Early Formula Is Not the Enemy, Can Help Mothers Breast-Feed Longer

What Women Really Think
May 13 2013 2:09 PM

Early Formula Is Not the Enemy, Can Help Mothers Breast-Feed Longer

149703473
Do moms who use formula in the first few days after birth end up breast-feeding longer?

Photo by JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/GettyImages

Last summer Mayor Bloomberg said he was going to tell hospitals to keep infant formula locked up in cabinets to encourage new mothers to breast-feed. He might want to reconsider: A new study shows that limited early formula supplementation might actually help some moms breast-feed longer. Doctors took 40 babies who were between 1 and 2 days old, exclusively breast-feeding, and had lost between 5 and 10 percent of their birth weight. Twenty of those babies were given only breast milk. The other 20 were given a small dose of formula via a syringe (to avoid nipple confusion) after they breast-fed—not enough to make them full and possibly reject breast milk at their next feeding. These formula moms only supplemented their breast milk until their mature milk came in.

The results were that moms who had supplemented their breast milk in the first days were less likely to use formula down the road than the mothers who were exclusively breast-feeding during those difficult early hours. At three months, 95 percent of the babies who had received formula in those first few days were still getting some breast milk, compared with only 69 percent of the babies that had received no formula. And as an added benefit, the babies who were given formula lost slightly less weight in the short run.

Advertisement

It’s difficult to know exactly why that tiny bit of formula in the early days made the difference, but one speculation is that it eased anxiety about the babies gaining weight. Since many moms stop breast-feeding because they’re concerned that their children aren’t getting enough food, getting that limited boost from formula in the early days gave them the assurance to keep going with breastfeeding, the study’s authors hypothesized. They had a potential escape valve of formula, so could relax.

Forty women is a small sample, and as the authors point out, their sample size was mostly white and Asian, and more educated than the general population. And it doesn’t answer all the questions about early use of formula–say, whether it is associated with more allergies. But this is at least a rare infant study that was able to use a randomized sample. And even with these measured caveats, the takeaway here seems to be that we can open our minds to the possibility that a little flexibility in feeding can lead to more confident moms and better outcomes for babies.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.