Breastfeeding, formula and damned statistics

I read a headline the other day that made me happy.

Annoyingly I couldn’t let it go there so I had to delve a bit deeper, and now I’m a lot less happy. There’s a moral in there somewhere.

Anyway. The headline was:

When breast ISN’T best: Feeding babies formula and breast milk immediately after birth can help mothers breastfeed for longer

At bloody last, I thought. A story about formula that doesn’t describe it as the spawn of Satan.

In fact, one could almost argue that, despite in this case formula being a means to an end which still very much involves breasts, it is *almost* a positive story, for a change. Something that doesn’t make us ladies who couldn’t breastfeed feel like complete shit, anyway.

The piece is based on an interesting study carried out by the University of California, which found that newborn babies who received small amounts of formula in the first few days, before their mothers’ milk “came in”, were more likely to then be breastfed for longer.

“Many mothers develop concerns about their milk supply, which is the most common reason they stop breastfeeding in the first three months,” said assistant professor Valerie Flaherman, who led the research, in the press release.

“But this study suggests that giving those babies a little early formula may ease those concerns and enable them to feel confident continuing to breastfeed.”

Yeah, that figures, I thought. And more importantly it’s one in the eye for the charming midwife who told me I’d “ruined” my son’s stomach lining by giving him formula in the first 2 days, following an impromptu trip to ICU because he genuinely wasn’t getting enough to eat.

The one big fucking elephant in the room is that the trial only looked at 40 babies.



Of those, around half got the mixed feed. So that’s 20 babies, in the entire world, determining this result.

I am literally banging my fists on the table here (it hurts) because I really, really want this to be significantly good news, and I don’t want to be rude about scientists because I’m not one so what do I know, but even I can’t gloss over the fact that this is a miniscule, piddling, itsywitsyteenyweenily microscopic study group.

This morning I took my toddler to a singing group at the local library. There were more babies shaking their rattles there than there were in this research.

Does this mean I can scientifically claim that 21st century babies prefer Wheels on the Bus to Twinkle Little Star? I’d definitely like to. But deep down I know that it’s not really going to cut the mustard (and besides, I forgot to factor in Galumph Went the Little Green Frog. Which is an actual song. Seriously).

The researchers kinda know it too. Another one, Thomas Newman, said it will be interesting to see whether the results still hold ” in future, larger studies and in other populations”.

So, um, perhaps a bit premature for the press release then? Sigh.


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