We’ve all heard the mantra “one bottle won’t hurt”. It’s the mating call of the disengaged health professional or well-meaning but ultimately misinformed relative. A study published last year even suggested that giving formula to babies can help relax mothers and increase the length of time they end up breastfeeding (The Telegraph 2013). This was a huge pat on the back for supplementing mommas – and there are plenty of them about. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-quarter of the babies born in America in 2009 were supplemented with infant formula by two days of age, and by three months, this had increased to nearly two-thirds. With this bottle-centric backdrop it should come as no surprise that when I posted the following meme on Facebook, there was a lot of panties taking residence in buttcracksville:
Where do you draw the line? When do you decide enough is enough? Will you keep going to a full bottle a day, two bottles, or even beyond that to complete formula feeding? When mothers are asked in advance how far they imagine they would go, almost no one would say they would go to complete formula feeding. But when they are actually in the situation, the vast majority of mothers go all the way, ditching the breast forever. In my book, aptly titled, ‘Breast Intentions’, I explore how women turn to formula to satisfy internal intentions even moreso than external pressures. If you glance back at the doctor scenario above, you can see how mothers’ expectations and beliefs about what formula will do for them influences the rewards and behaviors associated with its use – thus giving formula an addictive potential. Mothers opt into formula feeding and thus opt out of breastfeeding by justifying each step as they go along. 2 ounces won’t harm; 4 isn’t much worse than 2; if I’ve given 4, why not 6? As they justify each step, they commit themselves further to formula. By the time they are administering a bottle or two, most mothers find it difficult to justify a sudden decision to surrender the bottle.
The easiest time to quit formula is before you start
- “The highest level of breastfeeding problems is experienced by mothers using a combination of breast and formula feeding” (National Childbirth Trust).
- “Infants still breastfeeding at 4 or 9 weeks were far more likely to have been unsupplemented than those no longer being breastfed” (Journal of Paediatrics).
- “Supplementing with formula before 2 weeks is significantly likely to lead to termination of breastfeeding by 8 weeks” (Journal of Paediatrics).
- “At four to six months most mothers who had given their baby milk other than breastmilk were mainly giving infant formula” (National Childbirth Trust).
- “Mothers who supplement before 3 months are significantly more likely to discontinue breastfeeding before the first 12 months” (Journal of Public Health and Nutrition).
- “Mothers who believed that the baby prefers formula were more likely to stop breastfeeding within the first 2 weeks postpartum” (Journal of Paediatrics).
- “Combination feeding is associated with shorter overall breast-feeding duration” (Journal of Paediatrics).
- “Use of supplementary formula has a negative influence on breastfeeding duration” (World Health Organization;Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
- “In infants given formula, as soon as regular formula feeds started, the breastfeeding frequency and suckling duration declined swiftly” (Journal of Paediatrics).
- The list goes on…