Despite NHS guidelines recommending women breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, a new study has found that mixing bottles and breast could actually enable mothers to breastfeed for longer.
The US study found that when underweight newborns were given both formula milk and breast milk immediately after delivery, 79 per cent of their mums were still breastfeeding at three months. Of those babies who were initially only having their mum's milk, just 42 per cent were still being nursed at the same age.
The findings suggest that if mums are able to supplement their feeding routine with formula, they are more likely to persevere with breastfeeding.
The study's authors based their findings on the analysis of 40 underweight babies aged between two days old and four days old. The infants were randomly assigned either early limited formula (ELF), which consisted of one-third of a pound of infant formula, followed by breastfeeding, or just breast milk.
After seven days, all the babies in both groups were still breastfeeding, but only one in ten of the babies in the formula group had been given ELF in the preceding 24 hours, compared with half of the control group.
The researchers found that three months later, the ELF-fed babies were almost twice as likely to still receive breast milk alongside their formula bottles.
The study's author, Dr Valerie Flaherman from the University of California, said that although formula use has the 'potential to be a slippery slope to breastfeeding discontinuation' combining it with a 'small amount of supplementation' could be the way to do it.
"Rather than giving full bottles of formula that make it hard for the baby to return to the breast, ELF is a small amount of supplementation with a clear end point that alleviates some of the stress new mothers feel about producing enough milk," she said.
Critics have branded of Dr Flaherman's research 'provocative' and said that more research was needed.
Dr James Taylor from the University of Washington Medical Center's Newborn Nursery said: "The results of this study are provocative and challenge conventional wisdom. It is crucial that we have more randomised controlled trials on interventions to increase breastfeeding rather than relying on heavily confounded observational studies or biased expert opinion."
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