This is such a great question to tackle. We’ve had quite a few “ups and downs” you could say in our industry as reproductive health workers around this topic, so let’s break it down with some truth bombs:
- There are some great reasons to emphasize the amazing qualities of human milk from a global perspective, especially in areas of the world where many babies die from lack of access to clean water, which is necessary for the proper and safe preparation of formula.
- Some parents have a deep desire to feed their babies human milk, and yet society does next to nothing to support the process that it takes it make it happen!
- Lactation consultants are well intentioned and well trained and some of them are freakin’ everyday heros, however let’s be honest. Some of them do lack the interpersonal skills to make breastfeeding seem doable and can end up doing more harm than good. Sorry, I do really love many of them and refer to them often! I try to recommend board-certified (IBCLCs) whenever possible.
- Pediatricians typically know next to nothing about human milk or the act of providing it. Sad but true. Now once again, many pediatricians are wonderful at what they do and this shortcoming is not at all their fault, however their job in the early days is to ensure a newborn is gaining weight, period. So quite often, the fastest, easiest way to do that is to recommend a supplement rather than take the extra time to address human milk supply.
- There are some great reasons to dig deeper into why the “breast is best” campaign, as well intentioned as it may have been, has caused some harm.
- Some parents do not want to provide human milk to their babies. They are not bad parents.
- Some parents cannot provide human milk to their babies. They are not bad parents.
- Some parents can provide some human milk to their babies but need to supplement. And of course, they are not bad parents either but some of the pressure from society to breastfeed has us believing otherwise.
And to look at it through an even broader historical lens, enslaved people were often separated from their own babies while simultaneously being forced to feed an opressor’s baby with their own body. Horrifying. So you can certainly understand the reasons some Black, Indigenous Parents of Color have residual trauma around the act of feeding their infants.
So in short, it’s complicated. But if you’re still wondering whether you can breastfeed and bottle feed, the answer is yes! And your postpartum doula can help! Some options to consider could be:
- Option 1: Exclusively nurse your baby directly and hand-express your milk (no electric pumps) as necessary for the first 2-3 weeks to establish good milk supply. Then you can phase in a supplement of your choosing (either formula or your pumped milk) that a support person / partner can feed your baby during a night feed or whenever you’d like them to.
- Option 2: Combine more than one feeding option from the beginning. Feeding from a bottle in the early days and weeks will “teach” the baby that the “shallow” feeding required by a bottle is all that’s needed to get milk, so this can cause poor feeding at the parent’s breast or chest. However, it’s just something to be aware of, not feel guilty for! And if you want to have the closeness of skin-to-skin with your baby, you can still have it with bottles or even a supplemental nursing system if that is something you want to try. Tip: Always work with a certified lactation consultant if you are using or want to try using any devices: pumps, shields or tubes (SNS).
- Formula feed without guilt if you want or need to! It will be OK. Truly. Here is some information on safe formula feeding.