Does Supplementing with Formula Reduce the Benefits of Breastfeeding?
Does supplementing with formula reduce the benefits of breastfeeding?
According to all leading organizations on infant health, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should exclusively breastfeed your baby till he is 4 to 6 months old.
After that, until at least one year, you can supplement breastfeeding with formula foods and other solids. Some mothers aren’t able to nurse their babies due to various medical or personal reasons. Some aren’t able to exclusively breastfeed due to reduced milk supply.
In these cases, the first question that arises in a mother’s mind is whether the benefits of breastfeeding will reduce for her baby when she starts supplementing with formula foods. The simple answer to this question is no.
Breast milk contains a whole load of nutrients that are essential for the baby’s overall development and immunity system. It contains some special antibodies that aren’t found in formula foods. Therefore, the benefits of breastfeeding (regardless of how little you feed your baby) will not reduce when you start your baby on formula feeds.
However, there are some ways in which your baby might be impacted when you start to supplement formula with breastfeeding when he is less than 6 months old. We will discuss those issues here and in the end, we will also tell you some benefits you can enjoy when you give formula and breast milk to your babies.
How benefits of breastfeeding are affected when you supplement with formula
Your milk supply gets reduced
When you introduce formula within 6 months of your baby’s age, it may hamper your milk supply. As you might have already known, the milk supply in your breast is based on your baby’s demands. When the demand comes down, the milk supply will reduce automatically.
Formula feeds, regardless of how nutritious they are, are not easy to digest for babies as breast milk. Therefore, when you give your baby a formula feed, he feels full for a long time, and he doesn’t feel the need to nurse from you, and this will hamper your milk production.
Nipple confusion in babies
When you introduce formula foods to babies when they are too small, it may lead to nipple confusion in their minds. They take time to get adjusted to the nipple of their bottles and suck from their mothers’ nipples. Due to this confusion, babies become totally reluctant to latch on to the nipples. This will again lead to a reduced milk supply in your breast.
The silicone nipples of the bottles may release milk quickly and the baby can suck on to it quite easily. However, the milk flow from your breast is not so quick. Therefore, when you introduce bottles quite early in a baby’s life, he may get confused.
He would start to prefer the bottles over your nipples because the milk flow is quick in the former. When your baby stops sucking at your breast, it will lead to your milk supply reducing drastically. Eventually, you have to forgo breastfeeding even before your baby turns 6 months old.
Baby’s gut may not get all the nutrients
Breast milk contains all the antibodies and nutrients that are easy to digest for the baby. It promotes the growth of good bacteria in your baby’s gut, thereby keeping him safe from infections and inflammations.
In the first few days, breast milk is very thick and it is known as colostrum. This is rich in fats and is important for your baby’s immune system.
After a month or so, breast milk becomes thinner and contains more of other nutrients to protect the baby from allergies of all types. Babies, who are exclusively breastfed, are less prone to infections in the later stages.
However, when babies are given formula feeds, it can interfere with their gut health and lead to certain problems. When the gut is not fully protected, it can lead to immunity problems in the baby at the later stages of their lives as well.
From the above, you can see that introducing formula feeds for your baby at a very early stage will alter the way he has been deriving the benefits from his breast milk.
While exclusively breastfed babies will get 100% of the benefits from breast milk, babies who are fed formula and breast milk may get only about 70% of the benefits. This does create a lot of difference in their immunity levels, as they grow older.
Despite these problems, if you still decide to supplement formula feeds with breastfeeding, it should only be for some genuine reasons such as the ones mentioned in the following sections.
Eventually, it is your personal decision if you want to exclusively breastfeed your baby or want to supplement with formula feeds as well.
It is highly recommended that you decide to supplement only in these cases:
Reduced milk supply
Some mothers aren’t able to exclusively breastfeed their babies because they don’t produce enough milk for their babies. In the initial days after delivery, you may feel quite stressed and insecure about your milk production.
You may constantly be worried if you are producing enough milk for your babies. Your baby might also not be able to latch on to your breast properly, as a result of which you have a reduced milk supply in you.
Medical conditions of the baby and mother
Sometimes, when the baby is born with certain medical conditions such as Down syndrome or has some special needs, he cannot latch on to your breast properly. In these cases, it becomes mandatory to give formula feeds to the baby, even though he is less than 6 months old.
In certain instances, a mother is unable to feed because of certain complications in her delivery. Engorged breasts, sore nipples, and mastitis are certain painful conditions when the mother is not able to nurse her baby. A formula feed is the only possible solution during these times.
Formula is recommended for certain specific conditions of the baby
When the baby is dehydrated or has a very low birth weight, your doctor may ask you to supplement formula feeds with breastfeeding, as your milk supply may not be enough for the baby.
There are specific formula feeds available to increase birth weight, keep babies hydrated and help them in their overall development.
When your baby shows the following symptoms, it means that your milk supply is not enough for him and that you need to supplement with formula feeds:
- He doesn’t get back to his birth weight by day 15 or so
- He doesn’t have many wet, dirty and heavy diapers; usually, babies should have at least 3 dirty diapers per day by day 3
- He is not active
- He doesn’t nurse for more than 5 to 10 minutes at a time
In these cases, you need to supplement with a carefully chosen infant formula that is recommended by your doctor.
Resuming work quicker than most mothers
If you have to resume work within 3 months of delivery, you may resort to supplement formula feeds with your breast milk. However, for mothers who are joining back work quickly, pumping is a great option. You can pump your breast milk as and when you can so that you store them in small 2-ounce packets with the date & time of collection.
You can store in the refrigerator or freezer and ensure that your babies are fed this exclusively until they are 6 months old. This way, you can be assured that you are giving the best food to your baby, even when you aren’t physically near him.
Social concerns about breastfeeding in public
It is quite shocking to note that some mothers find it embarrassing to nurse their babies in public places. It is due to this reason that they introduce formula feeds to their babies whenever they have to take their babies out.
However, this situation is changing these days phenomenally, because breastfeeding in public places has been legalized in all the 50 states of the USA since 2018.
Supplementing with formula without affecting your milk supply
Due to various reasons, you have decided to supplement with formula for your baby. However, do you also want to ensure that this doesn’t impact your milk supply? Here are some tips that you can try:
- The only way to ensure that your milk supply doesn’t get reduced even though you supplement with formula is to introduce bottle-feed only after you have set up a proper breastfeeding routine. Experts and lactation consultants recommend you introduce formula feeds to your baby only after he is at least 3 to 4 weeks old.
- Also, you have to keep pumping as much as you can for every nursing session that you have missed. The more you pump, the more milk you can stimulate in your breasts. When your milk supply is reasonable, you can even stop your formula feeds and start to exclusively breastfeed your baby.
- You can also consider using a supplemental nursing system, wherein you can nurse your baby and give him formula feeds simultaneously. This way, you don’t have to worry about your milk supply getting reduced. In this system, formula milk is fed to your baby with the help of thin tubes that are taped to your nipples. This way, when he sucks on your nipples, he can get breast milk (regardless of how little you produce) along with the formula milk.
In all the above sections, we have seen how supplementing with formula does hamper the baby’s breastfeeding benefits. However, not everything is bad about supplementing with formulas. There are quite a lot of benefits that mothers can enjoy in this process.
Benefits of supplementing with formula
Once you have established your nursing routines and eliminated the nipple confusion in your babies by scheduling your formula-feeding routines as well, you get to enjoy these benefits:
- You don’t have to pump continuously at work to collect enough milk for your baby when you have replaced breastfeeding with formula feeding during the day.
- When you have established your nursing and formula-feeding schedules properly, you can plan your breastfeeding properly and make your kids nurse longer during the pre-set routines.
- When you have pumped enough milk to be given to your babies and when you have also ensured that your baby’s hunger is satisfied with the regular formula-feed schedules, you will find enough time to do the things that you have always wanted to do. You can do your unfinished work if any, and you can also start sleeping well.
- Starting with 1 or 2 formula feeds per day helps you decide your nursing time in a day. You can also pump when your milk flow is at its highest and alternate between pumped breast milk and formula when you are away from your baby. It doesn’t have to be only a combination of direct breastfeeding & formula feeds always. You can make it a healthy combination of direct breastfeeding, feeding pumped milk and formula feeds to your baby. This way, you can keep formula feeds as minimal as possible and use the frozen breast milk.
- When your baby is 4 to 6 months old, it makes sense to introduce formula feeds slowly, especially if you aren’t able to breastfeed. This way, you can slowly wean your baby from nursing, thereby avoiding lots of problems in the long run. When babies know to suck from the nipples properly, they will not face any withdrawal symptoms when you stop nursing them completely.
Supplementing with formula is a personal choice and you can choose the method that works well for you and your baby. However, to ensure this gives the right benefits, you should choose the right formula for your baby.
Choose the one that caters to the specific needs he has (such as low birth weight, lactose intolerance, dehydration, etc.). Try to pump as much as you can and store your breast milk in the fridge, so that you can use them instead of formula feeds, for the overall development of your baby.