Weaning Off Formula back to Exclusively Breastfeeding

by Shari Criso MSN, RC, CNM, IBCLC

This post made possible by the support of EvenFlo Feeding

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“Supplementation with formula does not have to be the end of breastfeeding and it may be very possible to transition to exclusively breastfeeding if that is your goal.”

First of all Amy, great job at making it to the 8 week mark! It is a big deal and something to be very proud of. From your questions it is clear that you’re just about exclusively breastfeeding but now we need to help you over that last hump.

What I tell all my clients is that if all you’re supplementing is 1-2 feedings per day of formula and breastfeeding the rest of the time, then in most cases you probably don’t need to do any at all! It is obvious that your body is quite capable of producing adequate amounts of breastmilk, however the continued supplementation will not give your body the opportunity to catch up. What you need to do is feed a little more frequently so that your body can kick inn and start to make more.

If all you’re doing is one or two supplemented feedings a days and your baby is gaining weight adequately, I would immediately start cutting out formula supplementation and begin to encourage your body to make more milk. Those few ounces that you have been supplementing can usually be made of with more frequent feeding or were not really necessary anyway, as many supplemented babies are over fed and encouraged to gain weight faster than they need to.

Typically, it is when I see moms that have been supplementing for weeks and weeks with very little breastfeeding that I am more concerned about the status of their milk supply and the need to build that up slowly by cutting back formula supplement slowly over time with careful evaluation throughout.

However, for you Amy, what I would recommend is to stop the supplementation, increase the frequency of your feedings, allow your baby to stay on the breast longer, drain the breast completely by switching sides multiple times during a feeding (feed both sides and then return to the first side again), do lots of skin to skin and wear your baby as much as you can, and basically let the baby guide you right now.

As for how hungry he is, treat it as a growth spurt. In my online breastfeeding program “Simply Breastfeeding,” I have an entire chapter on growth spurts and what to do when your breastfed baby is going through one. These are times during the breastfeeding journey when you actually are not making enough and it is very NORMAL! These are times when you baby is growing and your body is attempting to catch up with your baby’s needs for more milk. The only way that it can do that is to respond to your baby’s signal of hunger, which is what happens when they start feeding very frequently. During these times, allowing your baby to nurse as long as they want and as often as they want for a few days is the answer. With frequent and “on demand” feedings, your body will kick in very quickly and start to get the message, “Oh…MAKE MORE MILK!”

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Regardless of the reason in the beginning or whether the initial supplementation may or may not have been necessary, it does not mean that you need to continue doing it indefinitely. For most mothers it is a lack of understanding about how much their baby’s need to be eating, how much and how fast they need to be gaining, and how the body responds and makes more milk that causes them to continue to supplement unnecessarily and eventually add more formula which further decreases their breast milk supply. What may start off as a true need under certain circumstances is then replaced with an issue that has been unknowingly created and unnecessarily continued.

Another important thing to understand is that babies should not be weighed weekly. This is huge! When moms and dads ask me, “How much should a baby be gaining every week?” The answer I give is somewhere between 4-8 ounces per week on average. The key point here being, ON AVERAGE. That means, under normal circumstances you are not bringing your baby in every single week to weighed. This is because one week you may only have a weight gain of 2 ounces and you are going to think something is wrong. Then the next week your baby is going to gain 10 ounces cause they had a growth spurt. This is why weighing your baby every week and monitoring so closely can cause you to think your baby is not growing appropriately and cause unnecessary supplementation.

The best way to monitor that your baby is doing well is to keep watching for those wet and poopy diapers, looking out for all the signs that I talk about in my DVD program on how to make sure your baby is getting enough milk, and weighing your baby monthly.

So after a month’s time you’ll go back to weigh the baby, you divide that gain by four weeks, and now you can say to yourself, “Okay, did they gain somewhere between 4-8 ounces a week on average?” If the answer is yes then you’re pretty much in the right spot. Babies grow at their own pace and we cannot be too rigid with this. Breastmilk is just too important to sacrifice that quickly. Just as a baby that truly needs to be supplemented must be addressed and few for their well being, your breastmilk supply and breastfeeding relationship is critical to their short and long term health and must also be protected and supported appropriately.

I recommend that you go back and watch my program and pay particular attention to the chapter on growth spurts. Work with your pediatrician and treat this time just like you would a normal growth spurt. With the right support, patience and understanding of what is normal, I believe you will be on your way to exclusively breastfeeding your little one in no time!

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Find more from Shari supporting your parenting journey including infant feeding on Facebook, or her classes at My Baby Experts©

Thanks for EvenFlo Feeding, Inc.’s generous support for families in the their feeding journey.

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Shari Criso 2016

For over 23 years, Shari Criso has been a Registered Nurse, Certified Nurse Midwife, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, nationally recognized parenting educator, entrepreneur, and most importantly, loving wife and proud mother of two amazing breastfed daughters. You can find her on Facebook or her own personal site.
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