How to make mixed feeding work for you

mix feeding baby

Mixed feeding means combining breastfeeding with bottle feeding. It's sometimes known as combined feeding or partial breastfeeding and involves replacing one or more breastfeeds with bottle feeds. Read on for the benefits of mixed feeding, testimonials from parents who've gone before you and tips on how to mix feed successfully.

When it comes to feeding your baby, every parent should feel comfortable choosing their own path. For some parents, particularly those struggling to exclusively breastfeed, that may mean following the 'fed is best' logic and combining breastfeeding with the benefits of bottle feeding.

What is mixed feeding?

Mixed feeding is the combining of breastfeeding with bottle feeding. It can offer mums a bit of respite from the demands of exclusive breastfeeding, and the bottle can be either expressed breast milk or formula.

There’s no 'one size fits all' when it comes to mixed feeding and there are a number of options to try it safely if you’re considering it. You could:

  • Replace the occasional breastfeed with a bottle feed to try and get your baby used to taking a bottle.
  • Replace some breastfeeds with a bottle at nighttime to allow someone else to take the night shift.
  • Use expressed milk so that your partner has a chance to get involved with feeding, while still exclusively giving your baby breast milk.
  • Use formula to supplement your own supply of breast milk – this can give you a break from the exhausting job of expressing and allow you to sleep through if it's a night feed.

What are the benefits of mixed feeding?

I mixed fed from the start with my second child. It meant my husband could give one feed during the night and let me have a solid chunk of sleep. I found it gave me flexibility and allowed me to get support from others when I needed it.

Introducing bottle feeding can give you some much-needed time off from your milk rounds, but there are other reasons to consider mixed feeding.

If your baby isn't gaining weight or is finding it difficult to latch on, you might be advised by a medical professional to try to combine bottle feeding with breastfeeding. Supplementing your feeding with formula can take the pressure off both you and baby, and it could help you if you’ve been stressed about issues like weight gain.

For mothers returning to work, combined feeding allows another carer to bottle feed. Breastfeeding your baby when you get home from work can then be a great way for you both to reconnect before bedtime. Some women express at or before work, and you’ll soon find a routine that suits you and your baby.

What else do I need to know about mixed feeding?

Mixed feeding may sound like the perfect balance between breast and bottle, but with the pros inevitably comes the cons.

It’s worth remembering that milk production is a supply-and-demand game. The more you feed your baby, the more milk you’ll continue to produce, so if you drop a feed, your supply will drop too.

A lot can be said for introducing mixed feeding as gradually as possible so that it's more comfortable for you when it comes to engorged breasts and unused milk. The older your baby is when you first introduce a bottle, the more established your milk supply will be and, ultimately, the easier you'll find it to balance breast and bottle.

I found mixed feeding messed up my supply with my first baby and I had to stop breastfeeding before I wanted to. With my second, we had a much better journey which I mostly put down to getting advice and support.

Is mix feeding OK for newborns?

Many women find that mixed feeding from birth is the right choice for them, particularly if they've had multiple births or given birth to a premature or poorly baby.

If you don’t fall into one of those categories, it's often recommended that parents wait until breastfeeding is firmly established before introducing a bottle – the NHS say that this can take several weeks.

Other organisations, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), recommend waiting up to six months.

It took until three months to have breastfeeding properly established for me because of the setback of trying to bottle feed too early. Be patient and let baby get your supply up first, would be my advice. Of course, each woman is different.

Will my milk dry up if I mix feed my baby?

It's common for new mums to worry about milk supply, even without the introduction of mixed feeding. This might be when the initial feeling of fullness in your breasts subsides, or because your baby is particularly hungry while going through a growth spurt.

If you remain concerned about your milk supply, speak to your health visitor or contact your local breastfeeding support group for advice.

I talked to a breastfeeding counsellor and they recommended taking my baby to bed with me and just feeding all weekend. I also express after my first three feeds of the day and use it for evening top-ups. At first I used to get only one ounce from those three expressing sessions, but now I'm getting five ounces on top of feeding for an hour every three hours.

I took fenugreek, ate as many oats as I could, and pumped after feeding as many times as I could be bothered. Not sure which worked, but my supply improved loads after a few days of doing this.

How can I successfully combine breastfeeding with bottle feeding?

  1. If you are using formula, introduce it gradually. This will allow time for your milk supply to adjust and give your baby’s body the chance to get used to formula.
  2. Expressing milk between feeds is key to maintaining your milk supply if you want to continue to breastfeed.
  3. If you're returning to work, introducing combined feeding a few weeks before will help prevent mastitis. Gradually replacing breastfeeds with bottle feeds will allow your body time to get used to the change in your milk supply. This will help prevent engorged and leaky breasts and blocked milk ducts.

When I first started to pump, I would pump once a day after the first feed of the morning and then refrigerate the milk for my partner to give to her that evening. Now that my baby is a little less clingy, I find I have more time to pump as and when I want to throughout the day. If I’m going out, I’ll pump more and store it.

How do I introduce my baby to a bottle for the first time?

Mixed feeding was a lifesaver for us and gave me a little break each day. My daughter is five months now and I'm still breastfeeding rather than stopping when it became difficult.

If you want to give mixed feeding a go, or even switch from breastfeeding to bottle feeding, you might be wondering where to start.

When a baby feeds from the breast, they use a unique movement called peristaltic tongue movement. This basically means that they use their tongue to massage the underside of the nipple, which results in the milk ejection reflex. Traditionally, when a baby was to feed from a bottle, they would use a completely different style of feeding, which explains why babies would become confused and refuse to switch between breast and bottle.

Because of this reason, it’s really important that you select a teat that will allow your baby to use the exact same technique as when they’re feeding at the breast.

For optimal success, try the following tips:

  • Give your baby their first bottle at a moment when they're happy. Waiting until they are hungry and a bit cranky may not yield the best results.
  • Let someone else give the first bottle. This eliminates any chance of your baby smelling your milk and wanting to latch on.
  • If someone else isn’t available to give the first bottle, try holding your baby in a different position, such as facing away from you.

Remember that introducing bottle feeding can require patience and persistence. While some babies take to the bottle straight away, in most cases it can take a few attempts to get them used to it. If your baby isn’t playing ball, don’t panic. Try again another time.

Can I mix breast milk with formula?

Yes you can, but it's not ideal. Formula milk needs to be discarded within an hour of being made while breast milk can be refrigerated for several hours until a later feed.

If you’ve mixed the two together in the same container, you may end up wasting perfectly good breast milk which may be off-putting to those who have spent hours expressing. But switching your baby between the two for different feeds is fine.

Can I restart sole breastfeeding once I've started introducing bottle feeding?

If you find that you have a change of heart and want to pick up extra breastfeeds again, the following tips will help you to get breastfeeding re-established:

  • Continue to express milk while bottle feeding as this will keep your supply active. Even if you only express a tiny amount of milk, the nipple stimulation will send milk production signals to your body.
  • Skin-to-skin contact will encourage your body to produce milk. Putting your baby to your breast every two to three hours or bottle feeding near the breast will help. Other good skin-to-skin times will be when your baby is full and ready to sleep.
  • Don’t wait until your baby is hungry to restart breastfeeding. Instead, choose a time of day when she is happy and more likely to try feeding from the breast again.

What do I need for mixed feeding?

Whether you're mixed feeding with breast or formula milk, to successfully mix feed you'll need the following:

1. A baby bottle

We'd recommend Mumsnet Best winners the MAM Easy Start Anti-Colic Bottle, the Lansinoh mOmma or the Philips Avent Natural.

Read more: The best baby bottles to buy

2. A breast pump if you're expressing milk (formula milk if not)

We'd recommend Mumsnet Best winners the MAM 2-in-1, the Ardo Calypso Double Plus or the Medela Harmony manual breast pump.

Read more: The best breast pumps as tested by parents

3. A baby bottle steriliser

We'd recommend Mumsnet Best winners the Tommee Tippee Super-Steam Advanced Electric Steriliser, the Medela Quick Clean Microwave Bags or the Milton Cold Water Steriliser.

Read more: The best baby bottle sterilisers