For new moms (and dads), one of the hardest decisions is whether or not to supplement their baby with formula if they have made the decision to breastfeed. With so many mixed messages on social media, from family members, and well intentioned friends, it can be a nightmare just to make what should be a very simple decision.

Misinformation surrounding breastfeeding and how supplementing your child with formula can affect the breastfeeding experience adds to the difficulty in decision making. The bottom line is, at 2:00 a.m. when you are completely exhausted, and breastfeeding is maybe not going well, or has become a less viable option for you than it was in the beginning, you need only a solution that will keep your baby happily milk-drunk.  Sometimes, that solution is formula supplementation.

Dads and other family members who want to be able to partake in the feeding experience of the new baby or simply help out their exhausted partners, can do so by supplementing their babies with formula in between breastfeeding sessions.  This can be a huge help for exhausted, weary mothers who just need a good night’s sleep to continue to function.

The decision to supplement your child with formula is yours alone, but there are some things you should consider which can help make your decision an easier one to make. 

Formula vs. Breast Milk-Is One Better Than the Other?

Chances are you have already made your decision as to whether formula or breast milk is better for your baby. Whether you were influenced by family members, your pediatrician or obstetrician, or simply the messages you read on social media, you’ve likely made a firm determination in your mind about which one is best for you and your baby.

However, if you’ve made this decision prior to having your child, you should know that no matter how firm your convictions, your current decision may not be the best one. When a baby gets here, things can change instantaneously. Much like a birthing plan, your feeding plan may not go the way you had hoped. As such, you are better served to keep an open mind about how you will feed your baby, recognizing that the best way to feed your baby is to make sure that they are full, and accepting that there are multiple options for feeding, not just the one you hope will work out best. 

While there are definitely firm believers in both camps that one is better than the other, nutrition- wise, both breast milk and formula are viable, life-sustaining, excellent ways to feed your child.  If you are concerned that formula isn’t safe for your baby, take comfort in knowing it is highly regulated by the FDA to ensure its safety and to ensure it meets all nutritional guidelines for newborns. 

Can I supplement before my milk comes in?

While critics will argue that you should not supplement with formula before your milk arrives, many women choose this option while still in the hospital, or just after coming home. The importance of a mother’s mental health and physical well-being after having just given birth must be taken into consideration when making this decision. Oftentimes, milk does not arrive for the baby until several days after birth. While the colostrum produced by the mother should be enough to satiate the baby’s needs, sometimes formula supplementation can be beneficial if the mother is particularly exhausted or in pain from childbirth, or if she simply prefers to use formula instead of breastfeeding hourly, as is sometimes needed immediately after birth. 

A common myth is that giving your baby formula before your milk comes in will somehow prevent your milk from coming in at all. This is completely a fallacy, as one has nothing to do with the other.  Understand that if your goal is to breastfeed, you should absolutely begin nursing as soon as you are physically able, but supplementing your baby with formula will not prevent your milk from arriving.  Additionally, if you choose to supplement your baby with formula prior to breastfeeding, you can easily switch to the breast once your milk arrives or once you feel comfortable doing so. 

Can I Supplement My Baby Overnight?

Many parents will choose to supplement their children overnight. This method of formula supplementation allows other family members to help out with the feeding schedule, which can be arduous the first few months.  Moms who exclusively breastfeed can suffer from physical and mental exhaustion with a baby who needs to nurse around the clock.  If she has other children or responsibilities to attend to during the day, this can lead to serious mental and physical health setbacks.  As such, many mothers will choose to allow their partners or other family members to take turns doing “night shift” feeds so that she can rest and breastfeed throughout the day.  During the night shift feeds, the partner supplements the baby with formula feeding. 

Supplementation isn’t a bad word.  It’s a word that has gotten a bad rap because of stigmas created by breastfeeding purists who refuse to acknowledge any other form of infant feeding.  We’ve had enough of that mindset.  The best way to feed your baby is to feed them in a manner that keeps you both healthy and sane.  Supplementation can easily be a part of your feeding journey.  

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