Can a wee drop ‘o formula help breastfeeding?
© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD
It’s a tiny little study, a simple one, but could it really be? Could offering newborns just a little bit of formula actually help support breastfeeding in the long run?
Researchers in California reported this month a study of 40 newborns, all of whom were recruited from families who had planned to nurse exclusively, and all of whom got off to a little bit of a rocky start. They had all lost > 5% of their birthweight after 1 day of life, which is not a disaster, but means that they weren’t getting super-good milk transfer yet. These 40 babies were randomized to either get 10 mL of formula (that’s 2 tsp) after nursing, or to continue exclusive breastfeeding.
By the end of their hospital stay, only 2 of the 20 early-formula babies were still getting formula (compared to 9 of the 19 control babies, whose parents had decided to go ahead and give formula on their own.) And: three months later, twice as many little-bit-of-early-formula babies were nursing, 80%, compared to only 40% of the families who had been randomized into the exclusive-breastfeeding group.
Small study, but those sure are impressive results.
To a practicing pediatrician, the outcomes of this study makes some sense. Though many babies nurse well, others seem to grow impatient waiting for mom’s milk to come in. These impatient babies can get cranky and upset, and mom get all sorts of conflicting information that only adds to their guilt and apprehension. A little wee drop o’ formula does seem to settle babies down, maybe enough for them to calmly nurse, and maybe enough to give mom the confidence to keep trying.
I realize that there are a lot of pediatricians and lactation counselors who won’t be very happy with this study—it flies in the face of our typical advice for nursing moms. But we’re here to be humble and learn, and this study might just have something to teach us about the best way to support breastfeeding.