How to Decide Whether to Supplement | From Breastfeeding to Bottle Without Guilt

I’m going to confess now that with my first two girls I was a judgemental mom about breastfeeding. To me, there was no other option. You either breastfed or you should have. 

It came very easily to me and I believed with enough determination, it could work for anyone.

Then I had my third daughter. And though I breastfed her exclusively for awhile, I now know I should have opened my mind up earlier to the possibility that I needed to supplement.

I finally realized something had to change one evening when Sylvia was about four months old and my mom was helping me out. I felt like I had been feeding Sylvia all evening and she just kept fussing. I had my husband hold her and my mom rock her as I tried to keep from falling apart. 

At one point, my mom suggested my baby, who I felt like I had been feeding continually all evening, was hungry. I moaned, “She can not be hungry again.”

She was. 

When she just kept crying, I took her back from my mom and put her to my breast again.

She was ravenous and I had so little left to give her.

The next day, I bought my first can of formula ever, again, falling apart inside.

how to determine whether you need to supplement

Sylvia was a late-in-life surprise and my mind wasn’t always right for motherhood. So what might have been a relief to my psyche from the physical demands of a baby seemed to reverberate with all the things I wasn’t handling well this time around.

And, ridiculously, I worried about what other moms and women would think, although I was the only one of my peer group with a baby. They wouldn’t even know if I didn’t tell them, but I was sure I’d be stigmatized (because I might have done the stigmatizing earlier, and no, I’m not proud of that).

It’s been so many years ago now that I can’t reconstruct exactly how it all went down, but long story short, once I started supplementing, my baby and I were both happier. 

And you know what? Sylvia is as healthy as her exclusively breastfed sisters were. She rarely gets sick and has grown right on track like every chart says she should.

If you are currently breastfeeding and struggling, I’ve distilled my questions about supplementing or transitioning to formula for you to consider down to two. Although there are other people who may be in your household and affected by your decisions, it comes down to two of you who are really the ones to be considered - you and your baby.

Before I share my thought process with you, please know that I am not a healthcare professional nor a lactation consultant of any type. Before you make decisions that affect the health of your baby, please consult the medical personnel you trust to help you through this transition. 

With that being said, here are two questions I believe will help you clarify your thinking so you can then find the guidance to make the best decision for you and your baby.


Is your baby getting enough to eat?

Yes, breast milk may be the best for your baby, but if they’re not getting enough of it, you need to make changes.

As I wrote earlier, I know now my daughter was hungry. And what is the toughest for me to deal with is that she was probably hungry for quite awhile before I gave up my stubbornness and began supplementing.

I was so sure about my position on breastfeeding that I didn’t consider I could be part of the reason my third child, unlike my previous two, was so fussy. 

I’m not sure exactly why I didn’t have enough supply for Sylvia. I thought maybe it was my age, although research I did for this post didn’t support that. But you know what it did say could play a part? Feeling stressed or anxious. And I was definitely that. Adjusting to a surprise baby later in life had not been easy and I hadn’t fully dealt with my complicated emotions, even after her birth.

So I was overwhelmed and she was hungry - a bad combination.

how to decide whether to supplement

It took my mom to help me realize there was a reason for her crying and I could do something about it.

So if your baby isn’t getting enough to eat, you don’t even need to go on to question two. You need to stop right here and make your plan to figure out what is your strategy for getting that baby satiated. Research, call the doctor or nurse help line, whatever you need to do to figure out how to get that baby full.

If after this step you’re ready to give up your battle with your inner mom critic who thinks you’re a terrible mom no matter what, then you need to determine the best option for transitioning your baby to formula. 

For this subject, I’m going to refer you to my new friend I made through the magic of Instagram, Jenice from Art Is Life Motherhood. As I was checking out all the inspiring information on her site, I found her recent post on her breastfeeding struggles.

One of the reasons we want to avoid formula can be summed up sometimes by simply reading the ingredients list on cans on the shelves at supermarkets and trying to determine which formula we feel least uncomfortable giving our babies. 

Jenice found an organic European formula that I wish I’d known about when I had to make the decision to supplement. Check out her post on transitioning her baby. She’s been through this phase of parenting much more recently than I have, so I’ll let her helpful guidance finish up this part of the topic for me and I’ll move onto my next question for you to consider.

How Is Breastfeeding Affecting the Rest of Your Parenting?

I’m convinced “Mom” is the most multifaceted role that exists on the planet. Once we give birth, suddenly we’re expected to excel in every area of parenting. We buy into the myths about being a good mom and fear we’ll never measure up. And we won’t if we judge ourselves by unrealistic standards.

We all do it, even those of us who go on to write mom blogs and try to share what we’ve learned about being a mom. Because how do we know some of the things we write about? We lived it. 

We had ideals we set for ourselves as moms and we believed we came up short.

That’s what I thought I was doing at the time I finally relented to supplementing; however, reality was much different. Once I decided to supplement, Sylvia and I were both happier and more relaxed. 

I’m not saying I got over all my late-in-life mom adjustments with that one decision, but I did end up being a better all around parent. By relieving myself of an area where I wasn’t succeeding, I could focus the energy I had been spending in that area on other areas. Newborns are not in my Motherhood Zone of Genius and I set myself up for mom guilt when I don’t remember that there are other areas where I excel.

I was less physically exhausted (although still tired), but I dare say I was a better mom once I made that decision.

So focus on the parts on being a mom where you contribute most effectively to your child’s development into the human being they’re meant to be. And if that’s not breastfeeding, that’s just fine.

Despite what younger me might have thought, because she wasn’t an Older Mom yet and didn’t know any better. 

breastfeeding supplementing


So, yes, I ate my previously judgemental words and realized that breastfeeding wasn’t the be all, end all of motherhood. 

What worked for me at one point in my life didn’t work at another. 

And what works for one mom doesn’t always work for another.

So put away your concerns about disapproval or the “shoulds” you hear as you make your determination about whether breastfeeding is working for you and your baby.

Simply ask yourself these two questions - Is my baby getting enough to eat and how is breastfeeding affecting the rest of my parenting. 

Your healthcare professional can help you with that first question, but the second one is up to you.