Giving small amounts of formula to babies in the first few days following birth can help relax mothers and increase the length of time they end up breastfeeding, according to a study.
In the first study of its kind, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that supplementing the relatively small volume of milk produced by new mothers with limited amounts of formula helped the mothers to relax, allowing them to go on to breastfeed exclusively for far longer than mothers whose babies did not have the early formula supplements.
“This study provides the first evidence that early limited formula can provide important benefits to some newborns,” said Dr Valerie Flaherman, an assistant professor of paediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF. “Based on our findings, clinicians may wish to consider recommending the temporary use of small amounts of formula to new mums whose babies are experiencing significant early weight loss.”
She added: "Many mothers develop concerns about their milk supply, which is the most common reason they stop breastfeeding in the first three months.
“But this study suggests that giving those babies a little early formula may ease those concerns and enable them to feel confident continuing to breastfeed."
In the first few days after giving birth, mothers do not produce high volumes of milk. Instead, their breasts secrete small amounts of colostrum, a protein-rich “first milk” which contains antibodies that protect the baby against disease. During their first week of life, babies often lose weight and new mothers can be concerned that their children appear hungry.
“Formula use has the potential to be a slippery slope to breastfeeding discontinuation, but early limited formula is a different way to envision using it,” said Dr Flaherman. “Rather than giving full bottles of formula that make it hard for the baby to return to the breast, [this] is a small amount of supplementation with a clear end point that alleviates some of the stress new mothers feel about producing enough milk.”
Most health authorities in developed countries, suggest that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life is the best option. Breast milk is believed to offer many preventative health measures, including building immunities and lowering the likelihood of allergies.