I see a lot of people combination feeding (combining both formula and breast milk in various ways) either out of necessity or desire. Many professionals either disregard the impact this practice can have on one’s supply of breast milk, or believe that combination feeding is unworkable. Many people who start combination feeding without proper knowledge may find themselves stopping breastfeeding prematurely. I had a lot of questions when I started so here are the questions I see asked most often and some answers.
Why combination feed?
Perhaps you have a job where pumping is not an option, either due to social considerations, the nature of the work, or simply that you are unable to pump enough to feed your baby while you are apart.
If you suffer from a low supply or milk transfer issues you may wish to breastfeed but be unable to do so exclusively.
You may prefer to have a family member do one or more feeds per day via a bottle.
Is combination feeding hard?
Yes it can be. Depending on when and how you start, as well as your personal biology and situation, it can also be a good alternative to stopping breastfeeding completely.
How do I do it?
How often does my baby need formula? This is something that will depend on your circumstances and why you are combination feeding. If you are doing it for work or other separation from baby then you should feed your baby as normal when you are together and have a caretaker feed them as much as they would like during the day. If you are combination feeding due to low supply then you need to figure out how much milk your baby can get from you and offer the balance. There are calculations for this, but I did it by breastfeeding first and allowing my daughter to take as much as she wanted via at breast supplementer.
Breastfed babies often take smaller volumes than fully formula fed babies. The average breastfed stomach volume is 2.5oz to 6oz. Don’t worry if your combination fed baby is not taking a full 5-9oz. This is normal. The entire time my daughter was combination fed her usual volume intake per session was 3.5oz, or around 100ml.
How do I keep my supply? The best way I’ve found to do this is to have rules about combination feeding. You need rules because you are beating back biology. Producing breast milk is a resource heavy process. This is why it burns 20+ calories per ounce/30ml. So your body would naturally prefer to not burn those calories and store them for later. You need to challenge your supply to some extent. A one off break in routine (you are ill and need sleep so you do not breastfeed the baby at the normal time) will not ruin your method, but a consistent pattern of breaking your rules will erode your supply (I’m too busy/tired etc to maintain my rules). This is especially important early on (before 3-6 weeks) before your supply stabilizes. My maxim for this is formula feed on a schedule and breastfeed on demand.
How you combination feed will depend on a few factors. Why you are combination feeding, the age of the child when you start, and your schedule.
If you are combination feeding for low supply or milk transfer issues and your child is not very old I highly recommend trying an at breast supplementer.
If your child is older (6 weeks +) and you have supply issues and the latch is fine then you may have better success with a bottle. Of the people I know who have combination fed long term using bottles they started after 6 weeks. If using a bottle I recommend using teat that most replicates your personal let down. Many people find a slow flow teat to do the trick, but if you have a fast let down (not usual in low supply), you may find a slightly faster teat works better for you. I don’t know if any of the specialty teats marketed as breastflow or otherwise will help with nipple confusion. We used a newborn flow (single hole) Avent teat for home and daycare until 12 months.
If you are combination feeding due to work or other separation from baby or preference you may find bottles or cups more appropriate for your situation.
- What’s the best formula for combination feeding?
Short answer-there isn’t one.
Long answer-The WHO (World Health Organization) mandates that all commercially available baby formulas have similar ingredient lists. Not to say they are all the same. There are variations. The best way to see which is right for you is to give your child 2 weeks on it. If after 2 weeks (or you are experiencing some other major issue) it is not working, feel free to try another brand. I know that’s not very helpful. Sorry. Some formulas have more protein, some have more iron. What you do want, especially if your baby is under 6 months old, is a whey based formula. The casein based formulas are not suitable for younger babies. Things like hungry baby milk have a higher proportion of casein than whey as it’s more difficult to digest. Here are some articles on that: Gut flora, Choosing a formula #1, Choosing a formula #2
- Is there some kind of magical breast milk formula balance?
No there isn’t. Any amount you can give will be beneficial. Formula doesn’t do any ‘cancelling out’ of the benefits of continuing to receive breastmilk. You may be interested in reading about the benefits of combination feeding
Personal considerations Your biology
A sensitivity of a woman’s supply is highly variable. Some women can miss a pumping session or feed and find their supply tanking almost immediately. Others stop breastfeeding completely and still leak milk weeks down the line. You’ll need to determine through observation where on that continuum you lie. Generally though, you will not see significant changes in under 3 days. That means, that after your supply is established it will take 3 days of dropping a feed for your body to get the hint and slow down production. This also means that it can take 3 days to see an increase. This is not necessarily applicable during the early stages. Before 3-6 weeks milk supplies are much more variable. Small things like pumping in addition to feeding can cause your supply to increase, and skipping feeds early on can cause your supply to dry up very quickly. Engorgement will also slow down your milk production. The fuller your breasts are the slower you produce milk. A consistent pattern of engorgement will decrease your supply during that time frame. You will need to tailor your combination feeding plan to work with your body.
Poop- what is normal?
Considering one of the main ways we communicate with our babies is observing poop this is a pretty important consideration.
There seem to be fair number of resources on what normal breastfed poop is like and what normal formula fed poop is like, but what about a baby receiving both?
This is very dependent on what your formula looks like (as poop) and how much your baby has.
For example, my baby was on three different formulas. Formula #1, which my baby was on from 2 weeks to 2-3 months was a probiotic formula. This formula started off coming out as yellow, but eventually progressed to coming out green. The consistency started off as loose and semi-solid and progressed to being more like modeling clay. The second formula was used in various emergency situations and not regularly. The color was yellow, the consistency semi firm, similar to paste. The Third formula was used from 2-3 months until no longer needed. The color was yellow and the consistency was like mashed potatoes.
A breastfed baby, after several weeks of age, may poop as infrequently as once every 10+ days. A formula fed baby may need treatment for constipation if poop is less frequent than every three days. A combination fed baby may fall somewhere in the middle. I found mine would go daily, or more, at first but by several months of age had progressed to every 3-5 days. No one could answer my questions about how frequently my baby should be pooping so we were treating her for constipation with diluted fruit juices and sugar water. After pushing a bit more some of my health care professionals decided that since she was not in pain during the bowel movements, the consistency was not hard or pellet like that the 3-5+ days was fine.
So I’ll pass that on. As long as the consistency is not hard or pelletlike, the child is not in pain from pooping and is not unduly uncomfortable from not pooping then it is not a major concern. This is also dependent, in my opinion, on how much formula your child is receiving on a daily basis. The less formula, the longer you may wait between bowel movements, more then less. My child was receiving 300-400ml (12-14oz) of formula daily, so about 1/2 her expected intake.
Update: In response to a some search engine hits I get I’ll expand on this to cover the other end of the spectrum. Breastfed babies, instead of not pooing, can also poo upwards of 10 times a day. And this is normal as well. If your combination fed baby is pooing frequently there is unlikely to be any cause for concern. Normal breastfed baby poo is fairly liquidy, seedy and yellowish. What is not normal even for the combination fed infant is dark poo (after the meconium has all passed), ongoing greenish poo that may be frothy, excessive mucus (again, this may be expected around teething), and of course blood. Green poo is ok for a few days as it can be a sign of illness, and is also normal after vaccinations and if you are giving a probiotic formula. The other ones may merit a doctor visit.
Important things to consider
- The importance of establishing your supply.
The first 2-3 weeks are important for your development of prolactin receptors. It’s very important to feed on demand during these times so that you will have an adequate supply later on. After 2-4 months your supply stabilizes, your breasts soften and milk production becomes less hormonally controlled and instead based on what is removed. The amount of prolactin receptors you created early on can help you maintain your supply long term.
- Breast milk is use it or lose it
As mentioned earlier breast milk is a system with high production costs. If your baby isn’t using it (emptying the breast) your body will make less. Your body is lazy and wants to do as little work as possible.
- Your baby is a person too and may not cooperate with best laid plans!
Your baby may decide they don’t care for the at breast supplementer, or like the bottle, or don’t like the bottle or any number of other things. Or you know, maybe they just aren’t that into breastfeeding as they get older. Early on when we were using bottles and breast my child went through some breast refusal which is what prompted me to swap to an at breast supplementer. Then when she went to daycare at 4 month she had to be retrained to take bottles. Now at 14+ months she will not take a bottle from me.
Consider this if you find yourself losing your supply: if your baby increased your supply once they can do it again. Sure it means clusterfeeding, but it can come back up.
Managing being away from baby
To pump or not to pump will depend on several factors. How touchy your supply is should be one of them. However, you may be combination feeding because you cannot or do not want to pump during the time you are away. While dealing with low supply I pumped at least n or n-1, where n is the number of feeds my baby would have had, times during the day when I was apart from my baby. I managed between 30-50ml per session from both breasts combined. I was away from my baby from 8am until 5pm+. From 4-6 months I pumped 3x per day (10am, 12pm, 2pm), from 6-8 months I pumped 2x per day(10am, 2pm) and from 9-11 months I pumped 1x per day (12pm). At 11 months I stopped pumping during the day and fed from the breast when at home. During this period my first day home was full of frequent feedings as my daughter increased my supply again.
If you are unable to pump you may find some benefit in hand expressing during bathroom breaks. This will continue to stimulate your milk production and help prevent blocked ducts and mastitis.
I had a part time job so I only had a 3 day work week. For those with a 5 day work week (or longer) you will find that by midweek your supplies are decreasing. If you are pumping add an extra session later in the week. You will also want to encourage you baby to eat from the breast as much as possible at the weekend, or on other not work days to maintain your supply. It may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyhow, but the longer you can give your baby time to establish breastfeeding the easier it will be to maintain when back at work, whether pumping or not.
Nipple confusion and flow preference
Nipple confusion is thought to be most prevalent the younger the baby is. From reading I’ve done it has a few other factors as well including how good the latch is (if bottle milk is vastly easier than breast milk for the infant to obtain then bottle milk will be preferred) as well as the milk flow from the teat. I’ve mentioned it previously, but many people find a slower flow teat helps preserve the breastfeeding relationship. I find that whatever is closest to your let down (slow or fast) will keep the confusion to a minimum. The times when you are most likely to see issues with swapping between breast and bottle are any of the growth spurts (10 days, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 4 months, etc), although the 6 week one is the worst. The other one where people doing breast and bottle are likely to hit issues is around 4-5 months. This is an incredibly fussy time with teething, sleep regression and similar and if breastfeeding is not well established as both a comfort and food activity then babies may not be willing to expend the effort to continue. This outlines some details on nipple confusion and how to prevent it.
Babies will form different rules for different people. They may expect only breastfeeding from their mothers, and refuse a bottle, but happily take a bottle from another family member or caretaker. I found that preserving our breastfeeding relationship depended early on on how my baby knew to get food from me. Because I had to start so early I had to be very strict with what rules we followed so that we could continue breastfeeding. After we started using the at breast supplementer I did not give my baby bottles. She had bottles from dad and bottles at daycare but mom=boob. If you do want them to take bottles from the breastfeeder I recommend waiting until after 6-8 weeks to introduce them, and certainly by 8-9 months.
What’s the deal with growth spurts?
This is a new subsection in response again to search engine hits. So what do you do with a combination fed baby having a growth spurt? Be aware that typical growth spurt ages are 7-10 days, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months, 9 months and 12 months. This is on average. You may miss or not notice one, or have an extra one (we had an additional one at 9-10 weeks). During this time babies are unsettled and may want to eat frequently either for comfort or out of hunger. I found during these times that it wasn’t strictly necessary to increase the amount of formula, but it was necessary to give smaller more frequent feedings. As our typical supplementation pattern was 7am, 12pm, 4pm, 7pm, (with breastfeeding sessions at those times and also at 10am, 2pm and several times overnight), during growth spurts breastfeeding became more constant between 9am and 11 am, and also between 1pm and 3pm. At times I split the 12 pm supplementation into two sessions, with smaller amounts at 11am and 1pm. Do be aware that this is temporary and your baby will be fussy. Try to stick to your schedule and plan and get through it. Growth spurts and teething are times when your combination fed baby will be more likely to refuse the breast.
If you can, avoid mixing expressed breast and formula milks. Why? Because if your baby doesn’t drink all the breast milk you can re-refrigerate it and reuse it at the next feed and you can’t do the same with mixed or straight formula milk.