The nationwide baby formula shortage has many families in a difficult position.  Some are even rethinking their babies’ feeding plan. While breastfeeding is normal and natural, it is a personal choice, it is not always easy and it is not for everyone. There is a lot to learn about breastfeeding. Information and support from your health care team can make a big difference in helping you succeed. 

What is Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is an umbrella term for many infant feeding methods. These methods can include any combination of feeding the infant exclusively at the breast, pumping and offering expressed breast milk. Expressed breast milk is a term to describe milk that is extracted from the breast by hand or by using a pump. You can feed expressed breast milk from a bottle or offer a mother’s own breast milk in addition to pasteurized donor human milk (PDHM) or baby formula. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breastfeeding is the gold standard for infant feeding and nutrition. However, each woman has a unique experience when it comes to her breastfeeding journey and infants’ feeding plan of care. In fact, the CDC says only 1 in 4 infants is exclusively breastfed as recommended by the time they are six months old.

In recent years, more families who deliver their babies at Froedtert & MCW Birth Centers are choosing to breastfeed. Most have a feeding plan involving breastfeeding, and recent data shows more than 67% of families exclusively breastfeed. For many of these families, the decision to breastfeed was made prior to the concerns over the baby formula shortage. Families are choosing to breastfeed based on increasing evidence showing the benefits of breast milk to the infant, mother and family. Mothers are encouraged to make a feeding plan. They should look into all infant feeding options available, evaluate goals for postpartum and determine what is most comfortable. 

Benefits of Breastfeeding 

A mother’s nutrient-rich milk is easy to digest, but this is only one of breast milk’s many benefits. Other important health benefits of breast milk for the baby include: 

  • Ideal nutrition for growth and development
  • A stronger immune system, including fewer ear infections, cold and respiratory viruses
  • Protection from certain illnesses and diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and bacterial meningitis 
  • Increased gastrointestinal development, fewer digestive issues and reduced risk of diarrhea and vomiting
  • Increased neurological development 
  • Better vision
  • Lower risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Lower risk of asthma and some allergies

For premature infants, breastfeeding can be even more beneficial for healthy development. 

There are also benefits of breastfeeding to mothers. Besides being cost-effective, research has shown that breastfeeding can help lower a mother’s risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. 

Breastfeeding Support

Froedtert & MCW Birth Centers are staffed with board-certified lactation consultants and certified lactation counselors. These specialists offer guidance and resources. During your hospital stay, lactation specialists will assist with feedings, monitor the infant’s progress and provide breastfeeding support. Birth Center nurses are also trained in lactation. They are available to review your desired feeding plan, your health and your baby’s health to help guide your progress. Ask your OB/GYN about breastfeeding support.

Educational materials on managing milk supply are also available. A free breastfeeding guide includes helpful information about breastfeeding and expressed milk storage guidelines. 

What Do I Do if I Can’t Find Baby Formula?

In May 2022, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new emergency guidance for families affected by the baby formula shortage:

  • If baby formula from bigger stores is out of stock, check smaller stores and drug stores.
  • If you can afford it, buy baby formula online from well-recognized distributors or pharmacies.
  • Babies can switch to any available baby formula, including store brands, unless the baby is on a specific extensively hydrolyzed or amino acid-based formula. Check with your pediatrician for appropriate available alternatives.

While choosing a different brand of baby formula may be an option, families can consider hand expression as another option. Hand expression is a technique to remove milk from the breasts using your hand instead of your baby or a pump. This method allows the mother to supplement feedings with her own breast milk. 

Froedtert & MCW Birth Center staff is available to provide education to mothers on hand expression. All Froedtert & MCW Birth Centers offer pasteurized donor human milk to support infant feedings during the hospital stay at no extra cost when needed. After discharge, families also receive information on how and where to obtain PDHM, as well as information on the out-of-pocket expense.

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