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Babies are sometimes given extra feeds – supplementary feeds – in addition to breastmilk.

About supplementing

Experts have found that breastfeeding has many benefits – for babies, and also for their mums.  

But there might be times when a health professional suggests that you need to give your baby feeds of infant formula, to supplement your breastmilk. Sometimes these feeds are needed to make sure your baby gets enough to eat.

There are also a few rare health conditions that can affect mothers and babies, which might lead to a mother supplementing or even stopping breastfeeding, temporarily or permanently.

A baby might need extra feeds if he:

  • has a very low birth weight (under 1500 gm)
  • is born very pre-term (at less than 32 weeks of gestational age)
  • is very ill.

Sometimes a mother might become ill (for example, get a severe infection) or might have had previous breast surgery and can’t breastfeed.

If you think your baby might need extra feeds, or if you or your baby are too unwell to breastfeed, talk to your doctor, maternal and child health nurse or lactation consultant before supplementing breastfeeding.

Things to consider before supplementing feeding

There are several things to think about before supplementing breastfeeding, because regular supplementary feeding might make it more difficult to keep breastfeeding.

When your baby has a feed from a bottle and not from your breast, you might notice:

  • a reduction in your supply of milk
  • your breasts getting overfull, which can be painful and can cause your body to stop producing milk
  • your baby preferring the bottle to the breast and then refusing the breast.

If your milk supply has been run down because of supplementary feeds (or for any other reason), and you want to increase it, you can try some of the following suggestions:

  • Increase the frequency of breastfeeds.
  • Express milk after or between breastfeeds.
  • Gradually reduce the amount of supplementary feeding.

The more milk you take from your breasts, the more milk your body will make to replace it.

If your baby can’t always feed directly from your breast, you can feed him expressed breastmilk. This will maintain your milk supply and still ensure baby gets the benefits of breastmilk. For more information, you can read our article on expressing and storing breastmilk.
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  • Last Updated 04-01-2012
  • Last Reviewed 03-01-2012
  • Acknowledgements We acknowledge the assistance of the Australian Breastfeeding Association in reviewing this article in January 2011.
  • Australian Breastfeeding Association (2010). Increasing your supply. Retrieved October 2, 2011, from http://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/supply.html.

    National Health and Medical Research Council (2003). Dietary guidelines for children and adolescents in Australia. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

    World Health Organisation (2009). Acceptable medical reasons for use of breast-milk substitutes. Geneva: WHO Press.