Wrens guide to combination feeding
Wren’s guide to combination feeding
Looking for a more flexible feeding schedule for your baby? Here’s our guide on how to combine breastfeeding and bottle feeding, so your baby gets all the goodness they need in a way that works for you both.
What is combination feeding?
Combination feeding - or mixed feeding - involves both breastfeeding your baby and offering them bottles of expressed milk or formula. As you get the hang of breastfeeding, you can start to swap out some sessions for bottle feeds to create your own combination feeding schedule and make it easier to nourish your baby in a way that suits you.
People combination feed in all sorts of ways:
- Combining breastfeeding and expressed breast milk
- Combining breastfeeding and formula feeds
- Combining breastfeeding, expressed milk and formula.
Some parents decide that totally formula-fed is the way to go, while others opt to take advantage of the many benefits of breastfeeding and exclusively breastfeed or exclusively pump to nourish their baby.
Reasons for combination feeding
There are lots of benefits of combination feeding and plenty of reasons why parents choose to give it a go:
- Going back to work/Leaving your baby for periods of time - If you’re planning on being away from your baby while you’re at work, or need the flexibility to go out at certain times of the day (or night!) you may need to swap some breastfeeds for bottle feeds to keep them well fed, especially during the first 6 months.
- Sharing the load - Single-handedly feeding a baby can take its toll. By introducing bottle feeds, your partner, friends or family can take more responsibility and give you some time back to catch up on sleep, focus on other things… or just give you the time to do you.
- Increasing your baby’s milk intake - By adding in bottle feeds, you can boost the amount of nourishment your baby gets throughout the day. This may be useful if you’re struggling with feeding and need to give your baby some milk in another way while you get the hang of it.
- Starting breastfeeding - Mixed feeding can be a good way to find a new routine if you’re bottle feeding but want to start introducing breastfeeds and increase your milk supply slowly.
When can you start combination feeding?
You can start combination feeding from birth, but it’s often recommended that you wait for 6-8 weeks, until you and your baby have got into the swing of breastfeeding and you’ve established your milk supply before you try a mixed feeding approach.
If you’re planning on trying combination feeding before you go back to work, it’s a good idea to start swapping out feeds a few weeks in advance, so everyone has time to get used to the new routine.
How to start combination feeding
Ready to give mixed feeding a go? Everyone’s situation and experience will be different, but our main tips for introducing bottle feeds are:
Take your time
Your baby will need a while to get used to changing patterns and a new way of feeding. Begin by swapping out one breastfeed at a time to get them used to taking a bottle.
Don’t leave it until they’re hungry
A hangry bubba isn’t going to be receptive to anything new. Wait until your baby is calm - and doesn’t have a rumbling tummy! - before starting them on the bottle. If they are chilled out, they’ll be more likely to give it a go without fussing.
Get someone else to give it a go
If you usually breastfeed your baby, ask someone else to try them out on their first bottles. If they can smell your milk, they might protest and demand their usual feed rather than taking it in a new way.
Express yourself on the regular
We go into this more further down but, if you’re planning to try mixed feeding with bottles of expressed milk, you’ll need to get into a regular pumping routine. Start off slow and save up milk for those feeds you swap out, and you’ll soon get into a pattern that works for your supply.
Choose the right teat
Some bottles have teats that let milk through faster than a real nipple and take less effort to drink from. The key is to select a slow-flow teat and not to offer a totally upturned bottle, so your baby still has to work at sucking and won’t kick up a fuss when you bring them back to the boob and it feels like harder work to get a meal in.
Try paced bottle feeding
If your baby is lying back, it’s harder for you both to control how much milk they swallow. Instead, hold your baby upright, keeping them close to you. Touch the teat of the bottle to their top lip, so they open wide and start to take it into their mouth. Keep the bottle horizontal when they start to suck, so they have to keep working to get the milk. If you hold it upside-down, they won’t have to work so hard, but this might mean they start to reject the breast if it feels like more effort. Give them a few breaks and take the bottle away when you can see they’re no longer drinking.
Problems with combination feeding
Combination feeding can be a lifesaver for lots of parents, but it can come with a few hurdles:
Time to get established
It takes a while to get a routine going when you start combination feeding and have to start storing milk and swapping feeds, but once you’ve found your flow, you’ll have more flexibility.
Whether nipple confusion is real or not, some babies can find it hard to adjust to new feeding methods and plastic teats, which may mean they either reject the bottle, or start to prefer it to the real thing.
Breastfeeding is no walk in the park but, once established, it’s a real time saver as there’s no equipment to carry around or keep clean. When you start using bottles or a breast pump, you’ll have to make time to sterilise all the parts. Sterilising adds to your to-do list but, with a bit of prep, it can be quick and easy.
How to pump for combination feeding
If you’re keen to keep giving your baby breast milk (rather than formula) in their bottles, pumping is essential. Starting the process and storing up enough milk to begin swapping out feeds can seem daunting, so here are our top tips to make the journey easier.
Build it up slowly
Don’t worry if you don’t get much milk when you start pumping. It takes a while to build up a supply, especially if you’re already breastfeeding your baby and they are taking a lot of the milk. If you’re just getting into breastfeeding, it will take a while to create a supply and demand system, so start small and give your body time to adjust.
Pump on the opposite side
Pop a pump on the opposite breast when your baby is feeding, to start building up a stash of milk for bottle feeding. Even if you don’t get much, decant it into a bottle or milk storage bag. You can keep this in the fridge and keep topping it up over 24 hours, at which point, pop it into the freezer and it’ll be ok for up to 6 months.
Use a milk collector
If you’re prone to leaks throughout the day, or find yourself dripping from the opposite boob while baby feeds, slip one of our nipple bubbles into your bra, to collect every last drop for your bottle milk stash.
Pump after a feed
If you still have milk in your boobs after baby is done feeding, pop on a hands-free breast pump to empty them properly. It’ll help you build up a freezer supply *and* keep nasties like engorgement and mastitis at bay.
Fit in an extra session
Try pumping 45 minutes to an hour after your baby feeds, once or twice throughout the day. It might not seem like much to start with but, after a few days, your body should start to boost your milk supply to meet the extra demand.
Pump when they take a bottle
Once you’ve got into a combination feeding routine, you should be able to pump when your baby is enjoying expressed milk and save the milk you collect for future bottle feeds.
Example combination feeding schedule
Here at Wren, we’re not big fans of strict routines but, while some parents choose to feed their baby on demand, we know that others prefer to follow a more predictable schedule.
Fall into the latter camp? The perfect combination feeding schedule is one that works for you and your baby and adapts as they grow, but here’s an example of how a typical day could look if you work 9am - 5pm.
6am - Breastfeed
8am - Breastfeed before leaving for work or dropping off at nursery
11am - Pump at work / Baby gets a bottle
2pm - Pump at work / Baby gets a bottle
5.30pm - Breastfeed at nursery pick-up
8pm - Breastfeed at bedtime
11pm - Breastfeed (or pump)
3am - Breastfeed