Thinking of feeding your baby breastmilk and formula? The first thing you should know is you’re not alone. The second thing? It’s absolutely possible...and common! Combining breast milk feedings with formula feedings is called supplementing, and there are numerous reasons moms consider it, including:
- Feeding flexibility. Going back to work and can’t or don’t want to pump at your workplace? Supplementing reduces that need.
- Shared feeding time. Supplementing allows your partner and other caregivers to enjoy feeding your baby.
- Medically necessary. Your pediatrician may recommend adding formula if you have a low milk supply, are taking certain medications, or your baby is not gaining enough weight.
- You have multiples. Maintaining a steady breastmilk supply to feed your hungry little ones can sometimes be challenging.
How to get started supplementing breastfeeding with formula
If you’re planning on supplementing breastfeeding with formula, use these simple tips to help pave the way.
Establish your milk supply
Experts recommend that you wait until after the baby is three or four weeks of age to try supplementing.1 This gives you time to establish a breast milk supply and provides the baby with enough time to learn how to latch, suckle, and nurse.
Shoot for regular feedings (8–12 times per day) for the first four weeks. Milk supply works by supply and demand. Typically, the more you breastfeed your baby, the more milk you produce.
Maintain a balanced diet
At this stage, your baby isn't shy about stealing your nutrients, so stay focused on healthy eating. Talk to your doctor about how you can get plenty of iron, calcium, and DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that helps support your baby’s brain and eye development.
Supplement with vitamin D
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and is important for bone health.2 The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving exclusively or partially breastfed babies a vitamin D supplement, but always check with your doctor first.3
If you’ve been breastfeeding exclusively, you may want to start practicing pumping with a breast pump, especially if you plan on pumping at work. Test out your breast pump, give yourself a break, and have your partner feed your baby bottled, expressed milk. It’ll give you a chance to get the hang of pumping and help get your baby used to the feeling of a bottle.
How to increase milk supply when supplementing
Your milk supply may dip once you start supplementing since you won’t be nursing as much. Your body may assume you don’t need the milk. Try these tips to increase your milk supply:
- Breastfeed more often. Nursing gives your breasts the signal to produce more milk.
- Express or pump milk often between feedings and offer both breasts when nursing. Try to empty them completely. Removing more milk from your breasts can help increase your milk supply since your body will naturally want to refill them.
- Experts say that while there aren’t really any foods that have been proven to increase milk supply,4 lactation supplements, also known as galactagogues, are available. These have been used historically to help give breast milk production a boost. Some of the most popular ones include blessed thistle, alfalfa, fenugreek, and goat’s rue. Check with your doctor before adding them to your diet.5
- Consider talking to a professional lactation specialist trained to support families with breastfeeding issues. They can offer additional guidance on how to increase your milk supply while supplementing with formula.
How to choose a formula for supplementing
Once your milk supply is established, you can start to look for a formula. With so many options, how do you know which one to choose? While only you and your pediatrician can determine the best infant formula for your baby, make sure you select a formula patterned after breast milk. Things you'll want to look for include:
Until your baby starts solids (about six months of age), your formula needs to give your little one all the nutrients they need every day—as breast milk does.6 Read the ingredients to see if the formula has essential vitamins and minerals for immune support.
Most regular formulas are patterned after breast milk, with a blend of easy-to-digest whey and casein proteins to help your baby grow and thrive.
DHA and ARA
DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid and a building block for your baby's brain and eyes. ARA, arachidonic acid, is a type of omega-6 that plays a role in the function of all cells, such as in the nervous system, skeletal muscle, and immune system. Different formulas have different amounts of DHA and ARA. Go for the ones with an expert-recommended amount.
Making the transition to supplementing with formula
Introduce your baby to a bottle and formula as slowly as possible. Take several weeks to transition to bottle feeding if you can. At first, try a bottle with breast milk in it. If that goes well, try a bottle of formula at the feeding time your baby is least interested in. Above all, be patient. Your baby will get there eventually.
If you’re considering supplementing breastfeeding with formula, talk to your doctor. In most cases, combining breastfeeding with formula feeding is fine. And while there are many opinions about breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, what ultimately matters is what’s right for you and your baby. Explore our family of formulas to find the best option for your little one.