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Breastfeeding vs Formula: The War Wages On {But With a Surprising Twist}

breastfeeding vs formulaThere are a lot of mommy wars that wage on out there. Ridiculous ones, like who has it harder: working moms or stay at homes; co-sleepers versus crib sleepers; strollers versus baby carriers. Then there’s the most ridiculous mommy war: breastfeeding vs formula. Why do mother’s pit themselves against each other based on the way they choose to feed their baby? Breastmilk or formula, it shouldn’t matter, but for some reason it does. It’s a touchy topic and no matter what you say about it you’re bound to ruffle some feathers. This latest installment in the push to increase breastfeeding is certainly bound to piss off breast-is-best advocates: giving babies formula may increase breastfeeding rates.

Pro-breastmilk moms may say this is blasphemy, but recent research has revealed that providing newborns with small amounts of formula when they’re having trouble catching on to breastfeeding may actually help them succeed. More importantly, it may help moms stick with it. Breastfeeding sounds easy and natural, and for some moms it’s just that. For a lot of other moms, however, it’s downright hard. Even with the support of lactation consultants, breastfeeding can be frustrating, causing many moms to quit early on in the process. I’m a pro-breastfeeding mom myself, but if giving a newborn baby a little bit of formula is what’s going to make the difference for making breastfeeding work, I’m all for it. {Of course it’s easy for me to be pro-breastfeeding because it worked for us, but that doesn’t mean it’d work for another baby.}

Using formula to increase breastfeeding success seems entirely backwards, but a study from the University of California San Francisco showed just that. A group of babies several days old were given two teaspoons of formula in a syringe after breastfeeding until the mother’s milk came in, which is typically around two to five days. For comparison, another group of babies was just breastfed, unless a doctor deemed formula medically necessary. When the babies were one week old, 47% of the breastmilk-only babies were getting supplemental formula, whereas only 10% of the babies originally given formula where still using it. By three months old, 79% of the babies in the formula group were being exclusively breastfed, compared to 42% in the breastfeeding group.

In the US, only 40% of moms exclusively breastfeed for six months and a mere 20% make it one year. Having more options available in the hospital to help support moms that want to nurse their babies is exactly what we need to drive these numbers higher. If it takes formula to promote breastfeeding in the long term, why should we shun it?

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