How to Introduce Formula to Breastfed Babies: The Parent’s Guide to Supplementing with Formula
Making the transition from breastfeeding to formula feeding can be challenging, to say the least. Although many mothers want to continue breastfeeding for as long as they can, sometimes it’s simply not possible, due to health issues, latching difficulties, a low milk supply, family complications, or work commitments.
Here at Huggable, we believe it’s important that mothers realize that switching to formula (or supplementing with formula) isn’t a failure of any kind. You know what’s best for your baby, and we want you to feel confident that you’re making the right choice, whatever that choice may be.
The great news is that introducing formula to breastfed babies is easier than you might think. It will probably take some time, but it’s nothing that you and your baby can’t handle! Perhaps even more encouraging is the fact that there are so many wonderful formulas these days. You’re bound to find one that your baby loves, and you can continue to bond with your baby during feeds, while also feeling confident that you’re giving your baby the absolute best alternative to breast milk.
If you’re planning to introduce formula, it’s always a good idea to consult with your pediatrician about the best way to do this. Your pediatrician will be familiar with the specifics of your situation and will be best placed to advise about effective strategies that will work for your family.
How to Choose the Best Formula for Your Baby
Once you’ve decided to introduce formula, either as a substitute or as a supplement to breast milk, the next step is to choose a great formula. Fortunately, there are many high-quality, wholesome, and organic formulas that will provide your baby with all of the nutrients that he or she needs.
At Huggable, we want to make your formula decision as easy and stress-free as possible. We want you to have access to the best formulas available in order to give your baby the best possible start in life. We feel strongly that infant formula should be the closest thing you can get to breast milk.
We've spoken to health experts and researched the best formulas from all around the world, and we've discovered that European brands such as HiPP, Holle, and Lebenswert are some of the most highly regarded formulas out there.
We only carry a few brands because we want to make sure that we have 100% confidence in all of our products. Furthermore, we regularly review the latest research on infant nutrition in order to ensure that we are offering our customers the best baby formulas from the most reputable manufacturers.
We only stock top-quality formulas that are made from organic cow's or goat's milk, from sustainable, organic and biodynamic farms, and all of our products have been thoroughly tested to ensure optimal quality, freshness, and taste.
None of our formulas contain processed, refined sweeteners like corn syrup, sucrose, or glucose syrup, which are unfortunately prevalent in many U.S. formulas. Our formulas never include synthetic nutrients, synthetic preservatives, or GMO ingredients. Instead, they feature natural ingredients such as organic whey, lactose, vegetable oils, vitamins, minerals, prebiotics, and probiotics.
So, Which Formula Should I Use?
It’s important to remember that there’s no one single formula that’s the “best” for all babies. Every baby is different and will have unique feeding requirements. That said, we’ve found a few of the formulas we carry to be particularly great starting points for many happy, healthy babies.
- Holle Bio PRE is a wonderful formula to use on its own or as a supplement to breast milk. It’s widely recognized as one of the best substitutes for breast milk. Holle is one of the highest-quality baby formula brands in the world, and this formula meets the Demeter standard for organic, biodynamic farming. Holle Bio PRE has a simple list of ingredients such as biodynamic skim milk, organic whey powder, organic lactose, vitamins, and minerals. It’s completely free from chemicals, artificial preservatives, coloring and flavors, and you won’t find any starch, maltodextrin, sucrose, or corn syrup in this formula. Holle Bio PRE is unique because a significant proportion of its fat content comes from Demeter-certified milk fat, with a smaller proportion from vegetable oils.
- HiPP UK Stage 1 is one of the best-value European formulas on the market. It’s a nutritionally-complete formula that contains organic skim milk, organic whey, organic lactose, vegetable oils, prebiotics, essential vitamins and minerals, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and more. It’s free from GMO ingredients, starch, refined sugars, syrup, soy, and synthetic nutrients and preservatives, and it’s certified organic to European standards. HiPP UK Stage 2 is made with the same ingredients and is designed with just the right amount of nutrients for babies six months and older.
- HiPP Dutch Stage 1 is one of our most popular formulas. It closely resembles the UK version, but it also includes probiotics in the form of organic lactic acid cultures, which are very similar to the probiotics found in breast milk. And for babies six months and older, HiPP Dutch Stage 2 is a perfect next step which shares the same great ingredients.
Special Feeding Conditions
If your baby has any specific feeding issues, HiPP offers a variety of specialty formulas that could really help your little one.
- For babies with spit-up and reflux, consider trying HiPP AR Anti-Reflux, a gentle formula that contains locust bean gum to help the formula stay down after feeds.
- We’ve also received lots of positive customer feedback about babies with milk protein sensitivity doing well on HiPP Germany HA Hypoallergenic, which contains extensively hydrolyzed whey proteins that are less likely to provoke an allergenic response.
- Some parents prefer to give their baby an organic goat’s milk formula because the protein composition of goat’s milk is more similar to breast milk, and may be less likely to cause a reaction, than cow’s milk. That’s why we stock Holle Goat, which has a base of organic goat’s milk and provides all of the same nutrition as Holle’s cow’s milk formulas.
If you’re still unsure about what formula to choose for your little one, check out our Baby Formula Comparison Chart to see how all of our formulas stack up against one another.
If Possible, Transition from Breastmilk to Formula Gradually
If you plan to continue breastfeeding alongside formula feeding, it’s usually recommended to wait until your baby is at least a month old before introducing formula. This will allow your milk supply to become established, so you’ll be able to continue breastfeeding even while supplementing with formula. This will also give your baby time to get used to the process of latching and suckling.
However, many babies are formula-fed from birth, or they may need to switch to formula fairly abruptly for some reason, and that’s perfectly okay. If at all possible, make it a gradual transition, but this isn’t always an option, and your baby will be just fine when you make the switch.
If your baby is already used to feeding from a bottle...
If you’ve already been expressing breast milk and feeding your baby with a bottle, the transition to formula feeding may be fairly straightforward since your baby will be accustomed to taking a bottle.
On the other hand, if you’re introducing formula after exclusively breastfeeding, the transition may be more lengthy and complex. Either way, breast milk and formula — even the highest-quality formula -- will have somewhat different tastes and textures, so it’s likely that your baby will need some time to get used to formula. Remember, take it slow and be patient…you and your baby will get there eventually!
When introducing any new formula, it’s important to factor in a transition period of up to two weeks to allow your baby’s digestive system to adjust. This is true even if you are simply moving from one stage of a particular formula to the next stage!
Gas, constipation, and fussiness are fairly common reactions to a new formula. Because of this, we recommend introducing the new formula gradually by mixing it with the old formula (or breast milk) in the same bottle. This means completely preparing a certain amount of formula, according to the preparation instructions, and then adding it to expressed breast milk. Unfortunately, you shouldn’t just add formula powder to breast milk.
Because it’s so important to transition gradually, we recommend following this schedule:
- Day 1 & Day 2: 25% formula and 75% expressed breast milk
- Day 3 & Day 4: 50% formula and 50% breast milk
- Day 5 & Day 6: 75% formula and 25% breast milk
- Day 7: 100% formula
If you’re going to be supplementing breast milk with formula...
There are many different ways to supplement breast milk with formula, but a reliable method is to mix expressed breast milk with prepared formula in the same bottle. As mentioned above, gradually introducing formula is key, even if you’re going to continue to give your baby some breast milk. You could start off by introducing a bottle with 25% formula, along with 75% breast milk, before moving on to half formula and half breast milk, or until you find the ratio that works for you and your baby, or that your pediatrician or lactation consultant has recommended.
There are also several other ways to supplement. Some mothers decide to alternate between formula feeds and breastfeeding. However, this doesn’t always work, as babies may not get used to the taste of formula, and could potentially reject the formula bottles. Another method is to feed with a bottle full of expressed breast milk, and then with a formula bottle after using up the breast milk, although this does require preparing two bottles!
Some mothers prefer not to mix breast milk and formula because they don’t want to risk wasting any expressed breast milk. It’s also worth keeping in mind that prepared formula doesn’t last as long as breast milk, so you may end up discarding some breast milk if you mix it with formula but your baby doesn’t finish it all.
Always Do What’s Best for Your Body
Introducing formula is a big change for your baby, but what about for you? Whether you’re planning to stop breastfeeding entirely or transition to combination feeding (breastfeeding and formula feeding), you’ll want to give your body plenty of time to adjust. If possible, decreasing the number of breastfeeds by one feed a week will help your body produce less milk, while also allowing your baby plenty of time to get used to the new routine.
It’s important to be aware that if you start combination feeding, your body will get used to producing less breast milk and it may be challenging to increase your supply after this. It’s also important to think about which feeds you want to drop, if you are going to be combination feeding, as your body will get used to producing less milk at certain times of the day or night. Continuing to breastfeed or express regularly will help keep up your milk supply, which is necessary if you are planning to continue breastfeeding or giving your baby bottles of breast milk, alongside formula.
How to Give Your Baby a Bottle
Giving your baby a bottle of formula or expressed breast milk is fairly straightforward, and you’ll soon get the hang of it. Here are some tips to review before you try:
- Follow the formula preparation instructions closely, including boiling water and letting it cool for about 30 minutes, in order to kill any bacteria in the formula powder.
- Always use a sterilized bottle with a clean nipple; a slow-flow nipple is especially useful for young babies, and those who are used to breastfeeding.
- Keep your baby in a fairly upright position when introducing a bottle, so that they can swallow easily. Make sure to support their head.
- To get your baby to accept a bottle, gently brush their lips with the bottle’s nipple. This will encourage them to open their mouth.
- Make sure that the bottle is full enough so that your baby isn’t taking in air. Hold the bottle upright when feeding.
- If the nipple goes flat during a feed, gently put your finger in your baby’s mouth so that the nipple can reinflate.
- Your baby may need several breaks while feeding and may need to burp.
- Make sure to remove the bottle when your baby seems to be finished.
- Wind your baby after a feed by placing them against your shoulder and gently rubbing or patting their back.
- Don’t worry if your baby hasn’t finished the entire bottle, or if they spit up a little after a feed.
Introducing a Bottle for the First Time
If you’ve never given your baby a bottle before, it may take some time for your little one to adjust. This is perfectly normal and just requires some patience on your part. As you would expect, the best time to introduce a bottle for the first time is when your baby is a little bit hungry and is expecting a feed. He or she will be more likely to accept the bottle at a normal feeding time. It’s always best to introduce a bottle when your baby is in a good mood and relatively sleepy, rather than being cranky or overtired.
Admittedly, this can be a tricky balance to strike, as you want your baby to be hungry enough to accept the bottle, but not so hungry that he or she becomes cranky! Just because babies are very hungry doesn’t mean they are going to accept a bottle. Babies may become upset if an unfamiliar feeding method is introduced when they are already irritable.
You know your baby best, so choose a time when you think your little one will be most likely to try something new. Of course, sometimes the best-laid plans don’t work out, so don’t be discouraged if your first attempt (or first few attempts) are unsuccessful. Be patient with your baby and with yourself; you’ll find the right time eventually.
If you’re unsure about how much formula your baby should be consuming, take a look at our Baby Formula Feeding Chart. This will give you a general idea about how much and how frequently babies of different ages typically feed. Please keep in mind that every baby is different, and babies may not always feed the same amount from day to day.
Other Strategies for Introducing a Bottle
“Sneak” in Formula in the Midst of Breastfeeding
One common strategy for introducing a bottle for the first time is to switch to a bottle towards the end of a breastfeeding session. Your baby will still be hungry for more and “in the zone” of feeding, and will ideally feel calm and relaxed enough to try something new, such as a bottle containing formula. A related technique is to put some breast milk on the nipple of the bottle, so that it smells and tastes more familiar for your baby.
If you’re not able to introduce a bottle in the midst of a breastfeeding session, and have to start the feed with a bottle, try giving your baby a bottle containing expressed breast milk. This will get them used to the feel of the bottle, while still giving them the taste they’re used to. If this isn’t possible, introducing a bottle of formula with even a small amount of breast milk on the nipple may still encourage your baby to accept the bottle as it tastes and smells more familiar.
Involve Other Family Members and Friends
Sometimes the best strategy is actually to have the first bottle feed initiated by someone other than the baby’s mother. This may sound counterintuitive, but consider this: your baby is already attuned to the smell of breast milk, and they aren’t likely to accept a bottle if they can smell breast milk! They may get confused if their mother offers them a bottle instead of a breast.
On the other hand, if a bottle is introduced by the baby’s father or grandmother (ie. someone familiar to the baby but who isn’t Mom!), for example, the baby may be more likely to try it, especially if they’re hungry, since there won’t be any reminder of the breast milk scent associated with their mother. This could also be a very positive experience by helping your baby to bond with other family members and getting them accustomed to being fed by various people. This will also give mothers more flexibility and maybe even some free time, rather than being responsible for all of the baby’s feeds!
Try a New Position
Another strategy that could work is to hold your baby in a slightly different position than you normally would when breastfeeding. This will help your baby to learn that bottle feeding is a different activity than breastfeeding, and may help to lessen the confusion.
Make Bottle Feeding Just as Loving as Breastfeeding
Besides nourishing your baby, there is a huge emotional side to breastfeeding. But just because you are switching to formula, or supplementing with formula, doesn’t mean you have to give that up! Whenever possible, try to make formula feeds as much of a bonding experience as breastfeeding. This means giving your baby plenty of skin-to-skin contact with your arms or chest, making lots of eye contact, and giving them attention as they feed by singing or playing with them.
Choose the Right Bottle
There are so many options when it comes to baby bottles! It seems overwhelming when you consider all the possibilities, but remember — you’ll find one that works for your baby, although it may take some trial and error. When your baby is breastfeeding, he or she is used to having to “work” for milk, rather than having the milk flow out freely, and they will be used to this.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to find a bottle with a slow-flow nipple, which is more similar for babies to the feeling of breastfeeding. Luckily, most bottles designed for young babies come equipped with this kind of nipple. You may need to experiment with a few different bottles until you find one that your baby likes.
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again!
Don’t be discouraged if your first attempt to introduce a bottle is met with confusion or outright rejection from your baby. In fact, this is likely to happen! Just give your baby time to get used to the feel and smell of the bottle. If you keep at it, even if it takes several attempts, you’ll find that your baby will be happy to take a bottle before too long.
You may need to time this just right, so that they are hungry and ready to feed but not grumpy or overtired. It may also be necessary to play around with the temperature of the formula or the consistency, in order to find the optimal feeding conditions for your little one. Some babies are fine with room temperature formula, whereas some really like to have a warm bottle (but remember, never heat up formula in the microwave as it may heat unevenly and cause scalding)! Keep trying some of the strategies mentioned here, such as introducing the bottle with some breast milk on the nipple, or giving your baby a bottle before completely finishing a breastfeeding session.
Although they are different from breast milk and may take some time to get accustomed to, the formulas recommended here are all tasty and appealing to babies, having been made with high-quality, wholesome, organic ingredients and no artificial additives or chemicals. Sooner or later, your baby will get used to the feel of the bottle and the taste of formula, and will soon be looking forward to bottle feeds with their mother, father, favorite relative, or family friend.
Remember, your baby will continue to thrive after making the switch to formula. Undoubtedly, the most important thing you can give your baby is love and attention, and by providing them with a high-quality organic formula like HiPP, Holle, or Lebenswert, you will be able to do that while also ensuring that they get the absolute best breast milk substitute available.