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Learn More Before You Supplement with Formula

August 4, 2013 by HealthyFamilies BC

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Worried that your baby isn't getting enough to eat? Talk to your healthcare provider before you try adding formula.  

In the meantime, it's best to keep breastfeeding.


The most common reason that parents give their baby a supplement is because they worry their baby is not getting enough to eat.

Babies go through 'growth spurts' at about 2-3 weeks, 6 weeks and 2-3 months and want to feed more often. Your breasts may feel soft during a growth spurt, which can lead you to assume that your baby isn't getting enough milk. It might feel like you are feeding all the time for about 24 hours. These extra feeding help you produce the amount of milk your baby needs.

Check with your health care provider

Some babies may need formula supplements for a medical reason. Check with your health care provider before offering supplements.

Giving your baby an unneeded supplement can create the following problems:

  • Baby feels full and will not breastfeed very well. This interferes with supply and demand - the more your baby feeds (demand) the more milk you make (supply). A baby who fills up with other foods like formula will not demand enough and your body will respond by making less milk.
  • Engorgement. Your breasts become hard from swelling and milk. This is often painful and can decrease milk supply. It can also make latching on more difficult for the baby.
  • Nipple confusion. If other liquids such formula or water are given by bottle, some babies have difficulty switching back and forth between the bottle and the breast.
  • Changes to a baby's gut. Formula also changes the lining of the baby's intestines. Human milk helps healthy bacteria grow in the intestines while formula allows the growth of harmful bacteria. In some babies, formula can increase their risk of allergies.
  • Overfeeding. Babies who are overfed in early infancy are more likely to be obese later in life. If you supplement, offer it after your baby breastfeeds.

Keep breastfeeding until you get advice

If you're thinking about supplementing, keep breastfeeding until you can speak to your healthcare provider. Sometimes perseverance is needed during changes to feeding, so keep breastfeeding to keep your milk flowing. 

Read more about Getting Back to Fully Breastfeeding

Bonding Without a Bottle

Some partners worry that they won't bond with their baby unless they can bottle feed. In fact, there are so many other ways that partners can bond with their baby and support the baby's need to breastfeed. Try skin-to-skin cuddling, bathing, changing, walking, reading to, and burping your baby. You have an amazing opportunity to build a relationship that is based on fun, not food!

Questions to ask yourself about if you feel your baby is not getting enough milk:

For babies in the first weeks of life:

  • Has your baby lost some weight? It's normal in the first few days, until your milk increases around day three or four. Most babies return to their birth weight by about two weeks.

  • Does your baby wake up wanting to breastfeed a lot? Waking to breastfeed more than eight times in 24 hours is a good sign your baby is recovering from the birth.
    o Is your baby full term and healthy? It's rare for healthy babies born at 38 weeks or more to need more milk than you have.

  • Does your baby have wet diapers? It's normal for a baby to have one wet diaper on day one, two to three wet diapers on day two, three to five wet diapers on days three to five, and four to six or more wet diapers by days five to seven.

  • Will your baby settle when placed skin-to-skin with you or your partner?

  • Are there any medical reasons why your baby might need more milk? For example, have you had breast reduction surgery? Was your baby small at birth? Or does your baby have medical reasons that indicate she may need more milk?

For older babies:

Babies can be unsettled for reasons other than hunger.

  • Has your baby been growing and gaining weight well until now? If yes, it is very unlikely that your milk has suddenly disappeared unless you have been trying to decrease the number of feedings. Read more about Getting Back to Fully Breastfeeding
  • Does your baby have lots of heavy wet diapers and soft bowel movements (poopy diapers)?
  • Could your baby be going through a growth spurt? Try feeding more often to increase your milk supply.
  • Are there big changes happening in your baby's life? Things like teething, starting to crawl, or mother going back to work can affect your baby's behaviour.

Resources & Links:
HealthLink BC: Successful Breastfeeding
HealthLink BC: Bottle-Feeding: Disadvantages for Babies

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Topic

  1. Activity & Lifestyles
  2. Aging Well
  3. Pregnancy & Parenting
    1. Pregnancy & Birth
    2. Babies (0-12 months)
    3. Toddlers (12-36 months)
    4. Preschool (3-5 years)
    5. Children (6-11 years)
    6. Teens (12-18 years)
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