Early Limited Formula Helps Babies Keep Weight, Mothers Breastfeed Longer
May 14, 2013

Early Limited Formula Helps Babies Keep Weight, Mothers Breastfeed Longer

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends healthy mothers and their infants should breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life. However, high levels of infant weight loss early on often causes mothers to switch over to formula.

A new study from researchers at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) has found limited amounts of formula can combat weight loss in the first few days after birth and extend the duration of breastfeeding.

"Until now, we haven't explored if it is possible to identify babies who might benefit from early formula use," said lead author Dr. Valerie Flaherman, an assistant professor of pediatrics at UCSF and a pediatrician at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital. “This study provides the first evidence that early limited formula (ELF) can provide important benefits to some newborns.

"Based on our findings, clinicians may wish to consider recommending the temporary use of small amounts of formula to new moms whose babies are experiencing significant early weight loss,” Flaherman said in a statement.

Instead of producing high volumes of milk after childbirth, women secrete small amounts of colostrum, a form of breast milk which contains high concentrations of nutrients and antibodies. During this time, babies often lose weight — leading new mothers to become concerned if their babies appear fussy or hungry.

"Many mothers develop concerns about their milk supply, which is the most common reason they stop breastfeeding in the first three months," said Flaherman. "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 study, which appeared in the journal Pediatrics, 40 full-term newborns that were experiencing early weight loss were arbitrarily assigned either to receive one-third of an ounce of infant formula by syringe following each breastfeeding (ELF) or to continue with their conventional breastfeeding schedule.

While the ELF babies were given small feedings of formula to keep from over supplementing their diet, a syringe was used to avoid nipple confusion — when a baby develops a fondness for a synthetic nipple. About two to five days after birth, the ELF babies stopped their formula regimen as their mothers began producing higher volumes of mature milk.

After one week, the babies in both groups were still breastfeeding. However, only 10 percent of the ELF babies had deviated from breast milk in the previous 24 hours, while 47 percent of the control group had received formula during the same time period.

After three months, 79 percent of the ELF babies were still regularly breastfeeding, compared with 42 percent of the control group. Also, 95 percent of the ELF babies were breastfeeding to some degree after three months, compared with 68 percent of the conventionally-fed babies.

Despite the positive signs, the authors of the study noted more research needs to be conducted to validate the ELF method of feeding.

"It will be important to see whether these results can be confirmed in future, larger studies and in other populations," said senior author Dr. Thomas Newman, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF and a pediatrician at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.