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So You Want to Breast AND Bottle Feed?

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

Do both - del summary

I see so many moms who come into the hospital stating that they want to breast and bottle feed their babies. It seems that many of these declarations come from a standpoint of practicality, but many come from a place of fear.

With the recent surge of not only breastfeeding moms in this country (it’s about time), but also the flood of available evidence-based information and knowledgeable people who can help (it’s way past time), there has also come a fear from mothers that they will be denied formula in the hospital if they want it or that they will be bullied into sticking with exclusive breastfeeding while in the hospital. Their protection is “I want to do both”.

In addition, well over half of the moms with children under the age of three reside in the workforce here in the US. That means that many moms, after their meager 6- or 8-week maternity leave, will be leaving their babies in someone else’s care and, to do this, their babies need to take a bottle. So, I see these moms thinking they should get their babies used to the bottle from the get-go. Good thought … but it won’t work like that.

The bottom line is this: If a mom starts out giving her baby a bottle from the beginning, it’s highly likely that she will be ONLY be bottle-feeding in about a week’s time or, even worse, find herself with a low milk supply because of the unnecessary bottles. The breasts will only make enough milk to replace what is removed. The math on that looks like this: If mom feeds her baby, say, 4 bottles of formula a day, her breasts will make 4 bottles-worth LESS of breastmilk. It’s rather simple, really.

Before you panic, this doesn’t mean you can’t EVER give your baby a bottle! Heavens, no! We would really be in a fix, right? Remember all of the working moms out there? Then, add in all of the moms who would like to do something nice for themselves and go to a movie or event … sans baby. The simple answer, or guideline, if you will, is that you need to wait THREE WEEKS before pumping or bottle feeding.

There are two reasons for this.

Reason #1: You and your baby need to become pros at breastfeeding. Babies don’t know how to breastfeed when they arrive. Breastfeeding is learned, just like crawling and walking, and you both have to learn to do this together. The vast majority of babies can’t learn to breastfeed while sucking on a bottle. A baby uses approximately 25 muscles to breastfeed. Your typical bottle only takes 4! Okay, you have one of the new fancy “just like the breast bottles”? Great! Here’s the thing – NOTHING is just like the breast, except the breast. Those bottles may require the use of a few more muscles – maybe 6 or 7 total? That’s an honest to goodness guess on my part, but I can promise that it’s nowhere NEAR 25. I see too many moms who didn’t read this wealth-of-information blog, sitting in my office, in tears, with a baby who won’t do anything but sleep at the breast.

Yes, yes, yes … I know there are moms out there who successfully introduced a bottle early and everything was fine. The fact is this: EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT. Mom’s personality, breasts, hormones, stress level, milk supply, baby’s personality, gestational age at birth, latch, suck, tongue ….. the list goes on. Congratulations if it worked for your friend, but I can promise that, as a lactation consultant, I don’t hear that it works even half of the time. Last time I checked, no one had a crystal ball available, so we can’t predict who will succeed in introducing a bottle early and who won’t.

Reason #2: Your milk supply needs time to become established. It’s like building a strong foundation for a house. A supply that is built solely on a baby’s demand will be a strong one, indeed! Here’s how it works: the first three days after birth, you will probably wonder every minute of those three days whether you even have any milk. Hopefully, your support system will emphatically reassure you that you have “just the right amount for your baby”! (Trust them. They are correct.) Well, on Day 3 your worries will be over. HELLO! There will be no doubt that you have enough milk …. for the entire neighborhood! Yes, your breasts outdid themselves and you now feel full …. really full. Each time your baby feeds, she removes what she needs. The breasts take note that this amount is only a fraction of what they made. “Let’s make a little less for the next feeding,” they say. You don’t feel like they made less, but they did. Each feeding, the amount of milk produced is slightly adjusted. Around the 3-week mark, moms sometimes feel as though they don’t have enough milk, but they do. They are making just what the baby is taking, plus a small surplus for growth. Giving a baby a bottle during this process can not only affect the process of learning to breastfeed, but can screw up the math being done by the breasts.

What a minute! If I have all of this extra milk from the beginning, you may ask, why can’t I pump and save it? Good question and good thinking! Sounds plausible, right? But this isn’t good either. Remember the whole supply and demand process? If milk is pumped out along with your baby breastfeeding, the breasts will continue to make that much milk ….. even when you decide not to pump after the feeding. Again, I’ve consulted with enough moms who have had this thought and, because they just couldn’t keep up the constant pumping, found themselves with more milk than was needed, which baby can’t remove on a regular basis. They found themselves with plugged ducts, mastitis and, for some, abcesses which needed to be drained. Will this happen to everyone? No. But remember the crystal ball? Or lack thereof? Believe me, you don’t want to take a chance.

The good news here? (There’s always good news!) You can enjoy your baby for at least three weeks without the pressure of pumping to save milk for work, or learning to use that dang pump (which you will grow to not love). Introduce an occasional bottle between three and six weeks and you will have no trouble. Sleep when your baby sleeps so you aren’t too exhausted. Rest and heal. Your body just went through a lot with pregnancy and delivery of a baby. Just wait for three weeks and, yes, you can breast and bottlefeed your baby!

Keep calm and breastfeed on!


The Breastfeeding Guru

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