Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding

Most experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, agree that breastfeeding is the first choice for feeding an infant for the first six months of life. If the mother and child are doing well, most experts also recommend continuing breastfeeding for the first 12 months. There are occasions when breastfeeding cannot be done. There are also cases where a breastfed baby must receive supplemental formula feedings. This decision is often an emotional one for the mother, but the first concern must always be ensuring that the baby gets enough to eat. Learn and differences between breastfeeding and formula feeding and how you can supplement breastfeeding with formula.

Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding

In the debate over breastfeeding versus formula or bottle feeding, there are good arguments on both sides.


Breast milk is typically the most nutritious for babies up to one year old. There are several advantages for breastfeeding if you and the baby are able.

  • First, breast milk is typically more easily digested which leads to fewer gastrointestinal problems for the baby.
  • The natural maternal antibodies in breast milk help to protect the baby from common infections during that first year. Some research seems to indicate that breastfeeding may help to lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • There are also studies that show a link between being breastfed and higher intelligence. Although the research is sketchy, there may also be benefits later in life with protection from diabetes, asthma, high cholesterol and other diseases.

For the mother who breastfeeds, there may be health benefits including reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Probably the most compelling reason to breastfeed is to provide that special time between mother and infant that cannot be duplicated by any other person.

Formula Feeding

On the other hand, formula feeding can be a healthy and viable option when breastfeeding cannot be done or when a mother simply makes the decision NOT to breastfeed.

  • Commercial formulas available today can very closely mimic breast milk so can be a healthy alternative.
  • Formula feeding is very convenient and can be done by anyone. A new father or grandparent can enjoy bonding time with the infant by bottle feeding.
  • When you are breastfeeding and return to work, you have to make time in your schedule to pump and store the breast milk. Formula fed babies typically will not need to feed as often as a breastfed baby, so new parents may actually get more sleep at night.
  • Your diet will not have any effect on your formula fed baby.

We have another article that explains extensively the advantages and disadvantages of breastfeeding and formula feeding. If you are interested, click here. If you want to learn more about supplementing breastfeeding with formula feeding, continue reading. 

Supplementing Breastfeeding with Formula Feeding

A new mother may select to breastfeed some of the time and supplement those feedings with formula and bottle feeding.

1. Is It OK to Supplement Breastfeeding with Formula?

There really is no reason that supplementing breastfeeding is not OK. If this practice makes it more convenient at work or at night, it is perfectly acceptable to supplement. In some cases, a baby may not be getting enough to eat in which case it is important to supplement with formula feeding. Remember that the less often you breastfeed, the less milk your body will produce so do not be surprised if your milk begins to “dry up” as you supplement with formula.

2. How do I Know If My Baby Needs Formula Supplement?

It is common for new mothers to worry about whether or not their baby is getting enough to eat. If you are worried, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider. There are a few signs that your baby may not be getting enough breast milk including:



Weight loss

The child is losing weight – or is not steadily gaining weight – after the first week. In the first week, it is normal for your baby to lose weight; after that time, weight loss should be reported to your doctor.

Frequency of diaper change

If you are not changing at least six weight diapers each day, this is a sign that your baby might be dehydrated or he/she has not eaten enough.

Being fussy or lethargic

If your baby is fussy all the time, or seems to be lethargic all the time, either of these may be signs that your baby is not eating enough through breastfeeding.

Breast being full

Occasionally, a mother will say that her breasts continue to be full of milk at the end of breastfeeding. This may be because she is simply producing a lot of milk or it may be because the baby is not eating enough. Talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any of these signs.

3. How to Start Supplementing

If your baby has been breastfeeding, s/he may not want to take a bottle when you first try to supplement. Most babies will take to a bottle if they are hungry enough so it is best to attempt to supplement before breastfeeding so baby is starting with an empty stomach. The first few times you try to supplement, it may be better to let someone else offer the bottle to the baby. A baby can smell you and the breast milk and will usually prefer the breast to a bottle.

4. Can I Mix Breast Milk and Formula?

Most experts recommend that you do NOT mix breast milk with formula. Instead, give breast milk in a bottle and then, if the baby is still hungry, supplement with another bottle of formula.

For more information on mixing breastfeeding and formula feeding watch this video:

5. How Will Supplementing Affect the Baby?

Supplementing breast feeding with formula feeding can have a number of effects on the baby. First, the baby may refuse the breast since a bottle will deliver formula much faster with less work. Because formula is harder to digest, it will stay in the baby’s system longer. You may notice that your baby can go longer between feedings. Finally, the baby’s bowel movements will be firmer, smellier, browner in color, and less frequent after starting formula supplementation.