Dehydration risks from breastfeeding are 'negligible', study finds
Published 20/03/2013 | 10:25
Researchers in the UK have discovered that very few babies become seriously ill because they are not getting enough milk from breastfeeding.
Their analysis of almost a million births in the UK and Ireland found just 62 cases of severe neonatal hypernatraemia, a condition where newborn babies need hospital treatment because they are not getting enough milk.
This could be eradicated with better support for mothers in how to overcome problems in getting their child to breast feed, they said.
Doctors in Bradford and Sheffield carried out the study, according to the Guardian, and it was published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
A number of cases of babies needing hospital treatment led the researchers to find out how common it was for feeding to go dangerously wrong.
They collected details of every case of severe neonatal hypernatraemia in the UK and the Republic of Ireland over one year.
The condition can lead to seizures, gangrene, brain damage and even death.
But Dr Sam Oddie, a consultant at Bradford Royal Infirmary, and colleagues found only 62 cases from May 2009 to June 2010, equivalent to just seven in every 100,000 births.
They said that all the babies were taken to hospital, mostly because of weight loss.
All were discharged within two weeks after treatment including being intravenously fed and none had long-term damage.
The evidence should help reassure parents and stop them automatically reaching for the bottle.
But the researchers stressed it should also encourage them to seek help when struggling to establish breastfeeding.
Dr Oddie said the answer is not bottle-feeding but more help for women to ensure the baby attaches properly and is fed often enough.
He said: "While we always expected to see low figures for this level of severity, the very nature of these cases made it important to find out exact data to understand what health professionals can do to better support women who breastfeed.
"Measures such as early initiation of breastfeeding, skilled helpers observing and supporting women breastfeeding, and targeting help in cases where feeding is difficult ... will both support the initiation of breastfeeding in general and find cases where a more serious problem may be developing.
"As far as I'm concerned the answer isn't more formula feeding, but better support for breastfeeding from the outset."
Dr Oddie said there were only a few cases where breast feeding was impossible.
He said that mothers need confident and well-trained midwives, health visitors and other NHS staff to encourage and advise them.
Anne Woods, deputy programme manager for Unicef's Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) – a scheme trains the staff to help mothers breastfeed – said the number of babies who could not feed was negligible.