Why ‘Just Breastfeeding’ Isn’t the Solution to Formula Shortages

The country is facing a shortage of infant formula , due in part to a massive recall of contaminated formula from one of our very few mega-suppliers of the material. Parents should now explore all options for finding safe food sources for their children – we have a guide on the subject here . Meanwhile, ignorant hotbaiters say things like “why don’t people just breastfeed?” Well, let me break it down for you.

Before we get to the ” why “, let me make a disclaimer because I’m pretty sure I’m going to be roasted like a wicked anti-breastfeeding witch or something. I breastfed all three children. Nobody ever got a drop of the mixture; the rest received bottles very rarely. I think I’ve bought three or four packs of formula in my entire life. I believe our society needs to do more to empower people to breastfeed when they want to, starting not with discussing others’ choices on social media, but with big, meaningful changes like paid parental leave. But if your child is on formula, you need formula so your child can fucking eat . And this should not be a controversial statement. (Here. Now I’m probably going to be roasted like a pro-breastfeeding wicked witch too.)

What causes milk production?

Breastmilk doesn’t just exist in the breast all over the place, ready to break free at the turn of the faucet. Here’s a big fun fact that explains a lot: a breastfeeding person doesn’t naturally produce milk until they become pregnant. (This applies to animals too: if you are a dairy farmer, a big part of your job is to make sure all your cows are fertile.)

During puberty, breast tissue begins to grow ; this happens around the same time that ovulation and menstruation begin. Later, when that person becomes pregnant, the breast tissue will develop further. The glandular tissue of the mammary gland grows, the ducts diverge from each other. Epithelial cells turn into cells that produce milk. By the end of pregnancy, a small amount of colostrum (milk precursor) is produced.

During the first few days after childbirth, milk begins to be produced in large quantities; now it is mature milk, opaque and white, instead of colostrum, yellowish and sort of transparent. This is sometimes referred to as “milk coming in” and the sudden increase in volume can be uncomfortable and even painful.

Let’s say you’re breastfeeding from the start. The baby suckles at the breast, and you continue to produce milk. At first, hormones support milk production; After a while, this hormonal signal disappears, and the amount of milk in the breast begins to increase. (In other words, the less your child eats, the less you produce.)

Once your baby stops suckling and/or you stop expressing milk, your body will gradually stop producing it. There is no set period of time during which the feed is turned off, but it often stops or almost disappears within a few weeks.

Can you breastfeed later if you have stopped?

So if you’re wondering why people don’t go back to breastfeeding, ask yourself: who can breastfeed anyway? The answer is: people who have recently had a baby and have milk after birth (some don’t) and who have been breastfeeding or pumping regularly since then.

In other words, people who can breastfeed are people who already do . If someone is breastfeeding (or expressing) some of their baby’s milk and supplementing with formula, then they can change the balance. Pump or breastfeed a little more and you can increase your milk supply enough to use less formula. Rest assured that people in this situation have already considered this possibility and are doing so if they can.

But people who were unable to breastfeed at first (whether for medical or other reasons) may not necessarily begin to produce milk. Some may: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a guide to relactation and notes that you are more likely to succeed if your baby is less than three months old. Even so, restocking may take weeks.

It is also possible to induce lactation even if you have not been pregnant before, but the process takes weeks to months, may involve prescription drugs, and is often unsuccessful. This is definitely not a short term solution to formula shortages.

How long do babies need breast milk or formula?

Babies should not eat anything other than breast milk or formula for the first six months or so of their lives; after that, they can add “solid” foods, which usually include jars and pouches. Baby food is not suitable for infants under six months old (or, in some older guidelines, four months old).

By the time they are one year old, babies are still drinking a lot of formula or breast milk, but their digestive systems are now mature enough that they don’t need the exact balance of nutrients in breast milk. This is the time when pediatricians say that you can replace your formula with good old cow’s milk. (Also available are “baby formulas”.)

The AAP reports that due to a shortage, infants around one year of age may start drinking infant formula as a temporary measure. For children aged 6 to 12 months, cow’s milk may also be an option. After all, such babies begin to eat solid foods, including dairy products. They note that “it’s not perfect and shouldn’t become a chore, but it’s a better option than diluting the formula or making homemade formula.”

How did babies eat before modern formula was invented?

Another variation on the “just breastfeed” hot-spot is to point out that our ancestors managed to survive on breast milk or homemade substitutes; the modern formula exists only about the last century.

It is true that more children were breastfed in the distant past than today. Sometimes a family member or friend might breastfeed a baby whose mother had died or was unable to produce milk. In some cultures , a “nurse” may be hired (or commanded if she is enslaved) to nurse a child ; but these nurses will be people who have children of their own. Sometimes the child was malnourished at home because the mother could not properly feed both.

It is also true that babies died when they could not be properly fed. When breast milk was not available, substitutes could include animal milk, cereal “cereals” or broth mixtures, and eventually homemade and commercial formulas. These recipes and substitutes did not always provide adequate nutrition, and bottles and feeders were not always kept clean enough to avoid bacterial buildup. One estimate is that a third of babies who were “bottle-fed” in the early 19th century died in their first year of life .

So yes, breastfeeding is one of the ways you can feed your kids. But this is not an option for every baby, and there has never been a world where every baby can be safely and adequately breastfed. It is useless to tell parents who are facing formula shortages to “just breastfeed”.


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