A Little Boost from Formula

Breastfeeding after some formula use linked to better outcomes for small group of babies

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Breast milk may be the best food we have to offer newborns, but that does not mean formula offers no value. In fact, formula use may help breastfeeding efforts in some situations.

A recent study found that longer-term breastfeeding rates were actually better in a group of babies who received a small amount of formula in the first few days after birth.

Immediately after birth, a mother's breasts give her baby a pre-milk substance called colostrum until her full milk comes in a few days after birth.

In those few days, some babies may be needing to catch up in lost body weight since birth. Those babies were included in this study.

"Ask a lactation consultant for advice."

The study, led by Valerie J. Flaherman, MD, MPH, of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California - San Francisco School of Nursing, looked at how early formula feeding affected longer-term breastfeeding for at-risk infants.

The researchers randomly divided 40 babies, from 1 to 2 days old, into two groups. All the babies had been born at full term and were exclusively breastfeeding, but all had lost at least 5 percent of their birth weight.

One group was given a small amount of formula, 10 mL by syringe, after each breastfeeding session until the mother's full milk came in.

In the other group, the babies continued exclusively breastfeeding with no formula.

Then the researchers looked at the mothers' use of breastfeeding and formula when the child was 1 week old, 1 month old, 2 months old and 3 months old.

Among the group of babies who received formula, two of them (10 percent) were receiving any formula when they were 1 week old, compared to nine of the babies (47 percent) in the group who had been assigned exclusive breastfeeding without formula in those first few days.

When the babies were 3 months old, 15 of the ones in the group that received early formula (79 percent) were still exclusively breastfeeding. In the group that received no early formula, only 8 of the babies (42 percent) were still exclusively breastfeeding.

The researchers concluded that the use of a small amount of formula in the few days after birth, before a mother's milk comes in, may actually reduce long-term formula use and improve breastfeeding rates over the longer term.

"Early limited formula may be a successful temporary coping strategy for mothers to support breastfeeding newborns with early weight loss," the authors wrote. "Early limited formula has the potential for increasing rates of longer-term breastfeeding without supplementation based on [these] findings."

The study is limited by the small number of participants, which also prevented the researchers from being able to look at whether it made a difference if the mothers had previous children or if this were their first child.

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics on May 13. The research was funded by the National Institute of Children's Health and Human Development.

One author has consulted for Abbott Nutrition, Mead-Johnson, Nestle and Pfizer Consumer Products, at least some of whom manufacture baby formula. No other authors reported possible conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 10, 2013
Last Updated:
September 19, 2013