The 4 Big Mistakes When Supplementing Breastfeeding With Formula

Unless supplementing with formula is done properly, there are 4 mistakes that can happen that may will destroy your breastfeeding relationship. Here they are:

Supplementing Breastfeeding With Formula Mistake #1:
Nipple Confusion

Nipple confusion happens when a baby is given supplements from a bottle – typically in the early weeks before he has really figured out nursing. His mother’s nipple and the bottle’s nipple are shaped differently, work differently and require different tongue placement. The problem is that baby may forget how – or become too lazy – to latch effectively to the breast. This leads to poor milk removal and the need for more supplementation, which leads to more nipple confusion and even more difficulty at the breast. It’s a downward spiral ending with an exclusively formula fed baby.

Supplementing Breastfeeding With Formula Mistake #2:
Nipple Preference

Nipple preference happens when babies begin to prefer a bottle nipple over their mother’s. Typically bottle nipples are much longer than human nipples and babies find them easier to hold in their mouths and suck on. This problem is a lot like nipple confusion in that babies will prefer the easier road. This leads to struggling, fussiness and dissatisfaction with the breast. That leads to poor milk removal and the need for more supplements, which leads to more nipple preference and even more difficulty at the breast. It’s a downward spiral ending with an exclusively formula fed baby.

Supplementing Breastfeeding With Formula Mistake #3:
Flow Preference

supplementing breastfeeding with formula

Flow preference is about the difference in how milk flows out of a bottle compared to how milk flows out of a breast. Breastfeeding babies need to suck for a time to trigger a letdown, before the milk starts flowing. Once the milk is flowing it’s not consistent. It flows faster during letdowns and slower between letdowns. And once the stored milk is drained, the body will continue to make milk and deliver it directly to the baby, however this flow is very slow. Compare this to bottle feeding:

Like all humans, babies like instant gratification. And with a bottle they get that – milk flows at the first suck, it flows at a constant rate and doesn’t stop until the bottle is empty. It’s amazing! It’s addictive! It’s what any baby wants!

A baby who becomes hooked on the flow of a bottle, will become increasingly frustrated at the breast. He doesn’t understand why at the breast there’s no milk flowing at the beginning then there’s flow, but then that slows down for a while, then more flow. It’s frustrating compared to Bottle Easy Street! Baby will be fussy and cry at the breast and can quickly train his mother to give him a bottle after he “puts in his time” at the breast.

It’s worth repeating: A baby will quickly train his mother. In no time, he’ll figure out that if he acts as though he’s not getting any milk at the breast and cries out in hunger after nursing, he’ll get a bottle. The more bottles he gets the less interested he is in “fighting” the breast for milk flow.

Low milk supply compounds the problem even further because lower milk supply often means slower milk flow. Slower flow leads to more fussiness and poor milk removal and the need for more supplementation, which leads to more flow preference and even more difficulty at the breast. It’s a downward spiral ending with an exclusively formula fed baby.

Supplementing Breastfeeding With Formula Mistake #4:
Disruption of the Supply-Demand Cycle

The main problem is that if you give your baby 10 ounces of formula (or breast milk from another mother), your body never gets the memo. From your body’s perspective, your baby removed 15 ounces of milk today so it’ll make 15 ounces of milk tomorrow. It doesn’t know that you gave your baby another 10 ounces from another source, so it doesn’t think it needs to increase production! At best, your body will simply maintain your milk production at the same level that was insufficient in the first place.

Then, when one or more of the nursing problems like nipple confusion or flow preference develop, the demand decreases further and your body will respond with even lower production. It’s a downward spiral from there.

The other disruption to the supply-demand cycle comes from overfeeding with a bottle. All babies have a desire to suck and will often suck on pacifiers or a shirt collar or the tag on a blanket when they are not hungry. They are simply comfort sucking. When a baby is given a bottle, they will certainly suck on it, even if they are not hungry. With a bottle, the baby must swallow the fluid that flows out of it or choke, even if they are just comfort sucking. When babies breastfeed the mother’s body regulates the flow of milk to match the style of sucking baby is doing. If baby is simply comfort sucking, very little milk will flow. The baby can regulate the amount of milk he is getting by the way he is sucking. This is impossible to do from a bottle and baby will continue to get a large amount of fluid until the bottle is completely empty. This leaves baby much fuller than what he would have been, had he breastfed. Being overfed from a bottle will extend the time until the next breastfeeding session and that delay will further lower your milk supply.

The good news is that there is a method for supplementing breastfeeding with formula that avoids all of these problems! It feeds your baby the nutrition he needs to gain weight and supports your breastfeeding while you work to increase your milk production and phase out supplementation. [Article Coming Soon!] 

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