The majority of mothers trying to learn how to breastfeed their new babies will feel nervous about their milk supply. This is quite understandable as their breasts are not see-through. It can take days before they are producing milk in larger quantities. Everywhere these mothers turn they will be told that there are specific amounts that a baby should be feeding. Hospital staff, family and friends hover and tell them their baby is “starving”. Especially in those early days, they will begin to worry whenever their baby cries and is fussy. Many of these moms will ultimately succumb to the pressure coming at them from all sides and will begin supplementing their feedings with artificial baby milk or formula.
What happens when a mother supplements a breastfeeding baby with formula in a bottle? It can change the course of her breastfeeding for these reasons:
1. It Changes the Mother’s Confidence in her Milk Supply. She begins to believe that her body cannot produce what her baby needs.
2. It Changes how the Baby Acts. Formula is a dense, processed food that never changes. Human Milk is a much more easily digested, concentrated milk that packs a punch in small amounts; it may leave her baby not feeling as full.
3. It Can Make the Appetite of her Baby Get Ahead of Her Supply. The only way you get more calories with formula is to go up on the amount being served.
4. It Can Slow Down the Bowel Movements. The consistency of the stools and frequency can change depending upon what the baby is being fed. The amounts of formula taken in relative to the amounts of breastmilk, and the unique digestion of each baby, may alter the patterns. Unfortunately, if the number of stools differ greatly from what is thought to be the normal range, the discrepancy will be blamed on the breastfeeding.
5. It Can Skew the Analysis of Breastfeeding Success. If babies are weighed with formula added to their diet, it will change their rate of weight gain. Doctors begin to focus on the weight and forget that the formula may be unnaturally accelerating the growth patterns.
6. It Can Alter the Quality of Breastfeeding. Babies get used to the delivery system of bottles which is fast and furious. They may become fussy because the breasts deliver smaller amounts of a less dense milk.
7. It Can Cause Premature Weaning. The more the bottle and formula feedings are part of the mix, the sooner the baby will wean. The breasts will not have their milk production optimized. Weaning will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the majority of cases, formula is being added too soon and in larger amounts than necessary. Many Pediatricians suggest supplemental bottles of formula without ever fully assessing the quality of the breastfeeding being done. The baby is not viewed in the context of its actual feeding history, but rather the emphasis is too often on weights and measures. Unfortunately, when they suggest this “temporary fix” it has a negative impact upon the breastfeeding behavior of the baby which leaves the mom in a state of perpetual worry about her milk supply.
What can a mother do to prevent this downward spiral?
Knowledge is powerful. A prenatal class should lay the groundwork of understanding that breastfeeding is natural, but a learned skill. Choose a Pediatrician who is supportive of breastfeeding. Be mindful that most will say they are, but the proof is not in what they say, but rather what they do. Seek out help in the hospital, but realize that time constraints and shorter hospital stays lend themselves to formula being offered “just in case”. Be suspicious of anyone be it a nurse, doctor or lactation consultant who pushes formula too readily. A little extra breastmilk should always be offered before unlimited amounts of formula.
The emphasis should always be on making direct breastfeeding be fully optimized. Mothers practicing “Conscious Breastfeeding” ensure that their baby is latched-on deeply and feeding well. Focusing on a great latch, they leave nothing to chance. This reduces the likelihood of needing supplementation as the baby will get a steady and increasing amount of milk over time.
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