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Why bottle feeding and supplementing with formula may help you breastfeed

“As I gave that first bottle of formula, I sobbed and felt like I was failing.” (mom of a 3 week old baby struggling with breastfeeding).

While just about every one of us (mama or not) can immediately recognize that, OF COURSE THAT MAMA IS NOT FAILING! it can be really hard to believe that when you are knee deep in breastfeeding struggles and exhaustion, your hormones are all out of wack, you’re just not sure what’s happening and you love your baby so much that you want the absolute BEST for her or him and you are flooded with anxiety that just maybe something is really wrong but you are pretty sure you’re doing everything right…In those moments, no amount of reasoning and reassurance can fully help.

It’s ok to feel sad if your breastfeeding journey isn’t going as you had hoped (and it’s also ok if you’re one of those mamas who grabbed the formula and did not look back!) Either way, you are absolutely not a failure.

This post is for those mamas who are hoping to exclusively breastfeed but are having some difficulty in those first few days postpartum. Perhaps your pediatrician or lactation consultant recommended that you give your baby some formula and you’re wondering, “can I still breastfeed if I give my baby a few bottles of formula?” or “how will it impact my baby and breastfeeding if I give my newborn some formula?” or maybe you’ve already given your baby several bottles of formula and you’re wondering, “will I ever be able to exclusively breastfeed if I give my baby a bottle and what should I do to get my baby off the bottle???” We’re going to use Kim and baby Maeve as a case study to look at how formula (or donated breastmilk), bottles, finger feeding, and syringe feeding might be a sound way to support breast feeding when used strategically as an intervention.

We must acknowledge that, of course many women will breastfeed without any trouble and won’t need formula or bottles. And in fact offering bottles and/or formula early on (before your baby is 1-2 months old) may negatively impact breastfeeding if not done thoughtfully with support from a breastfeeding specialist who can see the big picture to get you back to breastfeeding. But there are actually reasons why bottle feeding, finger feeding, and supplementing with formula (or pumped milk or donated breast milk) can all support your breastfeeding relationship and even strengthen it!

That’s not just our opinion. There is actually some research on this and while it’s a small study, it is a randomized control trial. The study by Flaherman et al from 2013 looked at women whose baby lost more than 5% of their birth weight by 1-2 days old. They randomized half the moms to a plan where they were told to supplement with a small amount of formula (by syringe) and half to a plan where they were encouraged to just keep breast feeding (and they were given support with calming their baby). The mamas who supplemented