Many mothers decide that while they want to provide breast milk to their baby, they won’t be able to provide enough milk for full or exclusive breastfeeding. There are a variety of reasons for this: low milk supply, higher order multiples, early return to work or other separation from baby where mother is unable to pump adequate amounts, desire for others to help feed baby, etc.
Breast milk is unique and unlike any other mammalian milk or infant formula. Any amount of breast milk a mother is able to provide her baby is a wonderful gift and should be celebrated. There are many health benefits for both a mother and baby. Even some breastfeeding will help with maternal-infant bonding and decrease feeding costs, visits to the doctor, time off work for illness, allergies, and health care costs both in the short and long term.
It is completely possible to have mixed feeds; here are 5 tips to help you succeed.
- Establish your milk supply
During the first six weeks following birth a mother’s body is laying down prolactin receptors (hormones intimately involved with milk production) that will affect her milk supply for the duration of breastfeeding. If her milk supply is built up strong in the beginning, it will be easier to decrease her supply and maintain lactation. Conversely, if she never develops a strong supply in the initial weeks following birth, she may be forced to supplement which could further reduce her supply. It is common for this cycle to continue until a mother is no longer producing any breast milk for her baby.
- Allow baby time to attach well to breastfeeding
The sucking action at the breast as well as flow of milk is different at the breast and with a bottle. To demonstrate this, try placing your clean index finger half-way in your mouth and notice what your tongue does. Now, place that same finger all the way back in your mouth to where the hard and soft palates meet – just before you “gag” – and note your tongue movement. Breastfeeding is similar to your finger being in the back of your mouth, and a baby’s tongue will extend down and out past his bottom gum line. Alternatively, when a bottle teat is placed in a baby’s mouth his tongue bunches further back in his mouth. A disorganized suck and/or nipple preference can develop if babies are introduced to an artificial teat (whether bottle or pacifier) before breastfeeding is well established. Just as importantly, the flow of a bottle nipple is constant 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. These subtle differences can cause confusion in babies until breastfeeding is well established.
- Slowly decrease the amount of breastfeeding sessions
Once you have developed a strong milk supply, you may now choose to slowly introduce formula. It is best to eliminate only one breastfeed every 2-3 days so that your body adjusts to making less milk. Introducing formula more quickly and eliminating breastfeeding sessions more than one at a time could lead to engorgement, plugged ducts, mastitis, or even a breast abscess.
- Continue to nurse enough to maintain supply
Watch your body closely and if you notice your milk supply diminishing more than you need it to, add in another breastfeeding session. Every woman is different and even each breast on the same mother has different amounts of milk. While one woman may easily maintain milk just nursing once or twice a day, another mother may need to nurse three or four times a day minimum to maintain a milk supply. If your supply does begin to decrease, make sure to eliminate some of the formula feeds and increase breastfeeding sessions to help build up your supply.
- Have partner give bottles while mom breastfeeds
Many moms who partially breastfeed find it easier of they are responsible for breastfeeding and then baby’s father, family, or friends give the formula feeds. This is not a must, but it can make it easy for your baby to associate mom with breast milk. This is also a matter of convenience – breast milk doesn’t require mixing, heating, cleaning bottles, etc. so if mother is available to feed it just makes sense to feed baby in the most convenient way possible.
Whatever strategies you find that work for you and your situation, you have much to be proud of providing your breast milk for your baby. Every drop is a gift and should be celebrated!