s talk supplementing breastfeeding with formula feeding and how it might support your breastfeeding success.

Why isn’t supplementing with formula talked about more?
There’s a clear reason why supplementing breastfeeding with formula feeding isn’t talked about more and more openly: it’s because breastmilk steals the show. Kelly says, “There’s no doubt that breastmilk is the biologically optimal food for human babies. It’s tailored to this little person; it’s a superhero!”

No wonder nurses and lactation consultants sing the praises of breastmilk. It is, simply put, amazing. But those voices singing its praises? They’re LOUD. So loud, in fact, that the nuance of the choice to breastfeed exclusively can get lost in the noise.

“It’s more complicated than just, ‘I have a lactating body, so I will feed this baby,’” explains Kelly. “We need to take a whole-family approach--not just what’s best for the baby, but what’s best for Mom’s mental health, too.”

Feeding a baby doesn’t have to be an either / or choice: you can feed your baby breastmilk--in all its well-deserved glory--and formula, which has its own benefits. Think about that, Mama: this is a rare time in life when you can have it both ways!

Should you consider supplementing breastfeeding with formula feeding?
If you haven’t been in the trenches with feeding a newborn yet, you might wonder why a new Mom would mix it up with breastmilk and formula.

There are really two reasons you might consider combination feeding--that’s the technical term for feeding a baby both breastmilk and formula:

You might supplement with formula for medical reasons. Says Kelly, “If there is any concern from medical providers that the baby isn’t getting enough food at the breast or if there’s any other medical reason for supplementing, take it seriously.” You can supplement with formula or you can supplement with bottle-fed breastmilk (your own or donated). For many Moms, the option to supplement with formula is what enables them to keep offering breastmilk long term.

You might supplement with formula for mental health and convenience reasons. If exclusive breastfeeding is causing extreme sleep deprivation, stress on your home life, or stress at work, you might consider supplementing with formula. Kelly offers this reassurance: “The choice to supplement breastfeeding with formula could just be for the wellbeing of the entire family. It could make life with a newborn survivable.”

Tips for Moms who supplement breastmilk with formula.
Kelly has some practical tips for Moms considering the combination feeding route.

Keep your feeding goals in mind: Ask yourself, “What is the role of formula in our family?” Do we plan to combination feed until the baby is eating solid food? Or is this a short-term solution to a medical or logistical problem, where the goal is exclusive breastfeeding, eventually? Those two scenarios require different approaches, so go in with the end-goal in mind.

Plan for convenience. If you’re going to combination feed, make the most of it! Kelly advises, “Lean into the decision. Batch prepare formula, get the right gear so it’s easy for you. Know that it’s ok to run the dishwasher two times a day to clean bottles. Hear this as permission!”

The final word on combination feeding.
You might not hear it from your OB, your pediatrician, or your lactation consultant. But feeding a baby doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. You can offer your baby breastmilk and formula, and feel 100% good about it.

“Each family should feel empowered to make the choice that’s best for their family,” Kelly concludes. “We shouldn’t judge. Instead, we should just lean into supporting all moms. Did you make the choice that’s best for your family today? Then good job. You’re doing great.”