Partial Weaning & Combination Feeding

By Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC

Breastfeeding is not an all-or-nothing process. You can always keep one or more feedings per day and eliminate the rest. Many moms will continue to nurse only at night and/or first thing in the morning for many months after baby has weaned from all other nursings. If you wish to begin feeding your baby formula in addition to breastmilk in the early months, your chances of success are greatly increased by exclusively breastfeeding for at least the first 3-4 weeks, then slowly weaning from some of the nursing sessions.

Is part-time nursing beneficial for baby?

Absolutely! As long as baby is getting mom’s milk, he will continue to receive many benefits from breastmilk and the act of breastfeeding.

Benefits of partial breastfeeding include:

  • Comfort, bonding, skin-to-skin benefits
    Mom can provide 100% of these even if very little breastmilk is being obtained during nursing.
  • Oral development
    The type of sucking required for breastfeeding improves your baby’s oral development (even if he gets little milk).
  • Disease, allergy-prevention, immunological benefits
    Research has shown that the benefits of breastfeeding are generally dose-related: the more breastmilk, the greater the benefit. But even 50 ml of breastmilk per day (or less – there is little research on this) may help to keep your baby healthier than if he received none at all. In fact, the immunities in mom’s milk have been shown to increase in concentration as the quantity of milk decreases.
  • Nutritional benefits
    There are components of mother’s milk which cannot be duplicated – even a small quantity of these can be invaluable to your baby.

Will my milk dry up if I only nurse once or twice per day?

Most moms find that they can wean down to a few feedings a day (or even just one) and maintain their supplies at this level for extended periods of time. In established lactation, milk production depends primarily upon milk removal – if milk is removed from the breast, then the breast will continue to make milk.

Breast refusal due to flow preference is probably a greater danger to the breastfeeding relationship than too-low milk supply. Frequent use of bottles increases the possibility that baby will become frustrated with the slower flow of milk at the breast, and this may lead to breast refusal and an earlier weaning than anticipated. See What can I do when baby wants a faster milk flow? for some tips on dealing with flow preference.

Partial weaning as an option for working mothers

Partial weaning can be an option for working moms:

  • who are unable to pump at work due to work schedule or lack of a place to pump
  • who do not wish to pump at work
  • who have been pumping but are ready to wean from pumping during work hours (many pumping moms wean from the pump at around a year, although some continue pumping long-term).

Partial weaning in a work situation generally involves offering the child formula, milk, or other foods when mom and baby are separated, and nursing only when mom and baby are together.

Some of these moms encourage their child to reverse cycle (nurse more when mom and baby are together) so that few (or no) supplements are needed during work hours.

Some moms feel that their supply decreases too much when they are nursing infrequently and not pumping at all. If you feel that your milk supply is decreasing after a period of no pumping during work hours, you might consider trying to pump at least once per day, even if it’s just for a brief period.

The key to maintaining your breastfeeding relationship without pumping during work hours is to only nurse when you are with baby. For example, if you have a regular five-day-per-week daytime job, then use no bottles during the evening or on weekends. Take advantage of every opportunity to put your baby to your breast when the two of you are together. Limit pacifier use when at home, too, so that baby seeks out the breast to satisfy his need to suck. If your baby associates mom with nursing only (rather than bottle feeding), then he may be less likely to refuse the breast due to bottle/flow preference.


Additional information

@ kellymom

@ other websites

Making Combination Feeding Work by Paula Yount

Making it Work: Working without Pumping from New Beginnings, Vol. 17 No. 3, May-June 2000, pp. 98-99.

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