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Hey Moms, You Can Formula Feed and Breastfeed at the Same Time

Photograph by Twenty20

With each of my three kids, I’ve always made just enough or not quite enough milk to exclusively breastfeed. The real issue I faced was responding poorly to a breast pump. As a working mom, being able to pump is pretty much non- negotiable. But since I don't pump well, I often didn’t have enough breast milk to give to babysitters. And when I was working outside of the home full-time, my milk supply dwindled after I returned to work. In order to keep my kids gaining weight and to make sure they have enough for bottles while I work, I’ve fallen back on formula more times than I can count.

With my first baby, I had to supplement with formula frequently. I hated it. I had religiously researched breastfeeding while pregnant and I was convinced that exclusive breastfeeding was the only way to do things. When my daughter lost more than the recommended amount of weight in the days following her birth, I was instructed to start giving her formula after she nursed.

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I can’t possibly describe just how guilty I felt about this, but I suspect many new moms have felt this way before. I was mothering under an immense amount of pressure, created mostly by myself and my habit of reading entirely too many articles on the internet. I cried while I gave her formula. I was failing, I was sure of it.

It’s embarrassing, really, how big of a deal I made over supplementing with formula, but I now know why I felt this way. I felt this way because there seems to be only two options for feeding your baby these days: you either breastfeed or you don’t. I don’t think enough attention is given to the possibility of doing both at the same time.

I think moms like these believe that the only choice is to throw in the towel, to give up on breastfeeding altogether, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

I understand why most lactation consultants don’t encourage supplementing. Using formula to supplement breastfeeding is believed to lower milk supply. It probably isn’t a good choice for breastfeeding moms who are experiencing a temporary dip in supply or just struggling to get started. However, I think there's a group of moms who are a perfect fit for using both breast milk and formula to feed their baby: the moms who, like me, will never pump enough or who have done everything in their power to remedy weight gain issues with their baby and nothing has worked.

I think moms like these believe that the only choice is to throw in the towel, to give up on breastfeeding altogether, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

With my first baby, I got so caught up in the idea that exclusive breastfeeding was the only option that I eventually stopped trying altogether and my daughter switched to exclusively formula-feeding at six months. By the time my second was born, I knew better and I did better.

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I breastfeed as much as possible, but I supplemented with formula when I had to. She breastfed for 15 months, taking bottles of formula when I was at work because I wasn’t able to pump more than an ounce or two at a time. Now that I have a third, I’m working from home. My third is almost exclusively breastfed but I still struggle to pump enough for his one day with a babysitter or when my husband and I get away for a date. So, I give him formula and I give it guilt-free.

He nurses beautifully when we’re together. And you know what? I now know better than to believe that formula is bad for my child because I’ve read the research and formual is actually a completely amazing alternative for breast milk and I’m thrilled it exists.

So this is for the first-time mom who's struggling to figure the whole breastfeeding thing out and the working mom who is spending every spare moment hooked up to a breast pump but still not getting enough for her babe. You don't have to give up on breastfeeding, but you might have to adjust your expectations and add formula into the mix, and that's totally OK. Remember, fed is best, and that's all that matters. Period.

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