Combo Feeding: Formula Doesn’t Have to Be a Breastfeeding Death Sentence

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In our culture and within motherhood, everyone seems to be so fixated on or curious about how moms are feeding their babies, which makes for an interesting dichotomy in our culture and within motherhood.

There seems to be a strange fixation in our culture on how mothers feed their babies. No matter what decision you make, there’s always someone who has an opinion about it, from your own parents/in-laws to Vicky in the grocery store checkout line. The decision regarding how you feed your baby is a decision you must make alone (and with support from your partner if needed), as you are the most knowledgeable source on exactly what you and your baby need and what works best for your family.

This fixation on feeding creates an interesting dichotomy in our culture and within motherhood, and separates us all into two camps: breastfeeding versus formula feeding. It’s my opinion that this line does not have to be as finite as everyone makes it out to be; there doesn’t have to be a “versus!” I’m excited to share my experience with the happy medium I have found when it comes to feeding my second baby.

There is a misconception that, once a mom introduces formula while also breastfeeding, the journey will assumably soon come to a close. However, this is not always the case and doesn’t have to be. In my situation, combo feeding has actually extended our breastfeeding journey.

So, What is Combination Feeding?

Combo feeding is exactly what it sounds like: feeding baby a combination of both formula and breastmilk, through pumping or nursing (or both.) This method of feeding looks differently for each person, and that’s part of why I love it so much. It’s so easily customizable and individualized from family to family. One option is to alternate between formula and breastmilk bottles. For one feed, you could offer a full bottle of breastmilk only, and offer a formula only bottle for the subsequent feed.

Another option is to combine formula and breastmilk in the same bottle for a feed. This was a great way for us in the beginning of this journey to transition to using formula because it was a nice balance between the familiarity of breastmilk, while also introducing the taste and texture of formula. I started with bottles that were 75% breastmilk and 25% formula, and then continued on to increase and tweak the amount of formula and breastmilk in each bottle, depending on what I was pumping, what baby’s needs were, or whatever factors came into play. 

Making the Decision

I’ve had to pump so much more during this second breastfeeding journey compared to my breastfeeding journey with my firstborn. I pretty much only nursed my first baby, and only pumped sometimes to stash milk in the freezer to have for when I would be away from her. With my second baby, I’ve pumped about 90% of the time and nursed 10% of the time. Somehow, six months of mostly pumping felt longer and more strenuous than exclusively nursing my firstborn for 16 months.

Around my baby boy’s six-month birthday, I decided to start considering something else. My husband was away with the Army and it was difficult to keep up with my pumping schedule while I was temporarily the only parent (I was outnumbered with these kids!) Also, I kept getting mastitis from not being able to keep up with pumping the way I needed to, and if you’ve ever mastitis, you know how miserable it is and how difficult it is to parent through it. Something had to give, and a change needed to be made during such a unique season. I was struggling emotionally with this decision, even though I knew nothing was “wrong” or “bad” about supplementing with/using formula; it was just a lot more emotionally heavy than I thought it would be.

Ultimately, it came down to one thing for me:

 I didn’t want to wish away any part of his first year, or constantly be counting down to his first birthday just to hit the one-year mark. This is time I will never get back, and it would be such a shame to wish it away for the sake of crossing an arbitrary finish line.

I ended up not making a formal decision regarding combo feeding/utilizing formula. I just slowly dipped my toes in, and let it unfold however each day or each feed needed it to. I followed my baby’s lead and, practically, went based off of how often I was able to pump with my husband being away.

“One Bottle, One Feed” at a Time Methodology

I ended up creating a methodology for myself that helped me begin (and continue to) navigate this new, uncharted territory: “one bottle, one feed at a time.” I started off thinking “one day at a time,” but even that felt too overwhelming. Once I began taking it one bottle at a time, it felt so much easier to make decisions and melted away a lot of the analysis paralysis I was experiencing through indecision. This method helped me to better discern what I needed to do for myself, and what he needed for immune support or comfort.

Where Are We Now?

At this point in our journey, I am no longer pumping at all. Baby boy is either taking an exclusive formula bottle, or nursing. Our current method of combo feeding is alternating between formula bottles and nursing sessions whenever he wants. Sometimes, he will get a bottle of formula and breastmilk combined if I use frozen breastmilk, but the pumping was ultimately causing too many issues in our family situation and structure this past season.

I’m able to actually enjoy our breastfeeding bond and journey again, instead of feeling like I’m constantly attached to the breast pump. The pressure of keeping up with the pumping schedule and reaching a daily ounce “quota” has been lifted, and this is such a welcome relief. Jugging the daily schedule of two kids plus a strict pumping schedule was insanity most days, and I felt it was putting a damper on quality time with my children.

The ability to feed both formula and also continue nursing has kept our breastfeeding journey going, while also adding the special bond back in, as the pump has been edged out. This has been such an unexpected and sweet joy along this road. As his first year continues on, I’m sure our combo feeding will take on many forms, and it’s so relieving for me to have multiple options as things continue to ever-evolve.

Practical Combo Feeding Tips

I thought it might be nice to end this post with some practical combo feeding tips that I have picked up along the way thus far. There’s not as much information out there about combo feeding compared to formula feeding/breastfeeding. I’m happy to share the few practical tips I’ve learned that have been helpful for me in this journey, in hopes that it may help another mama. I continue to learn more each and every day as we continue combo feeding. I am no expert, and I’m still fumbling along as I figure all of this out, so please keep that in mind as you read on!

If your baby is used to drinking only breastmilk and you’re wanting to supplement with formula, I highly recommend incrementally introducing formula and breastmilk combo bottles, starting with 75% breastmilk and 25% formula, then 50/50, then 25% breastmilk and 75% formula, and 100% formula, if desired. This helps baby be able to transition to a combo feeding method more easily, and helps their tastebuds and belly tolerate formula better overall. This may not be as successful for you because everyone is different, but it worked really well in our experience.

Important tip for making combination bottles: mix the formula FIRST!! After you mix the formula correctly, then add however many ounces of breastmilk you want to the prepared formula. Starting off with breastmilk and trying to mix the formula up within the breastmilk will end up making the formula proportions inaccurate and could impact baby’s nutrition and digestion.

Another thing that could help ease the transition to combo feeding is bottle temperature. I tend to use room temp or even slightly warm water to mix the formula with, since he’s used to the lukewarm temperature of breastmilk. He struggles to take bottles that are too cold because of this. I recommend making smaller ounce bottles when you make combined bottles of breastmilk and formula in case baby doesn’t drink it all. This means there is less breastmilk you’re dumping out when the formula in the bottle goes bad.

As you begin this process (however it may look for you), be careful about mastitis. I was relived to not have to pump as much, and I started cutting back on pumping sessions too soon, which caused mastitis (a couple times, actually.) If I could go back and do it over again, I would start by dropping one pumping session a day over the course of a few weeks to create a more natural and gradual transition for my body.

Takeaways

It has been an unexpected blessing, this new journey of ours. Getting to be a part of both “sides” is fun, because I don’t fit into just one box. I’m able to understand and empathize with women in both situations and I believe this has empowered me as a mother and helped me further relate with my motherhood peers and friends. I’m able to see the bright sides and draw backs in both arenas (because they each have plenty.) Our setup of combination feeding feels like it’s the best oof both worlds, at least for us. That’s one of the most beautiful parts of motherhood: our journey is simply and uniquely ours.

You are doing a great job, Mama. No matter how you feed your sweet baby.

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Audra Smith did not spend her childhood in Alabama, but got down here as fast as she could! Originally from Ohio, Audra met and married her husband (of nearly 6 years now), Brian, while in college, and they decided to move to Alabama on a whim a year after graduation, resulting in the best decision ever made. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Family Studies/Child Development. Audra spent the first few years after the move working for The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa within Early Childhood Education. After years of working in close proximity to Big Al, it’s safe to say now that she is a faithful Tide fan. Audra is an Army National Guard wife due to Brian’s military service and dedication to the great state of Alabama and our country. After enduring years of infertility, Audra and Brian were miraculously blessed with their daughter Nora Jo, who was born in March 2018 in the heart of Birmingham. Audra now resides in the Chelsea area (Sterrett) with her husband Brian, daughter Nora Jo, and living security system (lab/hound mix) Hamilton. When she’s not wrangling and chasing after a spunky toddler, Audra enjoys a good book, just about a million cups of coffee a day, embracing/celebrating the wild ride of postpartum, any DIY crafty project, and being on the water. She initially went to college for Vocal Music, and still enjoys music and singing very much as an outlet (even if she’s mostly singing “Baby Shark” these days.) Audra is passionate about raising awareness for Type 1 Diabetes, as she lives with this disease every day. Audra is currently a stay at home mom who makes it a priority to cultivate side projects related to her passions. She enjoys connecting with other mamas, women, and anyone who needs someone to talk to. Instagram has become a virtual tribe for her, and if you’d like to participate, head on over to @audrashoupesmith whenever you need a dose of “real life.”

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