Supplemental Formula Use With Breastfeeding Offers Assistance, New Study Claims

How do you increase the number of moms who breastfeed? According to a new controversial study, you start with baby formula.

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that giving newborns a small amount of formula actually boosts breastfeeding rates.

Researchers say the addition of formula at birth gives moms the assurance they need to continue their pursuit of breastfeeding.

As expected, many experts in the field have taken issue with the study, noting that it undermines the accepted position that there is never a good substitute for breast milk.

The study was conducted at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and focused on just 40 newborn babies. The babies studied had lost an average of five percent of their birth weight by the time they reached 36 hours old. Researchers focused on babies who lost weight because other data suggests that infants who lose five percent of their body weight directly after birth are likely to lose more weight.

During the trial, researchers assigned half of the babies to receive two teaspoons of baby formula after each breastfeeding via a syringe to help avoid “nipple confusion.” Once a mother’s milk supply appeared, the women were encouraged to stop the formula feeding practice. The practice of formula feeding was observed on average from two to five days. The other group of mothers exclusively breastfed.

According to the study results, 10 percent of the formula fed group continued to use formula in some way compared to 47 percent of the group that was assigned to breastfeed while adding formula. After three months, 79 percent of the formula group was exclusively breastfeeding. Only 42 percent of the exclusive breastfeeding moms were using formula after the same time period.

Researchers believe that, by introducing formula early on and then withdrawing it, some moms feel more secure that their babies are not hungry. Moms who feel more confident with breastfeeding are therefore more likely to continue with the practice.

Mothers in the US have a large drop off in breastfeeding ratings. While most mothers will attempt to breastfeed their children, only 40 percent continue the practice after six months and only 20 percent make it to the one year point. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that all mothers breastfeed their children until they are at least one years old.

The study is openly being attached by experts including Dr. Kathleen Marinelli, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and the chair-elect of the USBreastfeeding Committee. Marinelli tells TIME:

“This study goes against everything that’s been published for several years now from very reliable clinicians and researchers about the potential hazards of supplementing exclusively breast-feeding babies with formula … They’re flying in the face of years of research here and doing so rather glibly, stating that this is the new way to look at things.”

In the meantime, lactation support groups and other experts continue to warn mothers that the best approach is a breast milk only approach.

Where do you stand when it comes to breastfeeding versus formula and formula supplementing?

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