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Why Are Hospitals Aggressively Pushing Formula on Newborns?

The trend is spurred on over concern that a baby appears to be dropping weight.

Photo Credit: CroMary


There are a lot of well-intentioned expectant mothers who look forward to breastfeeding, only to be thwarted by the hospital staff when baby is seen losing too much weight. The nursing staff is taught to watch for this, and react accordingly. Far too often new mothers are being swayed from the act of breastfeeding, and persuaded into opting for baby formula, believing it will put on needed weight. However, there’s more to this initial weight loss than the assumption that mother is not supplying enough milk.

Of course there are times when the birth weight is a life-threatening concern, but it seems lately, as suggested by Dr. Jack Newman of the International Breastfeeding Centre in Toronto and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the cut off point of weight loss is exaggerated, too cut and dry, and formula is introduced much too often. Many things are out of a mother’s hands these days during the hospital stay, and because it is in the hands of a third party, liability plays a big role in hospital decisions. AAFP discloses that, “despite growing evidence of the health risks of not breastfeeding, physicians . . . do not receive adequate training about supporting breastfeeding.” Therefore, in many hospitals, the decision to continue breastfeeding could be jeopardized.

I can hear the remarks being made as some read this, such as,  “nothing wrong with being cautious,” or, “so what’s so wrong with baby formula?” My response: “Everything.”  

Dr. Jennifer Thomas, a practicing pediatrician has written “Dr. Jen's Guide to Breastfeeding,“ striving to help empower women to succeed with breastfeeding in and out of the hospital. She states, “More than 20% of kids in the U.S. are being supplemented with formula  before 2 days. That makes no sense. Surely, our species can do better than having one in five newborns needing supplementation to survive the first 2 days of life.”

The World Health Organization established the Baby-Friendly Hospital initiative to ensure hospitals advocate breastfeeding; the facilities that sign up must abide by strict criteria to create the most helpful atmosphere for mothers to successfully breastfeed, yet there are still too few of them.

Here are the facts and misconceptions derived from various advocate groups that hopefully will help more women understand the natural nurturing fundamentals, and help them follow through with breastfeeding.

1. The 'normal' loss of weight for a baby in the first few days after delivery is up to 10%. Most medical practitioners use the ‘7%’ marker (some even less) as the limiting factor. Therefore, they send up the red flag earlier than necessary, and advocate for formula.  This could mean the difference between the mother fulfilling her plan of breastfeeding or resigning to formula, and could very well be a buffer for medical liability purposes.  If anything, reaching the 7% marker “requires more intensive evaluation of breastfeeding in order to continue it,” states the American Academy of Pediatrics, and not just a cut off point for switching to formula. More medical professionals are now beginning to recognize a need for more intervention to promote breastfeeding, rather than just running for the formula.

2. The way the baby latches onto the breast is one concern to evaluate since it can make a difference in how much milk they get. Other red flags for lactation difficulties are whether the mother takes antidepressants and/or has a disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). These can be addressed prior to birthing.

3. When a mother is given IV fluids prior to birth for epidural or, most commonly, C-section, the baby will actually weigh more because of this fluid; when the fluid is expelled after birth through the baby’s urine, weight drops.  As you can realize, this is not a sign that he/she lost weight; the baby has merely gone back to its original real weight…what it weighed in the womb prior to receiving fluids.

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