Supplementation – It's all about the HOW

So. Your baby needs some extra milk (Not sure if this is the case? Check here.). I know that sometimes this realisation is hard, sometimes very very hard. First things first: know that you are an amazing mama! You are now taking steps to ensure that your baby grows and is healthy, and have made that your priority. You are doing the absolute best thing for your baby.
Now let's presume that you still hope to breastfeed, and just need to give a top-ups. There's not many catch-phrases that I use when discussing the feeding of a baby; I'm certainly not one to throw out a 'breast-is-best' anywhere whatsoever. But there is one that I do use, and I think it's one of the most important ones. It has to do with supplementing.

It's not the what, it's the how.

My eldest boy imitating me, breastfeeding and
using a supplemental feeder simultaneously.
I know, I know. I used donor milk, I am running the Swiss page of Human Milk 4 Human Babies, I'm passionate about enabling women to connect and share milk when they choose to. So therefore surely I must be all about the 'what'. But I'm not. This was the right decision for me, but it's definitely not for everyone. Mums can choose to supplement with whatever they feel comfortable, as long as they are aware that milk donation is an option available to them (Hmm. I'm thinking that 'informed choice' is potentially another catch-phrase I use... ha.).

My freezer stash of donor milk
The problem is that supplements are almost always given with a bottle. This still makes me sigh. There exists so many risks to long-term breastfeeding when a bottle is introduced, and there are so many stories where babies were given bottles in the hospital and subsequent breastfeeding problems have emerged. Yes, there are families who easily alternate bottle and breast all throughout the day with no problem whatsoever, but it is risky, and this ability to switch between the two easily is not a common situation. 

(I'd like to point out here that I didn't know any of this with my first boy, and we had to supplement from the first week. He was six weeks when he first began to refuse the breast, eight weeks when this was becoming more and more common, and eleven weeks when I finally had to give in and stop trying. Potentially, supplementing in a different manner would have resulted in a different story for us.)

How breastfeeding and bottle-feeding differ

Bottle feeding my first little baby with love.
When you give a bottle, the milk comes immediately. When you give a breast, your baby has to work hard for a while before any milk comes. When you give a bottle, the milk comes continuously. When you give a breast, your milk varies in flow as you have multiple letdowns throughout a feed. When you give a bottle, the baby often doesn't have to work for milk at all and a very slow stream is slowly pouring into their mouth. Breastfeeding doesn't work like this.

Using the Supplemental Nursing System
before my breastfeeding necklace arrived! 
I liken it to my dinner-making procedure. Kids are in bed, I'm shattered, and I haven't eaten yet or made anything for myself and my husband to eat at all. We can get food delivered, or I can make us something. If I knew that nutritional food was going to be delivered at my door for free, immediately, surely I'd choose that option! But if I'm delivery isn't an option, then I just have to cook, and the other option doesn't even enter my mind as a possibility. And after a while, I don't even have any food in the fridge to make dinner with in the first place...

If you need to supplement, I personally think it is best to avoid a bottle for as long as possible, and particularly when the baby is very very young. There are so many other ways that you can give additional milk – Cup, spoon, syringe, finger feeding, Supplemental Nursing System (which was my supplementer of choice for almost six months).

Supplementing does not have to be the beginning of the end. 

Six months of supplementing, and we made it through.
If you do choose to use a bottle to supplement your feeds, make sure you look into 'paced bottlefeeding', which attempts to imitate the variable flow of breastfeeding and increases the likelihood that your baby will come back to the breast. Aim for a bottle-feeding session to take between 20 and 45 minutes. 


  1. Interesting information.
    As a bottle feeder from very early on this never concerned me, but it's still good to know.

    1. Thanks for reading, Tamara -- this might come in handy for someone you know in the future, perhaps, so I'm glad you found it interesting.

  2. Great info. I think so often it's presented as breast or bottle, and these other options are not really mentioned.

    1. Thanks! Goodness I had so much to say on the topic, I just had to split it into two, so I'm hoping that you'll find the next part to this helpful too, where I actually tell you about the other options. :)

  3. We did finger feeding for the first week of our daughter's life - the lactation consultant had originally pushed the SNS but my sleep deprived brain could not handle the fiddlyness of all that. So dad did finger feeding while I pumped to get my supply up (preeclampsia = weird drugs during labor = milk took a while to come in). I noticed that with friends and family that also had low supply for some reason or another, other methods for feeding other than the bottle are rarely mentioned, and that's frustrating! Thanks for writing it out :)

  4. I supplemented formula via finger-tube feeding for a week-and-a-half after my daughter was born. Then my husband had to go back to work and getting everything set up seemed like too much work; I was overwhelmed. So I switched to bottles for supplementing, but I used preemie nipples, meaning the hole was the smallest available. She still had to work for it!

    I wish I had known about an SNS, although I ended up not needing any of it after a month (luckily).

  5. Informative article! I'm so lucky that we were able to supplement my son for five weeks using a bottle, and him not develop a bottle preference. If I ever need to supplement again will look into the methods suggested here.


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