New moms who are unsure of their breastfeeding ability may be offered formula for their infants in the hospital.
Exhausted new moms who are unsure of their breastfeeding ability may be offered formula for their infants in the hospital. A new study suggests this may not be a good thing.

It wasn't too long ago that new moms were given a "goodie bag" filled with infant formula samples and coupons when they left the hospital. The majority of hospitals have ended this practice, citing concerns that vulnerable new moms might be deterred from breastfeeding exclusively.

Many women express the desire to exclusively breastfeed while pregnant. However, once the baby is born, the challenges can sometimes seem insurmountable. Sadly, many physicians are inadequately educated when it comes to the topic of breastfeeding. For example, the typical weight loss for a newborn is up to 10%. However, some practitioners recommend formula when an infant loses 5-7% of his or her original weight.

Further, infants whose mothers receive IV fluids during birth often have artificially inflated weights. Therefore, when their weights drop, they are often just expelling the fluids that have caused the weight gain in the first place. In other words, these newborns are returning to their original weight. However, the weight loss sometimes triggers recommendations for formula supplementation.

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A new study from the University of Manitoba shows exclusive breastfeeding during in the first few days following birth is associated with longer-term breastfeeding, while in-hospital formula use is associated with breastfeeding for a significantly shorter duration.

Researchers utilized hospital records from over 3,195 Canadian mothers and their infants from the AllerGen's CHILD Study to assess hospital feeding. Then, caregivers reported infant feeding at 3, 6, 12, 18, and 24 months.

The study found that 97% of newborns initiated breastfeeding and 74% were exclusively breastfed in the hospital. After controlling for several factors including maternal age, ethnicity, birth mode, and gestational age, those given solely breast milk had a 21% reduced risk of breastfeeding cessation. In fact, the infants that were exclusively nursed were ultimately breastfed for 11 months on average, compared to seven months for those receiving formula supplementation.

"Newborns who received only breast milk were ultimately breastfed for four months longer than those who received formula supplementation in hospital, and they were 63 percent more likely to meet the World Health Organization recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for six months," said Dr. Meghan Azad.

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The study also found that exclusive breastfeeding in the hospital was particularly beneficial for women with lower education levels.

"The beneficial effect was twice as great among mothers with lower education. Our results suggest that programs supporting new mothers to exclusively breastfeed in hospital will facilitate sustained breastfeeding within and beyond the first year of life, and this will support a plethora of associated health benefits for these women and their children," said lead author Lorena Vehling.

This study is not the first of its kind to reach such conclusions. A 2014 study out of UC Davis found that when mothers feed their infants formula in the hospital, they are less likely to exclusively breastfeed in the second month of life and more likely to quit breastfeeding early.