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Can't Exclusively Breastfeed? Here's The Lowdown On Combination Feeding (Without The Judgment)!

Carla Cain Walther
by Carla Cain Walther Published on May 19, 2014

Who knew that a woman’s right to choose would extend to something other than the abortion debate? We see the worst kind of woman-on-woman crime when the topic of breast vs. bottle rears its head. If you're interested in mixed feeding, you've come to a judgment-free zone! Here's everything you need to know about combination feeding.

I​f you want a Mummy forum to implode on itself, tell ‘em you’re thinking about mix feeding and then run for cover because shit's about to go down!

Obviously there are some women who think breast is the best but don’t get their panties in a twist if you’ve added Similac to your grocery list. Props to them! Then there are those breast-feeding mommies, aka “militant lactivists,” who spend their free time shaming women who have to incorporate formula into their baby’s diet.

​Luckily for us, Krista Gray - an IBCLC Lactation Consultant, creator of NursingNurture.com, and mommy to four breast-fed kids - is part of the former group. Krista considers herself a “breast-feeding cheerleader,” so she does prefer that her clients attempt it first. “My passion is to help mother’s reach their personal breastfeeding goals,” she assures. “[But] if a mother wants to continue breastfeeding but cannot do so exclusively, I definitely encourage mixed feeds.”

Ok, you can breathe easier now. You’re in safe company here. No one’s going to send you expletive-ridden rants on why you’re a bad mommy for reaching for the plastic Dr. Seuss bottle. And you know what those militant lactivists can do?

What is mixed feeding?

"Combination or mixed feeding refers to when a baby is both breastfed and bottle-fed," Gray tells us. You'll probably stumble on phrases like complementary feeding or supplementary feeding in your research. It's all the same thing!

What factors might make me choose to mix feed?

“There are many reasons a mother might choose to use mixed feeds,” Gray answers. “Separation from baby (such as returning to work), low milk supply (a mother wants to breastfeed but doesn’t have enough milk for exclusive breastfeeding), higher order multiples [when you have twins or triplets and can’t produce enough milk for both], and desire for partner to help with feeding" are all understandable reasons.

Lots of women who choose to mix feed their baby claim it saved their sanity. Women can fret so much about breastfeeding perfectly, that having formula feeds incorporated into baby's routine can really take the pressure off. It can even enable some mothers to continue to breastfeed for longer. So haters? Just shhhhh.

Is it harmful to mix formula and breast?

Short answer: no.

​For many women, breastfeeding exclusively just ain't gonna happen due to personal reasons or even personal choice. If you're feeling guilty or worrying about mixing your milk with the powdery stuff, Gray says that "even if you only breastfeed a couple times each day, your baby is receiving antibodies tailor-made for his specific needs at that time."

Every drop counts when it comes to breast milk! Some is most definitely better than none.

What are the risks of mixed feeding?

Here's where we sit you down and give ya some hard truths. "Introducing anything other than breast milk for the first six months of life can open up the baby’s immature immune system and gastrointestinal tract to inflammation, illness, and disease," Gray informs.

Too much bottle-feeding can also have an effect on a mother's production. "Introducing formula during the first 6 weeks (when a woman’s body is establishing its milk supply), or having too many feeds a day away from the breast can cause a mother’s supply to decrease – sometimes to the point of weaning."

Secondly, "if babies are introduced to an artificial teat before breastfeeding is well established" they might start to prefer the bottle over breast​. A bottle releases formula without stopping until the bottle's empty, whereas "a baby at the breast must suck-suck-suck to have a let-down which lasts a minute or two and then there’s a pause before another let-down."

Babies are greedy little things so if they realize one feeding results in a steady flow of food, they could cry and scream until you give 'em the bottle instead of your nipple.

Ok, well, what are the benefits of mixed feeding?

Well, for one thing you don't have to be a slave to a breast pump machine! "The benefits of mixed feeding can be great," Gray says. "For many moms, this is a way to continue the breastfeeding relationship rather than weaning."

And for you working moms who are ashamed about coming home after an 8-hour day and feeding your kid formula, Gray doesn't want you to be so hard on yourself!

"It is usually a much better use of time to snuggle, breastfeed, and enjoy the moments they are together rather than spending that time stressed out and pumping just to say your baby only drinks breast milk."

Also that guy you made that cute baby with can get in on the feeding action! A bottle assures your hubby or partner can ​bond during feeding time too.

Should I start mixed feeding right away?

Ideally, try to breastfeed once the baby's been born, especially during the first six weeks because it's important in making the transition from breast-fed to mix-fed smoother on baby.

"If [a mother's] milk supply is built up strong in the beginning, it will be easier to decrease her supply and maintain lactation."

"When to introduce mixed feeds will depend on each mother’s situation, but ideally they would not be introduced until after this critical [six-week period]."

Should I make sure breast feeding sessions are higher than formula sessions?

"Every woman’s body is different and while one mother can maintain lactation by just nursing once or twice a day, another mother may need to nurse 5-6 times (or more) in a 24-hour period."

There is no prescribed schedule for how much or how little you should give formula. Just follow your instincts.

Gray says, "It is important to listen to your body and slowly reduce breastfeeds to find what your magic number of feeds is per day in order to maintain lactation."

How can I make mix feeding easier for my child?

There are some pretty awesome tricks you can do to make bottle feeding mimic breast feeding for your child. Gray gives us the lowdown:

"When bottle feeding, make sure to slow the flow and even delay it at times so your baby learns to continue sucking for the next let down. While breastfeeding, a mother can use breast compressions to help increase the milk flow to be more like a bottle."

Am I a bad mother for mix feeding?

Get outta here with that ridiculous nonsense! Mix-fed, breast-fed, or bottle-fed...as long as you're giving your baby food and love, you're doing just fine!

​It’s time we reminded the world that formula and good mother can be used in the same sentence!

Share your mixed feeding journey with us! Tweet us @wewomenCA!

by Carla Cain Walther

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