“Exclusively breastfed”. It’s two words that when placed together create a golden ideal for some mothers. Many of us read the research about the benefits of breastfeeding our children exclusively for the first 6 months and then continuing afterwards for the first year or beyond. So many of us start with the idea that we can do it. We don’t think about the fact that life happens, issues arise, and something just might get in the way of the best laid plans.
Many mothers may find themselves in the position that I was in: formula in the fridge. I had a hungry baby and supply issues that just weren’t going to be solved overnight. I did what I had to do for my son at the time. However, just one sip of one bottle took him out of the “exclusively breastfed” club. It was devastating on so many levels, and for a short time I wondered if my breastfeeding efforts were still worth the results. Very rarely do we read about the benefits of supplementing. It can leave a mother feeling it’s all or nothing.
However, there is hope on the horizon. Often articles do a clean-cut comparison to show the dramatic differences between breastfed and formula-fed babies by citing the statistics on exclusively breastfed babies. It might be that many scientist only include exclusively breastfed babies in their research because there are too many factors for babies that are supplemented–factors that might skew the outcome, or make result subjective (such as how much formula they have, what time of day, what brand, ect.) But remember, the wording of the studies and statistics don’t null and void the benefits of some breast milk over none at all.
There simply needs to be more research done into the benefits of supplementing over exclusively formula-feeding. The information published prompting breastfeeding should speak to the mass experience of mothers. The truth is that according to the CDC, in the US 76.5% of babies are breastfed at some point, and 49% are still breastfed at 6 months–but only about 16.4% are exclusively breastfed. Who is doing studies to encourage the 32.6% of mothers who are still giving breastfeeding a go, even though it’s not full time? Perhaps if there were more studies that highlighted the benefits of even partial breastfeeding, more mothers would continue in their efforts and the decline between “tried to breastfeed” and “still trying to breastfeed” wouldn’t be so steep.
Breastfeeding just isn’t that black-and-white. Leaving mothers to feel that the cause is lost if for some reason during the first 6 months of their child’s life they give formula they have somehow lost the battle isn’t just silly, it isn’t healthy.
Children who are partially breastfed still receive lots benefits from their mother’s efforts. Babies from 0 to 5 months who are on a partial-breastfed diet have more than 50% less instances of diarrhea-related mortality. Also babies who are breastfed for any amount of time are less likely to be affected by SIDS. These are just two of the established benefits of even partial breastfeeding.
While it would be ideal if every mother who wanted to breastfeed could do it exclusively for 6 solid months without any issues, that just may not be in the books for everyone. If you are a mother like me who has had to pick up some formula, do not let the thought that breastfeeding must be an all-or-nothing venture dishearten you, because any breast milk you can give you baby is truly going to benefit them.