Eight out of 10 new moms say supplementing with formula allowed them to breastfeed longer than nursing alone. Does research back up this feeding choice?

How Supplementing Helped These Moms Breast-Feed Longer

Offering both breast milk and formula may help you stick with breastfeeding surprisingly longer than nursing alone. Here’s how it works.

When it comes to breastfeeding vs. formula, don’t get hung up on that middle word, versus. There’s a third option that can work surprisingly well: feeding your baby breast milk and formula.

Many nursing moms find success by supplementing with formula. In one survey, 9 out of 10 moms said this feeding choice gave them and their babies the benefits of breast milk and the flexibility of formula. Eight out of 10 said supplementing with formula allowed them to breastfeed longer than nursing alone.

Supplementing Benefits for Breastfeeding: What Moms Know

Every mom and baby pair is unique and so is their situation. But here are some ways supplementing could support breastfeeding success.

  • Confidence in baby’s growth and development. Some moms use both formula and breast milk if they worry they’re not making enough milk. “I always knew I would breastfeed, but my daughter wasn’t gaining weight like she should,” says Brenda H. of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “So I put my own selfish feelings aside and we supplemented for a week. What a difference it made! Autumn gained a bunch of weight in one week and I was able to start pumping and get ahead of her, so she was exclusively on breast milk till she was 10 months old. We couldn’t have done that without supplementing.”
  • Shared bonding. Once breastfeeding is well established, some moms find that giving an occasional bottle of formula provides welcome flexibility. Supplementing allows you to leave your baby with a family member or a sitter, for example. This can be especially freeing for moms who have trouble pumping. “I love that it lets my husband feed him and bond with him,” says Morristown, New Jersey, mom Meghan F.
  • Flexibility when you can’t pump. Formula can also work wonders for working moms who can’t or don’t want to pump to make up all the feedings. Allowing some formula during the day but nursing in the morning and evening allows them to extend their breastfeeding timeline. Leanne H. of Waukesha, Wisconsin, who breastfed exclusively for four months, says, “My job requires me to travel, and formula allows me to supplement feedings when I am away from my baby and Daddy is caring for her. It is a great feeling to know that she is getting the nutrition that she needs when I’m not there to provide it for her.”

Starting to Supplement

Feeding your baby both breast milk and formula is also sometimes called mixed feeding, combination feeding, or partial breastfeeding. It’s always best to consult with your baby’s doctor about your unique situation and feeding plans. But here are some supplementing tips it can help to know:

  • In most cases, the optimal time to start supplementing is after the first month so your milk supply gets established.
  • One way to supplement is to let your baby nurse first and then finish off the feed with formula. Some moms get their babies used to the taste of formula by mixing it with breast milk.
  • Milk supply is based on demand. But when you replace just some feedings with formula, your breast milk won’t disappear overnight. It’s also possible to return to exclusive breastfeeding, if you want, by nursing more often and rebuilding milk supply.