Breastfeeding Moms Could Need Formula More Than They Know

bottlefeedingWell knock me over with a feather! For as long as I can remember -- or at least since I started reading every book I could find on babies during my pregnancy -- I've heard that formula is harmful to moms trying to initiate breastfeeding. And now a bunch of researchers say that's not really true.

Word out of the University of California San Francisco is that early formula use can actually -- gasp -- help breastfeeding moms.

Ready to fill up those bottles?

Just hold on a second ...

The study -- supported by a grant from the National Institute of Children Health and Human Development and just published online by the medical journal Pediatrics -- refers only to what they call early limited formula (or the adorable nickname ELF) use. Under their guidelines, small amounts of formula are given to babies to help curb their hunger while mom waits for her milk to come in, but mom still breastfeeds.

The study took 40 newborns who had lost 5 percent of their birth weight and whose moms' milk hadn't come in yet and split them into two groups. One got ELF. The other group was breastfed exclusively. When they checked back at 3 months, almost 80 percent of the babies who were given formula early on were breastfeeding exclusively. Forty-two percent of the moms who'd breastfed exclusively from the get-go were still doing so. 

The goal of ELF is to help moms and babies both -- it keeps the little ones from losing weight and helps prevent moms from giving in to the stress of not "making enough" to sate a hungry baby. In all, it's only supposed to last a few days before moms goes to full breastfeeding.

It all sounds pretty tricky, and even the folks at UCSF admit it's not perfect. In a press release, the study's lead author Dr. Valerie Flaherman, an assistant professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF and a pediatrician at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, even calls formula use a "slippery slope to breastfeeding discontinuation."

But I'm buying what they're selling ... if only because I remember those early days after my daughter was born, when nothing, and I mean NOTHING satisfied her. My nipples were rubbed raw and felt like they were going to fall off, and still she screamed. I didn't want to give her a pacifier -- because of course the books all tell you that causes nipple confusion -- and I was at my wits' end.

I ended up sinking into postpartum depression in no small part because of my feelings of failure and inadequacy as a mom who wasn't doing well at this breastfeeding thing.

I can only imagine how much less stressed I would have been if someone had said, "Hey, a little formula isn't a bad thing." If someone -- a medical someone -- had helped me lay out a plan for a little formula to get us over the hump, a plan that had a specific beginning and end so that it was only a supplement and NOT a crutch that ruined my breastfeeding future.

That's what the folks at UCSF are talking about. They're not saying moms should pump baby full of something man-made from here until eternity. Just give that ravenous baby something to drink when mom can't make it ... something to help mom get over the hump while her poor body adjusts to new motherhood.

If that's what it takes to make breastfeeding work for a long time, it just might be worth it.

Did you ever supplement with formula? Did it help or hinder your breastfeeding experience?


Image via Pink Sherbet Photography/Flickr

breastfeeding, formula


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Lovin... LovinJerseyMama

It helped me in the beginning before my milk dropped, which took about a week. I would feed my daughter from both breasts then I would give her an ounce of formula after she was done. It kept us both happy and when my milk came in I stopped using the formula altogether and breast fed her for over a year :) 

nonmember avatar MammaMel

I really wanted to be mad at this, but it stands to reason. People quit breastfeeding within the first few weeks because they feel overwhelmed...and I guess the data doesn't lie.

nonmember avatar Anowscara

Without knowing what it was called, this is what I did. My milk took two days of ELF to come in, and I breastfed exclusively until a week after going back to work, when my son was five months old, when I had to start supplementing. I didn't finish nursing until he was over eight months old. It worked very well for me, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it or do it for any more children I might have.

MomMo... MomMommyMomma

I had a very difficult time breastfeeding in the beginning. At 3 weeks, when my daughter was still not up to birthweight, I begged the pediatrician for a formula recommendation. I started giving her 2 ounces a day. This gave my girls a bit of break to heal and kept her tummy just a bit fuller. She will be 7 months this week and has been EBF for the past 5 months. I always say that little bit of formula is what kept me breastfeeding!

Linsala Linsala

I'm conflicted about this. I see how it could help some women, but my daughter lost 12 oz after birth and my milk didn't come in for a full week. I had to take her for daily weigh-ins to make sure she wasn't losing more, but she didn't really gain any more for that first week either. She was my second baby and second time breastfeeding so that may have made a difference. I was confident in my ability to breastfeed and knew my milk would come in. I continued to EBF for 7 months and breastfeed with solids for 18 months. 

Rhond... RhondaVeggie

If it is actually necessary then fine but I don't like that as a standard recommendation. Breasts need to be stimulated to produce milk and supplementing can all too easily start a vicious cycle that leads to milk drying up.

A little weight loss is normal, especially if mom had an IV in labor because that artificially increases birthweight so baby appears to lose more once that bloat goes away. I didn't have an IV with my last birth; baby lost about 8oz after birth but at her 4 day checkup she was only 1oz shy of her birthweight.

linzemae linzemae

My daughter was a premie and my mik didnt come in till day 6. Shwewouldn't latch so I pumped in the hospital and she always got my colstrum and milk before formula. I was not going to let her starve!

miche... micheledo

I'm wondering if it is more helpful in our society, but only because of the lack of knowledge and support moms get. My milk has taken up to seven days to come in, which equals a lot of sleepless night and frustration as baby is not satisfied at the breast. Moms in my situation often have spouses or family that push giving up, you aren't producing enough, it's ok ,etc. Even doctos and nurses join in.

But what if moms like that only had positive support and encouragement? With my fifth ,I tried kangaroo care because I heard it encourages the milk to come in faster. And it did!! Day TWO!!!

I just wonder if the formula would be as beneficial if our society was more positive and encouraging of breastfeeding. I guess, with things the way they are now, I am glad it has helped so many moms.

nonmember avatar dana

I would say doing this is okay with the help of a supplemental feeding system. I'm absolutely getting one with my next child, so if I find myself in that situation, I can continue without the stress and he or she still learns to latch. It's just a bad with tubes that you use in conjunction with your own nipple so the baby still has to latch and work for it

randh... randhferedinos

The reason I never supplemented was because formula is not guaranteed to be clean, makes baby stink and could add to upset tummy! Breastfeeding works out long term when you're supported by family and personally dedicated to it. Every bit if supplementation depresses supply, so it doesn't make sense biologically to use formula unless absolutely necessary.

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