In an ideal world, all mothers and their infants would begin their new lives together effortlessly breastfeeding with no complications and no interruptions. Unfortunately, the realities of life often interfere. Some well-intentioned moms begin to breastfeed only to find out their babies don’t always want to cooperate. Other moms enjoy the bonding experience for the first few months, only to realize that upon returning to work, the demands of working and full-time breastfeeding are too much to bear. What is a new mom to do? Is it okay to give formula while breastfeeding?
From a pediatrician’s perspective, the benefits of breastfeeding to both mom and baby are well known. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life. After six months, the AAP recommends introducing solid foods, but continuing to breastfeed until at least 12 months of age. This doesn’t mean you can’t supplement with formula sometimes, but there are two issues that sometimes arise with babies that are both breastfed and bottle-fed:
- Introducing a bottle to a breastfed newborn may cause nipple confusion. It takes a much more coordinated effort to learn how to latch on and feed from a breast than from a free-flowing bottle nipple. If a bottle is introduced, your baby may prefer the easier method, which can make breastfeeding difficult. If you are going to supplement, you should wait to introduce a bottle until your baby is 3-4 weeks old and already an experienced breastfeeder.
- If you are supplementing with formula because of a low milk supply, your milk supply may decrease further. The more a baby feeds at the breast, the more milk your body will make. If you skip feedings because you’re concerned about low milk supply and instead give formula, your body will eventually stop making milk altogether. By feeding more frequently at the breast, even if it’s challenging at first, you may be able to reestablish your supply and produce enough to satisfy your baby. A visit to a lactation consultant may be a good idea to help you get back on track.
Of course, the ideal situation of breastfeeding exclusively isn’t always possible. As a mother, it’s not only your choice but your right to decide what works best for you and your baby. While you may feel guilty for veering from your initial plan to exclusively breastfeed, you should do what works best for your unique situation. Formula contains all of the necessary nutrition for your baby to thrive, so supplementing with formula will not hurt your baby. However, any breast milk you can give is better than no breast milk at all, so even if you are only able to breastfeed a couple times a day and supplement the rest of the time with formula, your baby will still enjoy the many benefits of breastfeeding.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of life.
- If it's not possible to exclusively breastfeed, you can supplement with formula without causing any harm to your baby.
- To avoid nipple confusion, try to breastfeed exclusively for a few weeks before introducing a bottle.
- Any breast milk is better than none, so ultimately create an approach that works for you, but it's best to at least include some breastfeeding.