What Happens When You Start Supplementing With Formula?

baby with bottle

Choosing to supplement with formula can be a decision that has both logical and emotional ties. You've worked hard to breastfeed your baby so far and the thought of offering your baby food from another source might not initially sit well. But for one reason or another, it may be time to add some formula feedings into the mix. Once you've made your decision, there are some important things to consider.



You may be struggling to wrap your head around how this whole process of supplementing will work (particularly when your brain is sleep-deprived). That's why we took the most common questions parents have when starting to supplement to the experts.

How will I know my baby is getting enough to eat?

When you introduce formula, it changes your routine and you might feel overwhelmed making sure baby has had just enough to eat. But it will help if you keep a consistent flow and pace. "There is a big difference when a baby nurses at the breast as opposed to taking a bottle," says Leigh Anne O'Connor, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). "There are chemical receptors in the brain that let the baby know when she is satisfied. This is why paced bottle feeding is so important -- watch the baby, go slow, and see if the baby settles down."

How can I prevent my baby from having nipple confusion?

Many parents worry that their baby will start rejecting the breast once they latch on to that bottle. "Nipple confusion is typically really a flow preference," says O'Connor. "If the mom keeps nursing and uses a truly slow flow bottle, offers paced bottle-feeding and does not overfeed the baby, then in most cases the baby will go back and forth between breast and bottle."

More from The Stir: 10 Things Never to Say to a Formula-Feeding Mom

How can I keep up my breastmilk supply?

If you've started supplementing with formula, keeping up your breastmilk supply can become a major concern. Fortunately, the answer is pretty straightforward, but it will require spending some time with your breast pump. "For the most part, milk supply is based on breast stimulation," says Taryn Mickus, IBCLC and owner of Milk Nook Lactation Support. "Every woman has her own magic number of daily breastfeedings and/or pumping sessions she needs to do to maintain a full supply. The average is 8 per 24 hours. Conveniently, babies also need to eat a minimum of 8 times per 24 hours. So the best way to keep your supply up if you need to supplement with formula is to pump once each time your baby gets a bottle of formula."

Will supplementing with formula actually make my child sleep longer?

That old wives' tale that babies who are formula-fed sleep longer is actually not an old wives' tale at all. "The proteins in formula are much larger than those in breastmilk and harder to digest," she explains. "This means that the formula sits in baby's stomach longer than breastmilk." And so your baby might not get hungry again for longer. Of course, it's not a guarantee -- and it could only buy you a few more minutes of sleep -- so getting some extra Zzzz's shouldn't be your reason for using formula.

Will formula make my baby's poop different?

Yep. If thus far you've only breastfed your baby, chances are you've been fortunate enough to avoid any truly foul-smelling diapers. Once you add formula to the mix, it's generally a different story. "By changing the food type, all humans will have some change in their bowel movements," says Thomas M. Seman, MD, FAAP, president of North Shore Pediatrics in Danvers, MA. "When a child has formula, the poops are typically a little less watery but still thin. Occasionally they may be a thin pasty consistency."

Worried you won't know if the change is a sign of a problem? "As long as the poop is easy to pass there is no issue," says Seman. If baby seems constipated, talk to the pediatrician.


Photo via iStock.com/balenopix

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