So many people ask me as a Lactation Consultant if it’s ok to bottle-feed, either formula or human milk, while continuing nursing and the answer is YES! There are many parents who chose to include bottle-feeding because they’re going to work, need support with feedings from their partner or family, don’t want to nurse in public, would like the option to be away from their newborn for longer stretches of time, and more. Here are my general tips for bottle-feeding a newborn while nursing:
Try your best to establish breast/chest feeding first. At the beginning of lactation, your body and baby are going through the necessary transitions to make nursing successful. If your baby is well enough to nurse on your chest at birth, they need a lot of time to learn how to feed, and feeling your baby at your chest helps you gain a full milk supply. So if it’s at all possible, try to wait a couple of weeks after birth to get you and your baby on a good rhythm with breastfeeding before introducing a bottle.
Keep removing milk from your body. If you were unable to start with nursing first or you’ve established breastfeeding already and plan to continue providing milk for your baby, you need to continue to remove milk through pumping or hand expression at the times your baby would be nursing. If you don’t remove milk your body might start to think you no longer need it and your supply may drop. You also might run into problems with plugged ducts and mastitis if you wait too long to nurse or remove milk so make sure you’re listening to your body and planning to empty your breasts even if you’re not with your baby.
Know how to paced-bottle feed. Paced-bottle feeding is a technique that mimics the flow and rhythm of body feeding. Doing this technique helps avoid gas, spitting up, choking, colic, earaches or infections, overeating, and often helps your child not reject the bottle or the breast. Here is one of my favorite videos demonstrating how paced-bottle feeding works.
Practice good bottle care. “Slow Flow” bottles have a smaller hole which makes your baby work to get the milk out which is much like breastfeeding. This is why they are recommended for newborns learning to bottle-feed. There are many brands and types of bottles out there, but it’s essential that you keep them in good condition by regularly washing with hot water and soap, storing them in a clean area, and replacing bottles that are discolored or worn.
Prepare milk properly. Always wash your hands before preparing milk. If you are preparing breastmilk that is frozen, thaw in the refrigerator the night before or run under or place in a bowl of warm water. Never microwave formula or human milk. If you are preparing formula, follow the instructions on the packaging or here from the World Health Organization. Remember to dump milk that your baby doesn’t drink after a feed to prevent harmful bacteria growth.
Watch your baby’s digestion. If you are breast and bottle-feeding it’s important to continue to keep an eye on your baby’s diapers and overall feeding patterns. Be sure to keep track of how many ounces your baby is eating as well as how often you are nursing them. It’s also important to monitor how your baby’s poop and pee are looking in the diaper. Some breastfed babies that start eating formula can develop changes in poop consistency and color, have trouble pooping, or start spitting up or vomiting. This may indicate an intolerance or other digestive issues that may need to be evaluated by your pediatrician.
Overall, bottle feeding and breast/chest feeding can definitely exist together without any problems if you are prepared and have a plan for making it happen. As always I recommend seeing a lactation professional for more specific feeding guidance and plans to find the right balance for you and your baby!
Disclaimer: Although I am a lactation consultant by profession, I am not your lactation consultant. This article is for informational and educational purposes only, does not constitute healthcare advice and does not establish any kind of client relationship with me. I am not liable or responsible for any damages resulting from or related to your use of this information. Please consult your healthcare provider before attempting to use any of this information.