Once you and your baby are used to breastfeeding, you might choose to give some feeds from a bottle. Here are the pros and cons.
There are a number of reasons why you might choose to combine breast and bottle feeding. Some mums do this when they return to work, or because they want to share feeding with their partner. Some mums also find it useful to be able to offer a top-up if their baby still seems hungry after a breastfeed.
When can you introduce a bottle?
Mixing bottle and breastfeeding in the early weeks isn’t really recommended; it can make it harder for you both to get used to breastfeeding, and using formula may reduce your baby's demand for breastmilk, which will in turn reduce the amount of breastmilk you produce.
Once your breastfeeding routine is well established, however (usually after about 4-6 weeks), you can either express some breastmilk and give it in a bottle or you can use formula milk. You can then continue to breastfeed your baby for the rest of the time.
The best of both worlds?
Some mums say that having the freedom to give occasional bottle feeds makes it easier for them to continue breastfeeding for longer. And if you are partially bottle feeding, continuing to offer your baby your breast whenever you can will provide valuable nutrients and give their immune system a boost. This is particularly useful if your baby is attending day-care, where there may be other children with coughs and colds.
Switching to bottle feeding
If you decide to finish breastfeeding, it's best to gradually reduce the number of feeds you give - stopping suddenly can lead to painfully engorged breasts. If you reduce the number of breastfeeds you give to 2 feeds per day, your milk supply will gradually diminish, and you should be able to stop within 2 to 3 weeks.
If your baby is reluctant to make the switch, there are a few things you can try to help ease the transition:
- Time your feeds carefully – ideally, offer the bottle when your baby isn't too tired or too hungry (peckish is good; starving, not so much). You may also have better luck introducing the bottle in the middle of the day – when your baby isn't associating feeding quite so much with comfort and sleep.
- If you can, ask someone else to offer your baby the bottle, to remove the smell of your milk from the equation. If not, try wearing something that doesn't smell like you – one of your partner's jumpers, for instance.
- Sitting in a different spot, or feeding your baby in a forward-facing position instead of cradled in your arms, can also help remove the associations between eating and breastfeeding.
- If your baby refuses the bottle altogether, try experimenting with a different teat – changing the flow rate of the milk may help.
- Switching to a different brand of formula milk, or swapping from powder to ready-to-feed, might do the trick – all formulations taste slightly different, and your baby might like one more than the others.
A careful choice
If you’re thinking about combining breast and bottle or stopping breastfeeding, ask your health visitor, doctor or breastfeeding counsellor for advice first. They’ll be able to offer you help with choosing a formula, if that’s an option you’d like to have.
If you do decide to use formula milk to complement breastfeeding, choose a milk that is appropriate for the age of your baby and follow the instructions on the pack for its preparation.