Supplementing: Why I Did It, When It’s Okay and When It’s Not

This blog is in response to someone’s specific question. The reader aptly pointed out that while I advise against supplementing, I have talked about doing it with my younger three children. She asked for further explanation and so in my first blog, I talked about why supplementing is a bad idea if you really want to breastfeed. In short, if you do supplement, it will decrease your supply.

So Why Did I Supplement?

My first two babies were the latch on king and queen of the world. I honestly believed that people who gave up just didn’t really want to do it. I was convinced they were probably just selfish women that were having trouble adjusting to the demands of new motherhood. After all, it really wasn’t that hard.

Then came Meghan who to this day, continues to challenge every theory and idea I have about parenting. Meghan was severely jaundiced and had to stay in the NICU for 5 days. This presented two problems: the first was the NICU would only allow me to feed every three hours because she needed those lights. The second was that she was not my first, but my third child. I simply couldn’t stay at the hospital non-stop for the whole time she was there. So her supplementing days began in the hospital. To further complicate issues, Meghan did end up having nipple confusion so when she did get out of the hospital she was a) used to bottles, b) had a horrible and painful latch due to nipple confusion and this was complicated by the fact that she was already a high need, fussy baby.

The other two babies I supplemented for were the twins. They too were jaundiced, even more so than Meghan and although they were full term, they were in the hospital for a full week after birth. Like Meghan, they began bottles in the hospital and I came as often as I could to feed them. Unlike Meghan, they didn’t have latch problems. However, because they were in the hospital so long and because they were twins, supply was an issue. It takes an additional 1,000 calories to feed twins and frankly, it just took awhile to get things to wear I could eat that much. Sleep deprivation was also a factor and so my husband would feed them at 8pm while I went to sleep before I had to do the graveyard shift.

So It’s Okay to Supplement?

I cannot tell another mother whether or not it’s okay for her to supplement. What I can say reasonably is that supplementing is not a normal part of the breastfeeding relationship. Babyies don’t need to be “topped off”, or be given a bottle for dads to bond, or be given a bottle so “mom can get a break.” Supplementing will always affect your supply.

So if you find yourself in a situation where you have to supplement and you really don’t want to, then you should also be seeing a lactation consultant. A lactation consultant can help you minimize the effect on your supply. She will also teach you how to supplement without using a bottle. She may even have available for purchase a supplemental nutrition system. I did see a lactation consultant with Meghan and I consulted with one after the twins. A good LC will be able to identify the problem immediately. Many women wait too long and by then the damage is much more difficult to reverse. Our thinking needs to change from, “I’ll get bottles and formula just in case breastfeeding doesn’t work” to “I went and found a IBCLC certified lactation consultant that I can contact in case things aren’t working well or if I have questions.”

If you have more questions on breastfeeding, feel free to leave a comment below or send me a private message.