Why exclusive breastfeeding is recommended
Breastfeeding is a relationship between mother and baby that usually works best with exclusive breastfeeding – that is giving no other additional food or drinks for the first 6 months.
This is because milk supply works on a supply and demand basis. So, the more you breastfeed, the more milk you produce! When a bottle of formula milk is introduced to baby it means baby has less time at the breast, and removes less milk. This, in turn slows the production of breastmilk.
Understandably, mothers sometimes introduce bottles when they are experiencing problems with breastfeeding. Unfortunately, this can result in reduced milk supply which means that more bottles are introduced.
Combining breast and formula milk
For some families, especially if a mothers’ breastmilk supply is taking time to become established, giving formula is necessary for baby.
If you need or want to introduce one or more bottles of formula milk following these tips can help you to maintain or increase your supply of breastmilk.
If at any point you wish to return to full breastfeeding, you might want to seek some support from a health visitor or breastfeeding supporter to help you increase your breastmilk supply.
The general principles are to have lots of close physical contact with baby so that the milk-producing hormones are stimulated, and to keep removing milk from the breasts to encourage milk supply.
- Allow baby plenty of time at the breast, and/or in skin to skin contact. This helps you both to maintain that special close bond and stimulates your milk producing hormones. Allowing baby to suckle at the nipple encourages milk supply.
- Express breastmilk between feeds. Frequent removal of breastmilk is needed to maintain milk supply.
- Continue to respond to baby’s needs for breastfeeds during the night. The levels of the hormone ‘prolactin’ are highest at night, so feeding during the night helps maintain milk supply.
- Consider alternatives to bottles for short-term supplementation. For newborns tiny amounts of expressed colostrum or formula milk can be given using a syringe. Older babies may be able to feed from a cup. You could also ask about using a ‘supplementer’ which is a tube which is taped to your breast and allows baby to receive formula milk whilst they are at the breast. If you do use bottles, opt for a teat with the smallest hole for the slowest flow. These are often labelled as ‘newborn’ teats.
- Consider using top-ups of expressed milk to increase supply. This is when baby is offered expressed breastmilk as a ‘top-up’ in a bottle after a breastfeed.
- If you begin to give bottles remember that you can still feed in response to baby’s cues. See information about responsive bottle feeding.