Mixed feeding: how to combine breastfeeding with bottle feeding

mix feeding babies

Mixed feeding combines breastfeeding with bottle feeding. It is sometimes known as ‘combined feeding’ or ‘partial breastfeeding’ and involves replacing one or more breastfeeds with bottle feeding instead. And while the prospect of an uninterrupted night’s sleep may be enough to convince you it's a good idea, mothers who mix feed their babies do so for a number of other reasons too.

What is mixed feeding?

Mixed feeding can offer new mothers respite from the demands of breastfeeding as it involves combining this with bottle feeding. There’s no 'one size fits all' when it comes to mixed feeding though, and there are number of options to try if you’re considering it.

  • Mixed feeding can involve replacing just the occasional breastfeed with a bottle feed, to try and get your baby used to taking a bottle.
  • Replacing some breastfeeds with a bottle can give you a break and a decent night’s sleep – which you might have been waiting a while for by now.
  • Combining breastfeeding with bottle feeding also enables another person (such as your partner) to be involved in the feeding process as they can give your baby a bottle of expressed milk or formula.
  • Combined feeding can also mean using formula to supplement your own supply of breastmilk – this can help you take a break from the exhausting job of expressing and really have a rest, particularly if it’s a night feed you swap out allowing you to sleep through.

What are the benefits of mixed feeding?

I mixed fed from the start with my second. It means my husband can give one feed during the night and let me have a solid chunk of sleep. I find it gives me flexibility and allows me to get support from others when I need it.

Introducing bottle feeding can of course give you that much needed time off your ‘milk round’ but there are other reasons to consider mixed feeding, too.

If your baby is not gaining weight or finding it difficult to latch on, you might be advised to try combining 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 who are returning to work, combined feeding allows another carer to bottle feed while you’re at work. Breastfeeding your baby when you get home from work can then be a nice way for you and your baby to reconnect before bedtime. Some women express at or before work, and you’ll soon find a routine that works for you and your baby.

What do I need to know about mixed feeding?

Mixed feeding may sound like the perfect balance but it comes with pros and 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.

The older your baby is when your 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.

Mixed feeding has had mixed feedback from Mumsnetters:

“I found mixed feeding completely 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 put mostly down to getting advice and support.”

“I mix fed my daughter. I mainly gave her the last bottle at night and the odd one in the day too. She was fine and switched between the two easily. I actually found she slept longer through the night after the formula so just stuck with it.”

Can you breast and bottle feed a newborn?

Many women find that mixed feeding from birth is the right choice for them, particularly if they have just had multiple births or given birth to premature or poorly babies. If you don’t fall into one of those categories and want to mix feed for another reason, then it might be worth trying to wait until your baby is over eight weeks. Starting sooner than this could affect your milk supply.

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

It is common for new mothers 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.

Remember, there may be nothing to worry about – and there are steps you can take to boost your milk production. Mumsnetters share some tips to help with milk supply:

“I take brewers yeast tablets when my supply dips or during a growth spurt. I'm not sure how much it helps but it makes me feel like I'm doing something! I got my periods back when my son was three months old and my supply drops every time I'm on.”

“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.”

“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).”

How can I successfully combine breastfeeding with bottle feeding?

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 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.
  • Expressing milk between feeds is key to maintaining your milk supply if you want to continue to breastfeed.
  • If you are 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.

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

introducing a bottle for the first time If you want to give mixed feeding a go or even switch from breastfeeding to bottle feeding, you might be wondering where to start. Bottle feeding requires a different type of sucking action to breastfeeding and may be confusing to baby initially.

For optimal success, try the following tips:

  • Give your baby her first bottle when she is happy. Waiting until she is hungry and potentially cranky might not yield the best results.
  • Let someone else give the first bottle. This eliminates any chance of the baby smelling your milk and wanting to latch on.
  • If someone else isn’t available to give the first bottle, you could try holding your baby in a different position such as facing away from you.
  • Slow-flow teats can help mimic the flow that a baby is used to from breastfeeding. Mumsnetters have plenty of advice on the best bottles and teats to use.

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 your baby used to it. If your baby isn’t playing ball, don’t panic. You can always try again at another time.

Can I mix breast milk with formula?

Yes – it’s not like mixing Chablis and Blue Nun in the one glass (ill-advised). You can technically mix breast milk and formula in the same container but it’s not ideal. Formula needs to be discarded within an hour of being made while breast milk can be refrigerated for a several hours until a later feed. If you’ve mixed the two together, you could end up having to throw out and waste perfectly good breastmilk unnecessarily, and if you've spent hours expressing it that can feel very annoying. But switching your baby between the two for different feeds is absolutely fine.

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

Some mothers use mixed feeding as a way to introduce exclusive bottle feeding. You might find that you miss breastfeeding your baby and you may have a change of heart. If you are considering returning to breastfeeding, the following tips will help get you restarted:

  • Continuing to express milk while bottle feeding 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.