How to combine breast and bottle feeding
It can take mums and babies up to six weeks to successfully establish breastfeeding.
Once you've both got the hang of it, it's usually possible to offer your baby bottles of expressed milk or formula alongside breastfeeding.
This is sometimes called mixed or combination feeding.
Why combine breast and bottle?
- are breastfeeding and want to use a bottle to offer your baby some expressed breast milk
- want to breastfeed for some of your baby's feeds, but give bottles of formula for one or more feeds
- are bottle feeding your baby and want to start breastfeeding
- need to leave your baby and want to make sure they have some milk while you're away
Introducing formula feeds will probably reduce the amount of breast milk you produce. Your baby also learns to use a different kind of suck at the bottle than at the breast.
These things can make breastfeeding more difficult, especially in the first few weeks when you and your baby are still getting breastfeeding established.
Introducing formula feeds
Combining breastfeeding with formula feeds is better for your baby than switching to only using formula. It means both you and your baby can carry on enjoying the benefits of breastfeeding.
If you choose to introduce infant formula:
- it's best to do it gradually to give your body time to reduce the amount of milk it makes. This will also give your baby's body time to adjust from having human breast milk to having formula milk
- if you're going back to work, start a few weeks beforehand to give both of you time to readjust
- if your baby is six months old or more and can drink milk from a cup, you may not need to introduce a bottle at all
For more information, see drinks and cups for babies.
See more advice on how to bottle feed.
Giving your baby their first bottle
Babies use a different sucking action when drinking from a bottle and it may take a while for a breastfed baby to get the hang of it.
- It usually helps to give the first few bottles when your baby is happy and relaxed – not when they're very hungry.
- It may help if someone else gives the first feeds, so that your baby is not near you and smelling your breast milk.
- Keep trying but don't force your baby to feed. Your baby doesn't have to finish all the milk in the bottle. Let them tell you when they have had enough.
If you want to start breastfeeding more and give your baby fewer bottles, it's a good idea to ask your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding supporter for support.
These tips may help too:
- Hold and cuddle your baby as much as possible, ideally skin to skin. This will encourage your body to make milk and your baby to feed.
- Express your breast milk regularly. Expressing releases the hormone prolactin, which stimulates your breasts to make milk. About eight times a day, including once at night is ideal. It may be easier to express by hand to begin with – your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding supporter can show you how. You can also read more about expressing by hand.
- Try bottlefeeding while holding your baby skin to skin and close to your breasts.
- If your baby is latching on, feed little and often. Don't worry if your baby doesn't feed for long to begin with. See tips on how to get your baby properly positioned and attached.
- Choose times when your baby is relaxed, alert and not too hungry, and don't force your baby to stay at the breast.
- Decrease the number of bottles gradually, as your milk supply increases.
- Consider using a lactation aid (supplementer). A tiny tube is taped next to your nipple and passes into your baby's mouth so your baby can get milk via the tube as well as from your breast. This helps to support your baby as they get used to attaching to the breast. Your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding supporter can give you more information.
See more tips on boosting your milk supply.
Help and support with mixed feeding
If you have any questions or concerns about combining breast and bottle feeding:
- talk to your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding supporter
- call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212 (9.30am to 9.30pm, daily)
- find breastfeeding support near you
Media review due: 22 March 2020
Page last reviewed: 2 October 2016
Next review due: 2 October 2019