There’s more than one way to feed a baby.
You can't really anticipate what your infant feeding experience will be like or what resources you’ll need until you’re in the experience after your baby has arrived. When it comes to breastfeeding versus formula feeding versus combination feeding, the most important thing to remember is that there is no “right” way to feed your baby.
Any of these options can be the right one but the choice comes down to what works for you and your family, from birth or down the line, depending on your own personal situation.
Breastfeeding is a wonderful choice for many many moms and their families. You are ahead of the game if you educate yourself on the benefits of breastfeeding, how to get started, and how to handle any special circumstances you might encounter. Studies have shown that breastfeeding has many health benefits and is a powerful bonding tool between mother and baby, but it also requires time and support.
It's not necessarily a simple decision for someone to decide whether or not to breastfeed. There can be a number of circumstances that make exclusive breastfeeding difficult or even impossible for some families, including factors like low milk supply, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, or mental health issues.
Keep in mind that breastfeeding is a “learned skill” between mom and baby. It’s helpful to have some support or education from a lactation educator or doula to help make sure you get off to a good start and ensure a healthy milk supply as your little one grows!
There’s a lot of pressure today to exclusively breastfeed; however, this may not be the right decision for you, your baby, and your family. You can still create a healthy bond with your baby from birth when formula feeding. This decision can give you more freedom, rest, and sleep-filled nights.
For those who can't breastfeed or who decide not to, infant formula is a healthy alternative and choosing the right formula will give your baby the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
Some worry that if they don't breastfeed, they won't bond with their baby. But the truth is, loving parents will always create a special bond with their babies. Remember the feeding process is a great time to strengthen that bond no matter how you choose to feed your baby. There are other wonderful ways to ensure healthy baby bonding including practicing “skin-to-skin” from birth, contact napping and babywearing. And again, there’s no right answer between breastfeeding versus formula.
Combination or Supplemental Feeding
Giving your child formula in addition to breastfeeding is called “combination or “supplemental” feeding. Many families choose this method for many reasons, whether out of necessity (e.g. low breast milk supply) convenience, or simply personal choice. Supplementing with bottles simply means adding a bottle after you’ve breastfed — to make sure your baby has had a full feed — or in place of breastfeeding, giving mom a break and her partner an ability to participate in the feeding experience. You can supplement with pumped breast milk or formula.
Why would someone choose combination or supplemental feeding?
- Low milk supply: Your child may not be getting enough milk from exclusive breastfeeding to meet their nutritional needs. In this case, combination or supplemental feeding can help make sure your baby is getting enough milk and ensure healthy weight gain. You could breastfeed your baby in the morning and use formula later in the day (it is common to have a lower milk supply at the end of the day) and this also gives your partner or caregiver some bonding time with the baby and gives you some time to yourself.
- Sleep deprivation: You may be very sleep deprived in those early weeks after birth and you may need to catch up, letting you properly rest and recover from the experience.
- Emphasis on sharing: Sharing the feed with your partner or support person makes them feel more bonded and connected with your baby. Feeding can be a family affair!
- A simple break: Keep in mind that “when mom is best, so is baby” — if you’re exhausted, anxious, or just need a break it is very important for your baby as well as for your own mental and physical health, take care of yourself first, so you can be present and calm for your little one.
- Improving baby’s sleep: Choosing to implement “top up” feeds with a bottle, after breastfeeding, especially as the baby's tummy size grows, can help ensure your baby will sleep longer blocks at night through those early weeks and months.
- Just ‘cause: Sometimes, it just works best for your family. You don’t need a specific reason to do it!
Making Your Choice Between Breastfeeding and Formula
The choice between breastfeeding and formula feeding is a deeply personal one. It's a decision to be made with careful consideration of your unique circumstances, resources, and preferences. Whether you choose to breastfeed, formula feed, or use a combination of both, know that each method has its own benefits and challenges.
The most important thing is that your baby is nourished, loved, and cared for. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Every family is different, and what works best for one may not work for another.