A bottle sitting on the table of a baby chair.

Combining Breastfeeding And Formula Feeding

While many mums strive to exclusively breastfeed,  Simone Casey provides help and advice to mums who are combining it with formula feeding.

In an ideal world, babies would be breastfed exclusively for the first six months, but in reality, this just doesn’t happen.

Latest statistics, from the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey, show that by six months of age about 69 per cent of babies are receiving at least some formula.

For this reason, it’s important for breastfeeding-support workers such as lactation consultants, child-health nurses and Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) counsellors, to work alongside mums who are combining breastfeeding with formula feeding.

Many mums who attend the ABA’s support-group meetings or contact our breastfeeding helpline use formula. Some are happy with mixed feeding, whether it’s sharing feeding with another parent or caregiver, or so they can put their baby in childcare.

Other mums use formula as a temporary measure while they work on issues such as building low supply and boosting their baby’s sluggish weight gains, or their baby may have sucking problems, making it difficult to milk the breast effectively. In these cases, child-health professionals may need to work in conjunction with breastfeeding experts to advise how much formula to give as a top-up, and to help the mum maximise her breastmilk production at the same time.

If supply is an issue, an ABA counsellor will offer suggestions on how to boost it, such as a breastfeeding supplementer, or formulate a plan of more frequent feeding and/or expressing.

There are also some mums who start out with the intention of breastfeeding, only to find it doesn’t work out for them. These mums may turn to using formula.

In all these scenarios, mums have to do the very best they can and make a decision that is right for them, based on the support and information available. Having a baby is an emotional time, and it’s normal for mums to feel a sense of grieving if they are unable to breastfeed. It’s also important for them to find someone supportive to discuss this with. ABA helpline counsellors are trained to debrief women who have weaned and need to share how they are feeling, and to reassure them they can have a close bond with their child, breastfed or not.

While counsellors are mums who have breastfed their own babies, this does not mean they are superwomen who found breastfeeding a breeze.

Many struggled and found themselves relying on formula, or weaning before they were ready, which is what prompted them to train to help others who may be in similar situations.

In Australia, we are fortunate to have reliable access to clean water and electricity, so contamination is less likely to be an issue when making up bottles of formula. It is important, however, to adhere strictly to instructions in relation to the ratio of water to powdered formula, correct water temperature and storage, as there can be medical implications if these aren’t just right.

So Which Formula Is the Right One?

In terms of which formula to use, it is difficult to ensure mums have access to unbiased sources of information. All formulas have to pass Australian food-safety standards, so if a formula is available for sale it has been tested and is considered safe for your baby’s consumption. As cow’s milk protein and soy allergies are quite common, if you notice your baby reacts with a rash or excessive unsettled behaviour after drinking formula, be sure to seek medical advice, as there are alternatives such as dietary changes in breastfeeding mums and hydrolysed formulas.

Even though many brands of formula claim to be better for eyes, brains or immunity, you aren’t doing your baby a disservice by choosing one brand over another. There are specific formulas for babies with conditions such as reflux, constipation and diarrhoea, but only use these under the advice of a medical professional.

Breastfeeding is amazing when it works, but it’s not all or nothing.

Any amount of breastmilk is good. Paraphrasing renowned lactation consultant Diane Wiessinger, if you breastfed for just a few days, be happy that your colostrum provided your baby’s first immunisation. If you breastfed for a few weeks, you eased your baby through the critical part of infancy. If you breastfed for a few months, you have given your baby strong protection against ear infections and developing allergies, and so on.

Congratulate yourself for what you have been able to achieve regarding breastfeeding, rather than what you haven’t.

Note: This article provides general health information and in no way constitutes medical advice. Ideas and information expressed may not be suitable for everyone. Readers wishing to obtain medical advice should contact their own doctor.

Simone Casey is a breastfeeding counsellor, blog writer for the Australian Breastfeeding Association and a writer/editor and IBCLC-qualified lactation consultant. She has breastfed three children.

Words By Simone Casey

Guest Contributor