How to Supplement Breastfeeding in Newborns

Deciding how to feed your newborn is a big decision for many new moms. About 20 percent plan to breast-feed but also supplement with formula, according to It's better not to give your baby supplemental feedings until you have established your milk supply. Your baby might also find sucking on a bottle much easier than breast-feeding and come to prefer it.

Start With Breast-Feeding

There are many reasons why you might consider supplementing in the newborn period. If you're doing it for convenience, try to hold off supplemental feedings for 10 days to two weeks so that your milk comes in well and your baby gets the hang of breast-feeding before you give the bottle, recommends pediatrician James Sargent of Dartmouth Medical Center. If you must supplement in the newborn period because of medical issues, breast-feed first, if possible, then give the bottle. Because bottle feeding takes less effort, your baby might prefer it and refuse the breast.

Feeding Techniques

High angle view of woman breastfeeding baby

The Negative Effects of Bottle Feeding

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Pediatrician William Sears recommends using a cup, eyedropper or spoon to give supplemental feedings if you plan to keep nursing, especially in the first few weeks when you're still establishing breast-feeding. Bottles and breast-feeding require different sucking techniques; giving supplemental feedings in other ways helps avoid nipple confusion. You can feed even a newborn small amounts of formula with a spoon or cup, letting him lap at the milk, not putting a mouthful in his mouth with a spoon or pouring it down with a cup. If you're supplementing because you don't have enough breast milk, you can use a supplemental nursing system, a thin tube that attaches to the breast and allows the baby to continue to nurse and receive supplemental nutrition. If you use a bottle, choose one with a nipple that closely resembles the breast.

Having Someone Else Give the Supplement

Having someone else give the bottle can help avoid confusing your baby over the source of his food. When you give a bottle, your baby can still smell your milk. Having your partner or another caregiver give the supplemental feeding allows the baby to maintain his association of breast-feeding with you. If you do give a supplemental feeding, don't sit in a familiar rocker or other location your baby might associate with breast-feeding.


High angle view of woman breastfeeding baby

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Combining breast-feeding and supplemental feedings can lower your chances of successfully breast-feeding, according to a Ball State University study published in the January-February 2003 issue of the "Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing." In the study, daily supplemental feedings were associated with a decreased chance of success at breast-feeding. If you offer supplements because you're worried that your baby isn't getting enough milk, talk to a lactation consultant before giving supplements or have your doctor weigh your baby before and after a feeding to see how much milk he's getting.