Breast milk is one of the best gifts you can give your child. Several studies have shown its benefits for both the baby and the mom. It contains antibodies that protect babies during the first few months of life and helps moms get her pre-pregnant uterus back. (Read more about the benefits of breastfeeding for your baby here and how moms benefit from it here.)
While it's great that a lot of mothers know the value of breast milk, those who find it challenging should not be shamed or guilt-tripped into thinking they are shortchanging their baby's health. As a new study highlights, supplementing breast milk with formula may have advantages.
The study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, involved 164 infants "who exclusively breastfed one to three days after birth but whose weight loss was greater than the 75th percentile for their age. Their mothers had not yet begun mature milk production," The New York Timesreports. "Half were randomly assigned to exclusive breastfeeding. The other half got 10 milliliters of formula at the end of each breastfeeding session, which was discontinued when the mothers’ milk came in two to seven days later."
Five of the babies in the exclusively breastfed group and one from the mixed feeding group needed to be re-admitted to the hospital. After one month, more than 85 percent of infants in both groups continued to nurse, though only 54% of the infants who received formula supplement were exclusively breastfeeding. Only 65 percent of the babies in the other group continued to breastfeed exclusively.
The researchers also noted that supplementing with formula does not affect the number of good bacteria in the babies' stomach.
According to the study, about 80,000 newborns in the U.S. require readmission to the hospital after discharge after birth each year. Hospitalizations were linked to hyperbilirubinemia, a blood condition that causes jaundice and dehydration. These two conditions could be prevented by temporarily supplementing breast milk with formula.
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Study lead author Dr. Valerie J. Flaherman, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of California in San Francisco, believes certain situations can save newborns' lives by supplementing with formula. "Using formula should be guided by science," she told The New York Times. "I think the bias against formula is preventing its use in situations where it might be beneficial."
The pressure to exclusively breastfeed is real. Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla, whose baby was in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and had trouble latching, shared with SmartParenting.com.ph that she tried every tip that came her way to increase her milk supply but to no avail. She ended up breastfeeding and supplementing with formula, and she experienced the silent judging and not-so-silent bashing from other people.
"The pressure to exclusively breastfeed (as in direct latch, no bottle feeding breast milk) has become so EXTRA that many people now think feeding your baby formula milk is synonymous with giving poison," she wrote.
Kath told us it inspired her to share stories of mixed-feeding moms on her blog. Many moms who decided to mixed feed, like her, had breastfeeding issues, such as painful latch and low milk supply. Some of them had babies who wouldn't stop crying and showed signs of jaundice, weight loss, and dehydration.
Other moms developed conditions that interfered with breastfeeding or decreased their milk supply. New mom Valerie "Bangs" Garcia had to supplement with formula because the antibiotics she took to cure an infection she got after her C-section affected her milk supply.
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There are also moms who choose mixed feeding for their own sanity. It can mess with your head. Stressing about your milk supply and your baby's health can affect milk production and could make one more prone to develop postpartum depression (PPD).
Some moms would do anything to breastfeed exclusively and refuse to supplement with formula even if their child's doctor already recommends it. While it's normal for a newborn not to gain weight in his first week of life, it's only up to a certain measure. Dehydration can be fatal in a newborn.
Moms need to be fit not just physically but also mentally and emotionally to care for her baby. We all should be able to feed their baby however way they choose to without being condemned. They're just doing the very best they can for their baby, their family and themselves.