Breastmilk vs. formula

Since becoming a MoM (Mom of Multiples), I've been fortunate enough to join some amazing Facebook groups where moms can share photos and stories, ask questions and offer advice — all in a safe and positive environment. 

I read a post from a mom with newborn twins who was struggling with nursing and pumping and wondering what to do. She asked the group for advice about formula feeding or what else she could do to increase her milk supply. 

I commented on her post and thought I should share some of my thoughts with you because I know she (and I, and you) are not alone with these feelings and anxiety about breastfeeding, pumping, and possible guilt about introducing formula.

Every baby is different
With my first child (born 8 days late, now 3 years old), I was able to breastfeed and pump until she was 13 months old. No formula. Six weeks after she was born I went back to work full time because I couldn't afford more unpaid time off and had already used most of my vacation time for the year. (Note that she was born in January, so it was a long first year.)

Then with my twins (who turn 1 year old this week — WOW!), I exclusively breastfed the first three weeks and then my husband and I decided to supplement with formula. I went back to work five days a week when they were 10 weeks old. At first I was pumping three times a day.

I cried the first time I gave my babies a bottle of formula. 

I worried about formula replacing me (which it didn't). There were times when I felt like if I wasn't able to nurse them, it meant I wasn't important. I knew that wasn't true — and I knew the combination of postpartum emotions and sleep deprivation were messing with me — but I still worried. I couldn't help thinking that if anyone could feed them, they didn't really need me anymore.

Giving my babies formula bottles twice per day helped keep them happier/more satisfied during the daytime and also gave my body a break. After those first bottles, things started getting better and most days I worried less about losing that special time with them. Giving them formula bottles actually freed up some time in the day so I could play more with them and my 3-year-old daughter.

It was a really good decision for us and we were all happier because of it. Nursing takes a lot out of you, and I don't think I would have made it as long if I'd continued nursing exclusively.  Supplementing with formula helped me continue to nurse longer, and I'm very grateful for it. 

I made it to 10 months! Here's what I learned:

Tips for pumping and supply
1. Make sure you're using the right size breast shields. I didn't realize right away that there are different sizes. I got a Medela Pump in Style Advanced pump and it came with the average size (24mm) breast shields. Note that your health insurance is required to cover the cost of a breast pump, but you need to contact them to find out if they'll cover a manual or electric pump.

The first time I tried to pump I couldn't get the right suction so I barely got anything out. It was very frustrating and stressful for me. I looked online and realized there are 5 sizes(!) of breast shields, and I needed a smaller size. (Check out this helpful sizing chart.) I was able to buy some from Amma Parenting Center in Edina, and that's also where I got my Simple Wishes hands-free pumping bra (a must-have, for sure!). 

2. As you're pumping, you might need to adjust the intensity of the pump. My sister told me that when you first turn the pump on, you should increase the intensity until it's almost painful and then back it down a little to where it's more comfortable. 

Sometimes I'd need to increase the intensity after the first 8 minutes or so (I would pump for 20 minutes each time) to help get more milk out since my breasts weren't as full as they were at the beginning of the session. 

3. Definitely drink TONS of water. I have some 24-ounce reusable water bottles and I would try to drink a whole bottle every time I pumped. It seemed to help me get more milk out. Maybe my body was like, "Oh, okay. She drank more water. I guess I'll let her get more milk out."

4. I also liked the Flax Lactation Protein Balls — you can order the mixes online from Eat Super Simple (they're also available at Pacifier downtown in the North Loop). They tasted so good I felt like I was eating peanut butter cookie dough, but they were even better because they're loaded with protein and healthy fats. They seemed to help increase my milk production and were a more satisfying snack than graham crackers. I swear I was CONSTANTLY hungry when I was still pumping 2-3 times per day, so the protein balls were a big help. 

Formula is food, too
If nursing/pumping is putting too much of a strain on your body, your mind or your sanity and you feel like you just want to be done, it's absolutely OK. The truth is: breastmilk and formula are both food. Feeding your baby (or babies) is what's really important.

I think it's also worth mentioning that my first child never had a drop of formula, but was diagnosed with an iron deficiency at her 9-month checkup. We had to give her Ferrous Sulfate until she was 15 months old and her iron levels were high enough. 

My twins, by contrast, haven't had any iron deficiency issues. I can't be certain it's because they've had formula in addition to my breastmilk, but it seems like a good possibility since cow's milk formulas have additional iron added.

Good luck, mama! Your babies will be healthy no matter what you decide to do. Please feel free to ask me questions about this or any of my previous posts.


This blog is truthful and based on personal experience with the products or items mentioned. It doesn't have sponsors, and no one paid to receive positive reviews of their products. All of the links provided are for your convenience and are not "affiliate links" — Valerie doesn't receive payment or kickbacks if people purchase products based on her recommendations.

Valerie Moe is the Senior Graphic Designer for Minnesota Parent magazine. She lives in Bloomington with her husband, their 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twins. You can comment below or contact her directly here.