The debate between formula feeding and breastfeeding is one that will never rest. While there is no doubt that breastfeeding is best for your baby, and recommended exclusively for the first six months after birth, there still are many doubts surrounding a baby’s feeding ritual. As new moms, we are often told to “supplement with formula” or “give a top feed”, especially if our milk production seems to be low, or if the baby’s weight is low. This makes us think that – it is a good idea to go with mixing breastmilk and formula together, so that the baby can get best of both the worlds. But is this really advisable?
We spoke to some fellow moms about the feeding routine they follow for their babies. As mothers, all of us aim to nurse our baby for as long as possible. However, sometimes, this may be difficult. Breastfeeding is rife with challenges for many women, ranging from low milk production to sore nipples to problems with latching. In many Indian households, if the mother is experiencing such problems, the advice is this – mix breastmilk with some formula milk to ensure that the baby gets enough nutrition.
This advice is very popular and widespread, and also given to moms whose babies are underweight. However, when it comes to feeding your baby, you cannot be too careful. This is why many of us moms battle with the questions – Can I mix breast milk and formula? Is it safe to do? In what proportion should it be done?
Well, the simple, straight answer is ‘no’ – you should NOT mix formula milk with breast milk. Not only is this going to seriously mess up the composition of your baby’s feed, it may also lead to problems in digestion.
Why You Should NOT Mix Formula and Breast Milk
To understand why it is a bad idea to mix the two, it is important to take into account two very different reasons.
1. The Composition of Breastmilk and Formula Milk is Very Different
The breastmilk that you naturally produce post-delivery is such that it aptly provides for all the baby’s nutritional requirements. It also boosts the baby’s immunity. Natural breast milk contains: fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and minerals, all in the right amount, as required by the baby for his proper growth and development. Not only that, the breast milk produced by each mother will be slightly different in composition depending on the health and requirement of her baby.
In fact, studies have shown that if the baby is unwell, the mother’s body has a way of ‘sensing’ that during a breastfeeding session, and the composition of the breast milk then changes accordingly, to ensure the baby gets proper nutrition to keep strength and fight the disease. Breast milk, hence, is highly customised!
Formula milk, on the other hand, is a man-made solution especially targeted at mothers who have premature babies, struggle with low breast milk supply, women who stop lactating prematurely, etc. The composition of formula milk mimics that of natural breast milk, but remains static.
When you mix the two, the composition of the resulting mixture is going to be greatly altered. The composition will neither be like breastmilk, nor like formula milk. The amount and proportion of nutrients will change. This altered composition may lead to certain nutrients being provided in excess to the baby (especially micronutrients and minerals). As per paediatricians, this can make the milk difficult to digest for the baby’s delicate digestive system that is still in its developing stage.
2. The Shelf Life of Breastmilk and Formula Milk is Also Entirely Different
Shelf-life of a product is defined as the amount of time for which a product can remain fit for consumption, without spoiling and while retaining its nutritional value and content.
Breast milk can be stored at 4oC for up to 8 days. If frozen, it can go for 6 to 8 months at -18 to -20oC. So, you can express your breast milk and store it in feeding bottles in the fridge, and use it throughout the day. If your baby does not finish his feed, expressed breast milk can be kept at room temperature (up to 26oC) for a maximum of 6 hours.
Formula milk, however, should NOT be stored, no matter how ‘freshly prepared’ it is. It has to be consumed immediately. This means, if your baby does not finish the entire feed, you just have to discard whatever is left.
This means, if you mix the two, the mixture will not keep if stored for longer durations, since shelf-life of the two milks – formula milk and breast milk – is not the same. If your baby does not finish the entire feed, you will have to discard the remaining milk – while this is common for un-used formula milk, you will be wasting precious breast milk along with it (which can otherwise be stored for longer period).
What You Can Do Instead
So, now that you know the medical advice about mixing breastmilk and formula, what is the solution? Ideally, a baby should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of his life. But for whatever medical or personal reasons, if you are considering breastfeeding and formula feeding at the same time, here is what you can do:
- Alternate your baby’s meals – one formula milk feed, one breast milk feed
- If you are struggling with lowered breast milk supply, use breastfeeding as a small ‘between the meals’ feed rather than as a major feed of the day
- If you must use both, doctors recommend that you always breastfeed first, and only then top up your feed with formula milk. The reason to do this is because breast milk contains antibodies, which formula milk lacks. Another reason to do this is – feeding with a bottle is easier and requires less effort on the baby’s part. It is also more pleasurable. This is why babies may tend to overfeed if bottle-fed exclusively.