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  • When Should Formula Be an Option for a Mom? Two Doctors Discuss

    One doctor asks for more openness to formula milk. Another argues that moms are given formula too early.
    by Jillianne E. Castillo .
When Should Formula Be an Option for a Mom? Two Doctors Discuss
PHOTO BY iStock
  • “Breast is best” or “fed is best”? Is there a right answer?  

    An article on breastfeeding and formula milk shows how divided two doctors can be as well. It had been written by a pediatrician discussing the “demonization of formula.” In response, a well-known doctor who strongly advocates breastfeeding argues against healthcare practitioners who may be too quick in giving formula as a solution to mothers who struggle to breastfeed. 

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    The article, published in Harvard Health, was written by Dr. Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician and faculty editor for the publication. She discussed the findings of a recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics where results showed that newborns who were given formula after each breastfeeding were not more likely to become sickly and readmitted into a hospital. 

    Sometimes, breastfeeding does not work, and “we need to remember that formula isn’t evil.” Dr. McCarthy clarified, “I am not arguing against encouraging breastfeeding.” But she wanted readers to keep an open mind about formula feeding as a tool to support breastfeeding. Formula, she said, could supplement struggling breastfeeding moms including those with newborns who have lost a risky amount of weight. 

    Unfortunately, in the world we live in today, breastfeeding can be a challenge for a number of reasons, she continued, including the availability of breast pumps and lactation consultants. Moms also need a supportive community and work environment to help them sustain their breastfeeding journey. “Not every mother has this,” she writes. 

    “When we demonize formula we also run the risk of shaming women who, for any number of good reasons, choose not to breastfeed. There are many other ways besides breastfeeding to help babies grow and be healthy; it’s important to keep that perspective.” 

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    In the comments section, Dr. Jack Newman, a physician who specializes in breastfeeding support and founder of the first hospital-based breastfeeding clinic in Canada, argued that moms are being given formula too early on as a solution.

    “Help with breastfeeding should imply actual help with breastfeeding. Giving bottles of formula is not helping with breastfeeding,” he wrote in the comments section of Dr. McCarthy’s article. 

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    There is a need, he said, to see how the right kind of help can become more accessible to mothers so they and their babies can get a much better shot at breastfeeding. “There is nobody in the hospital who would show them how to latch the baby on well or how to determine whether the baby is getting enough breastmilk from the breast or not.”

    Proper breastfeeding support starts as soon as the mom gives birth, he said, which, unfortunately, new mothers do not get. For example, to encourage breastfeeding, babies and mothers should not be separated at birth, Dr. Newman added. Strict rules — such as weighing a baby before and after breastfeeding — only discourage moms from breastfeeding as well.

    The days after birth is a crucial period for establishing breastfeeding, said Dr. Newman. Giving only formula during this time will make it harder for the baby to become interested in breastfeeding again. 

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    “Breastfeeding is seen as unpredictable because health professionals do not know what to look for when taking care of breastfeeding mothers and babies,” said Dr. Newman. “It is ignorance about how breastfeeding works and refusal to acquire hands-on skills to help breastfeeding mothers succeed at breastfeeding that lead to formula feeding early on.”

    The support new moms need include how to know and make sure the baby latches on correctly, determining if the baby is getting enough milk, and practical solutions to issues like sore nipples, he said. 

    We do agree that it can be very difficult for a new mom to find proper support when it comes to breastfeeding. Information as well as those who are authorized to give it such as lactation consultants are not always readily accessible. It's also why the workshops Smart Parenting conducts always has breastfeeding as a topic. Moms have a lot of questions about it.  

    At the end of the day, the choice to breastfeed or give formula is a mother’s decision to make ultimately. 

    Here's to happy, healthy babies. 

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