I always planned on breastfeeding my babies. Exclusively. Like most moms, I thought "breast was best" and even "one bottle" of formula would ruin my chances of nursing. When I had my first baby, and didn't make enough breast milk, I switched to formula believing that was my only option. But when my second baby was born, and I had undersupply again, my lactation consultant recommended combo-feeding. I could, in fact, feed my baby breast milk and formula. So on the list of things only moms who combo-feed actually know, the fact that you can have, and enjoy, the best of both words is somewhere toward the top.
I can't emphasize how life-changing it was to learn that combo-feeding is not only a thing, but something that most breastfeeding moms do. It turns out that for a variety of reasons — like undersupply, latch issues, work barriers, time, mental health, physical health, convenience, and to enjoy a damn break once in a while — many moms have found combo-feeding to be a good fit for their families. Who knew, right?
So, fortunately and thanks to combo-feeding, I was able to get help, ditch all that unrealistic advice, discover what did work for me and my baby, and redefine my breastfeeding goals. I got to breastfeed my son, which both of us loved, and I was eventually able to ditch the pump and not worry so much about the ounces I was able to produce during the work day. Most importantly, I was able to feed my baby as much as he wanted when he was hungry, and not have him cry at my breast or lose weight when I didn't make enough breast milk.
And In the end, and while combo-feeding was not at all what I planned on experiencing, I wouldn't change a thing about how I chose to feed my babies. If you are a new mom or mom-to-be, and want to give combo-feeding a try, read on for a few combo-feeding secrets, learned through experience, to can give you little bit of a head-start.
I had no idea that combo-feeding was a thing. None. Zip. Zero. I went to two breastfeeding classes, had a ton of friends who breastfed, and read every book about breastfeeding I could get my hands on, and still thought breastfeeding was an all or nothing deal. Why?
Registered nurse, board-certified lactation consultant, and co-founder of the Fed is Best Foundation Jody Segrave-Daly thinks she knows why. Segrave-Daly told Romper, via a phone interview, the following:
"Families are not taught about combo-feeding because exclusive breastfeeding is the focus of infant feeding. Because combo-feeding hasn't been studied, we don't know how much it might impact supply, but plans can be developed for each unique feeding situation and can be started immediately after birth. It's a great option for many families and should be taught along with formula-feeding in all prenatal infant feeding classes."
I loved combo-feeding and it's ability to give me the best of both worlds, and it turns out that a lot of other moms do, too. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 80 percent of breastfeeding moms also feed their babies formula. That number seems shocking, considering how we, as a culture, talk about breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding. But now that I've combo-fed my babies, I don't see that as a breastfeeding failure or anything out of the ordinary. In fact, I view combo-feeding as a breastfeeding success.
In a world where exclusive breastfeeding is not possible or realistic for many American parents, because they can't make enough breast milk or are among the one-in-four working mothers who have to go back to work two weeks after their babies are born, combo-feeding is a great way to continue breastfeeding your baby.
I wish I would have known about combo-feeding from the very beginning of my motherhood journey, and especially when my daughter was a newborn and I struggled to breastfeed her. Instead, I thought that since I couldn't (and would never be able to) breastfeed exclusively, I had to switch to formula full-time.
Turns out, I am not alone in assuming I have to pick "one or the other" when it comes to breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. Segrave-Daly told Romper the following:
"Mothers tell me they are furious to learn they could have successfully combo-feed their babies, but instead stopped breastfeeding because they weren't informed. In our support group, many mothers tell me they will consider combo-feeding their next child, now that they know it's an option."
Imagine being able to breastfeed your baby, because you want to and enjoy it, but not having to worry about what is or is not coming out of your boobs. That's what combo-feeding was like for me. I pumped at work for a while, but was able to add formula when I didn't make enough milk to meet the needs of my baby. And when I wanted to stop pumping, because it literally sucked? Yeah, I just dropped those sessions and had my day care provider give my baby formula during the day. I was still able to nurse nights, mornings, and weekends. It was a great balance for me and my babies.
When you are a new mom, you learn that sleep is life. Yes, literally life itself. But when you're a new mom you also learn that sleep can be pretty impossible to come by. So, what if I told you that you could replace a middle-of-the-night breastfeed session with a bottle of formula or pumped milk, given by your partner or spouse? Yeah, I did this for eight months after my second child was born, and got way more sleep than I did when I tried to breastfeed exclusively.
Now that I've combo-fed my babies and openly discussed my experience, I've met so many other moms who decided to do the same. We all made it work in different ways and at different times in our infant-feeding journeys. While I chose to supplement with formula after nursing to "top off" my baby's feeds, other moms give their babies a formula appetizer, followed by a breastfeeding main course. I also know moms who decided to replace work-day feeds with formula, and nurse exclusively at home. Then there are the moms who decided to replace a nighttime meal with formula so they can get more sleep.
Like most everything in parenting, combo-feeding can mean different set-ups for different families.
I found that most conventional breastfeeding resources don't even mention combo-feeding, let alone provide tips or tricks on how to get started. I ended up having to figure things out on my own, which is a severely unfair ask of a new, exhausted mom. One nice thing about combo-feeding, though, is that you custom-make a plan for your life and can change it as your life changes.
As a new mom, I thought that supplementing with formula meant I couldn't continue breastfeeding. Now I know that's definitely not the case. I am so glad I learned that combo-feeding was a thing, and that it would give me and my family some of the best parts of formula and breastfeeding, with a little less guilt and stress.
While I've heard more than a few comments from breastfeeding moms about me not being a "real breastfeeder," whatever that means, I try not to let them bother me. Motherhood is not a competition, and I am relatively sure they just don't know how magical combo-feeding can be.
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