Efforts to increase breastfeeding in the U.S. have focused heavily on curbing babies' exposure to infant formula in the hours and days after they are born. Several states have banned the inclusion of free formula samples in gift bags regularly given to mothers when they leave the hospital, and many institutions have put baby formula under lock and key.
But a provocative new study suggests feeding babies who experience significant weight loss after birth tiny servings of formula may improve breastfeeding rates in the long run.
"It's a small, carefully managed volume of formula, so that the baby is still hungry for the next breastfeeding," study author Dr. Valerie Flaherman, an assistant professor pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, told HuffPost. "It's also temporary use with a predefined endpoint," Flaherman said. The approach may also help relieve maternal anxiety that mounts when brand-new babies lose weight, sometimes spurring aggressive formula feeding.
The study of 40 babies who had lost 5 percent of their birth weight and whose mothers' milk had not yet come in randomly divided the newborns into two groups. One group was fed two teaspoons of infant formula with a syringe after each breastfeeding session for the first few days after birth, until their moms' milk came in. The other group was breastfed exclusively. After that, some mothers supplemented breastfeeding with formula.
When they were assessed one week after birth, all the babies were still breastfeeding, but only 10 percent of the infants who had been given small doses of formula initially were still receiving it, compared with nearly half of babies in the second group.
At age 3 months, nearly 80 percent of the babies who were given formula early on were breastfeeding exclusively, compared with 42 percent in the second group. The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.
"There's deep concern in the breastfeeding advocacy community that this will be over-interpreted," said Flaherman. "The solid majority of babies do not need formula, but the opportunity to use [it temporarily] to help some moms achieve the goal of continued breastfeeding can be a good thing."
"I worry that the headlines from this study will translate into 'A Six Pack of Formula Back In Every Bassinet!'" said Dr. Alison Stuebe, an assistant professor in maternal fetal medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, who did not work on the research. Stuebe said the next step would be to replicate the findings, ideally using donor human milk, to see if they hold up.
"This is very different from the way that formula supplementation is handled in many U.S. hospitals," Stuebe added. "Overall, one-quarter of breastfed infants are given formula by day two of life, and that number reaches as high as 40 percent in some areas."
In an accompanying commentary in Pediatrics, Dr. Lydia Furman, a pediatrician with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Ohio, warned that "early limited formula is not ready for prime time." She commended the study's researchers for challenging existing paradigms, but questioned the use of 5 percent weight loss as a benchmark for inclusion in the trial. That level of weight loss generally does not put babies at risk for poor outcomes.
Breastfeeding continues to be a hot topic in public health, with campaigns hammering home the message that breast is best for babies' health. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first six months and continue up to one year or beyond while supplementing with foods.
But while breastfeeding rates have improved in recent years, many women resist. Forty-seven percent of mothers in the U.S. breastfeed exclusively at six months, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, and 25 percent do so one year out.
Many women report feeling unsupported in their efforts to breastfeed and attacked when they stop.
"Support for breastfeeding will improve outcomes. This study highlights one way to do just that," said Dr. Carl Seashore, medical director of newborn service at the University of North Carolina's Women's Hospital, who joined other experts in characterizing the new research as interesting, but preliminary.
"There are many others," Seashore continued, "spanning public health campaigns, public acceptance of nursing mothers, prenatal education, lactation support in the birth window and first weeks -- to months -- when needed, and support for workplace pumping."
Chance Of Having Twins Skyrockets
In January, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/04/chances-of-having-twins_n_1183674.html">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> reported that the numbers of twins in the U.S. has jumped in the last three decades: In 2009, 1 in every 30 babies born in the U.S. was a twin, compared to just 1 in every 53 in 1980. Why? Chalk it up to more and more couples using assisted reproductive technology, as well as an increase in women waiting to have kids until their 30s when the odds of having twins increases,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/04/chances-of-having-twins_n_1183674.html"> AP said.</a>
U.S. Autism Rate Up
In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new figures on autism spectrum disorder in the U.S. and they were up: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/30/autism-rate-increase-repo_n_1390721.html">1 in 88 children</a> is now believed to have autism, compared to the previous estimate of 1 in 110. Experts attribute much of the increase to better screening and diagnosis, AP reported, but that does not mean the findings aren't cause for concern. "Autism is now officially becoming an epidemic in the United States," Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks, said at a news conference.
1 in 13 Women Drink During Pregnancy
A <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/alcohol-during-pregnancy-_n_1686953.html">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> survey from July found that 1 in 13 pregnant women in the U.S. drink alcohol. And of those who said they drank, 1 in 5 admitted to going on at least one binge -- having four or more drinks at once. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/22/drinking-alcohol-pregnant-effects-children_n_1822880.html">A study</a> that came out a month later found that drinking during pregnancy has long-lasting effects on children's size.
Batteries Can Pose Serious Risk To Kids
More and more kids are swallowing batteries, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found, sending thousands of children to the ER each year. Between 1997 and 2010, nearly 30,000 kids up to age 4 were taken to the emergency room for battery related injuries, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/30/swallowed-batteries-kids_n_1844412.html">MyHealthNewsDaily reported</a> in August. More than half of the cases involved small, circular button batteries.
AAP Throws Support Behind Circumcision
In August, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/27/new-circumcision-guidelin_n_1826069.html">American Academy of Pediatrics</a> -- the U.S.' major pediatrics organization -- revised its policy on infant male circumcision, saying that the health benefits outweigh the risks. But the new guideline stopped short of recommending it routinely, stating instead that it should simply be available to parents who choose it for their sons. To the great surprise of no one, the policy was an immediate source of debate, with one "intactivist" leader <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/27/new-circumcision-guidelin_n_1826069.html">telling HuffPost</a> that the AAP had failed to address what she called the "real risks and harms of circumcision."
Breastfeeding Is On The Rise
Also in August, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/02/breastfeeding-rates-cdc_n_1734381.html">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> announced that more moms in the U.S. are breastfeeding their babies. Some 47 percent of moms breastfed their babies for at least six months in 2009 (the latest year for which there is data). That's up from 44 percent the year before. "The headlines 10 years back were, 'Mothers don't breastfeed enough; Is something wrong with mothers?'"Dr. Alison Stuebe, an OB-GYN and assistant professor of maternal and child health at the University of North Carolina <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/02/breastfeeding-rates-cdc_n_1734381.html">told HuffPost</a>. "We've recognized that this is crazy. Let's fix the system rather than going after moms.'"
More Kids Taking Antipsychotics
The number of kids and teens being prescribed antipsychotics has soared, an August study in the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/antipsychotics-adhd-study_n_1760602.html">Archives of General Psychiatry</a> found. Psychiatrists now prescribe the drugs in one out of every three office visits with children, and increasingly for off label use -- namely, the treatment of ADHD. The latter in particular, experts <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/antipsychotics-adhd-study_n_1760602.html">told HuffPost</a>, is cause for serious concern: "Although antipsychotic medications can deliver rapid improvement in children with severe conduct problems and aggressive behaviors, it is not clear whether they are helpful for the larger group of children with ADHD," study author Dr. Mark Olfson, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, said.
Laughing Gas Safe For Delivering Moms
Nitrous oxide, otherwise known as laughing gas, is a good way for women to manage some of the pain that accompanies labor, a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/13/laughing-gas-delivery_n_1881496.html">Cochrane review</a> from September said. Though it's not at all popular here in the U.S. -- only 1 percent of women use laughing gas during birth, compared to the 60 percent of women who have an epidural during vaginal delivery -- the review concluded that it is both effective and safe for mom and baby.
Sleep Training is Safe
Though sleep training can be a source of contention among parents and parenting experts alike, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/10/infant-sleep-training_n_1865767.html">an Australian study</a> published in September concluded that two of the most popular methods are perfectly safe. "Controlled comforting" (basically a modified form of cry-it-out) and "camping out" (when parents sit in the room with their babies and pat or comfort them, but do not feed or cuddle them to sleep), did not have any impact -- good or bad -- on children when researchers looked at them at age 6.
Birth Complications Up In the U.S.
They're still rare, but severe complications from birth are on the rise in the U.S., <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/24/us-birth-complications_n_2008771.html">Reuters reported</a> back in October. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that between 1998 and 2009, the rate of major complications, including things like severe bleeding and kidney failure, essentially doubled. Though <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/24/us-birth-complications_n_2008771.html">experts stressed</a> that most women who give birth are perfectly fine, there has been an increase in women giving birth at older ages, as well as women who are obese or have certain health conditions that up their risk, such as high blood pressure.
Boys Entering Puberty Earlier And Earlier
Research published in October in the journal <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/20/boys-puberty_n_1987979.html">Pediatrics</a> showed that boys in the U.S. are entering into puberty at ever earlier ages: On average, boys are starting puberty six months to two years sooner than previous data showed. The study, which is among the first to look at the issue of early-onset puberty in boys, found that white and Hispanic boys now start to show signs of puberty when they are 10, while African American boys may start to show signs when they are 9 years old. What exactly this means isn't yet clear, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/20/boys-puberty_n_1987979.html">study researchers said</a>, but it flags an issue that warrants further investigation.
Kids See 'Startling' Amounts Of Background TV
A lot of parents limit the amount of TV their kids watch each day, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/01/children-tv-exposure-study_n_1923719.html">research published in October</a> found that many are nonetheless exposed to a lot of it -- in the background. The study, which ran in the journal <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/01/children-tv-exposure-study_n_1923719.html">Pediatrics,</a> found that kids are generally exposed to at least 4 hours of background TV per day (meaning it's on in the same room they're in, even if they're not watching directly) and children under the age of 2 are exposed to 5.5 hours every day.
Antidepressants May Carry Risks For Pregnant Women
A November study in the journal <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/08/antidepressants-pregnancy_n_2094155.html">Human Reproduction</a> caused quite a stir when it suggested that SSRIs, a type of antidepressants, may increase the risk of complications when taken during pregnancy. Problems include risk of miscarriage, birth defects, neurobehavioral problems and more, the study researchers said. But there was significant push back from many mental health experts who rushed to write letters to the editor saying that the study ignored the many risks of untreated depression.
Preterm Births Hit 10-Year Low
In November, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/13/us-preterm-birth-rate-hit_n_2118244.html">March of Dimes</a> released its annual preemie birth rate report card and, overall, the news was good: The U.S. preterm birth rate was the lowest it has been in a decade, dropping to 11.7 percent. While that is certainly welcome news, the U.S. still has a long way to go, March of Dimes experts <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/13/us-preterm-birth-rate-hit_n_2118244.html">told HuffPost.</a> Overall, the country still only earned a "C" and only four states (Vermont, Oregon, New Hampshire and Maine) earned an "A."