Supplementing With Formula: Advice from Experienced Moms

Tips and tricks for supplementing with formula while breastfeeding

There are many reasons you may find yourself in a place where you need to supplement with formula.  You may be back at work and not pumping enough breast milk, you may have medical issues that necessitates the need for supplementing with formula, your babe isn’t gaining enough weight per your pediatrician, the stress of work plus trying to pump enough milk may be taking a toll on your mental health, or perhaps supplementing is just what works best for you.  Whatever the reason, know that supplementing with formula is completely fine and normal while breastfeeding.

Related article: 10 Reasons for a Sudden Drop in Milk Supply (and What To Do About It!)

Many moms fall into a guilt spiral when it comes to supplementing with formula.  Perhaps you find yourself in this spiral at the moment.  If so, remind yourself that fed truly is best and that your baby needs a happy (and not stressed) mother more than he/she needs your breast milk.  We’ll say it again for the moms in the back: your mental health is more important to your baby than your breast milk.  And the odds are if you are reading this that you are still going to be providing your baby with breast milk and all the benefits that come with it.  He’ll just get some formula in there, too!

Related article: The Top 5 Best Bottles for Breastfed Babies

Speak To Your Pediatrician

When it comes to supplementation, we always recommend discussing this with your pediatrician first and foremost.  They know your baby and can provide you with direction on how much formula your baby will need and how often.  They can also provide guidance on specific formula brands to try.  Oftentimes, pediatricians will have samples of formula in their office that they can provide you with which can help with the cost associated with supplementing with formula while breastfeeding.  If your baby has diary, soy, or other dietary intolerances, you can also discuss prescription only formulas as an option.

Related article: Working Mom Guilt and Encouragement

Determine When to Supplement with Formula

When it comes to supplementing with formula, there are no rules on what time of day is best.  Examine your schedule and baby’s feeding schedule to determine what works best for you.  If your daycare is asking for additional ounces of breast milk, then including 1-2 bottles (or however many you need to make up the deficit between the amount of breast milk you send and the amount of breast milk/formula your baby needs) may be your best option.

Related article: How Often Should I Pump at Work?

If baby cluster feeds in the evenings, adding in a formula bottle during this time may work out best for you and baby.  This can even allow your partner to share some of the feeding responsibility.  Note that many moms try to supplement with formula at night in the hopes that baby will sleep longer.  In most cases, this doesn’t pan out and baby will continue to wake up at night wanting you—not out of hunger but to be near you (and deprive you of sleep in the process!).

Related article: Do I Need to Pump at Night When Baby Sleeps Through the Night?

Can I mix breast milk with formula?

When it comes to mixing formula, there are many different ways, methods, and processes recommended.  It can be incredibly confusing.  Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has pointed out how confusing this can be for parents.  When it comes to mixing breast milk with powder formula, there is nothing inherently dangerous or wrong about doing so.  The caution to not mix breast milk with formula often comes due to two factors:

1. You do not want to waste breast milk.

If you are struggling with your supply as it is, mixing some of your precious liquid gold with formula may result in some of your breast milk being tossed out.  This may be because your baby is fuller quicker with the addition of formula.  Or your baby may decide he doesn’t like the formula at all and refuses to drink the bottle despite the fact it also has breast milk in it.

2. There are different storage recommendations for breast milk and formula.

As we discuss in our article on How to Store Breast Milk After Pumping, breast milk is fine in the refrigerator for up to four days.  It also can be left out at room temperature for several hours.  However, per the CDC prepared infant formula can spoil if it is left out at room temperature.  It also needs to be used within two hours of preparation.  If it has not been used yet, it can be immediately stored in the refrigerator to be used within 24 hours.  This can be an issue if you are sending bottles to daycare.  If you decide to mix breast milk with formula, make sure to store your baby’s bottles in a bottle cooler to send to daycare and throw out any bottles left over at the end of the day.

How to Give a Breastfed Baby a Bottle of Formula

If you are stressing about how to actually give your baby a bottle of formula, take heart.  Your baby may put up a bit of a fight, but he may take it just fine.  We suggest reading through our tips for when baby is refusing a bottle and incorporating some of these suggestions into your environment:

  1. Make sure to try at a time when baby is happy and in good spirits.  If your baby is always grumpy during the witching hour(s) in the evening, perhaps that isn’t the best time to offer him this new taste experience.
  2. Breastfeed or bottle feed baby 1-1.5 ounces of breast milk, then offer the bottle of formula.  This will ensure that your baby isn’t starving, but is still hungry enough to continue eating.
  3. If your baby is used to nursing, switch sides as you offer the formula bottle just as you would at the breast.

Related article: Breast Milk Lipase: Why Your Breast Milk Tastes Metallic

Baby Refuses Formula

If your baby is putting up a fight and refusing formula, you can try a few different things.  We have listed a few different tried and true approaches that have worked for our moms below:

  1. At your next attempt, try making a bottle with a ratio of 3:1 breast milk to formula.  If your baby is used to getting 4 ounce bottles, fill the bottle with 3 ounces of breast milk mixed with a small scoop of formula (adjust the amount to the instructions listed on your specific formula container).  If your baby accepts this bottle fine, try reducing the amount of breast milk and increasing the amount of formula over several days in order to get your baby used to the new taste.  Pretty soon, he’ll be taking a bottle without complaint!
  1. If your baby is refusing formula, try offering the same formula at a later time to see if baby has had a change of heart now that the initial shock of a new taste is over.  This is similar to the approach we recommend with bottles.  Don’t switch to a new formula without trying the same formula once or twice more.
  1. Check your water quality.  If you have hard water or water containing iron or sulphur, it may be affecting the taste of your baby’s bottle.  You may have grown accustomed to the mineral taste of your water (and it’s likely not dangerous), but it may be too much for your baby.  If this is a concern for you, try using distilled bottled water for your baby’s bottles or purchase a water filter that can purify the water prior to mixing in formula.
  1. If all else fails and baby is refusing formula, switch to another formula.  Navigating the formula aisle at the grocery store can be daunting, but it probably won’t take too long to find one your baby likes.  The FDA regulates commercial formulas to make sure they meet nutritional and safety guidelines, so most formulas have similar nutritional profiles.  The taste can vary due to the base of the formula (milk-based, corn-based, soy-based, goat milk-based, etc.).

Related article: How to Transition Baby to Milk: Everything You Need to Know

Formula Can Be Expensive

If you find that supplementing with formula is becoming a costly endeavor, check with your local WIC program to see if you are eligible to receive help.  WIC is a taxpayer program that you have likely paid into as a working mom.  You are entitled to receive benefits if you meet the eligibility requirements.  Many states offer additional programs that help in supporting infants and toddlers, so also check with your local health department or state healthcare agency to see what additional programs may be available in your area.

Related article: How to Stop Pumping (Finally!)

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