Because so many mothers are unable to breastfeed for as long as they want, there is a lot of research about ways to help mothers produce more milk for a longer duration. The effects of breastfeeding are apparent in children all the way to adolescence, and the inability to produce milk can be devastating for mothers. That’s why hospitals have been helping mothers produce more milk by feeding infants a little bit of formula while their mothers are still in the hospital.

Through the study, it was found feeding small amounts of formula to babies that are experiencing significant early weight loss has helped the infants to gain weight while their stressed out mothers are able to produce more milk.

The lead author of the study, Valerie Flaherman, an assistant professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF and a pediatrician at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, said during the study that "formula use has the potential to be a slippery slope to breastfeeding discontinuation, but ELF (early limited formula) is a different way to envision using it. Rather than giving full bottles of formula that make it hard for the baby to return to the breast, ELF is a small amount of supplementation with a clear end point that alleviates some of the stress new mothers feel about producing enough milk."

After giving birth, women do not produce large amounts of milk right away. Instead, new mothers produce a small amount of colostrum, which contains high amounts of nutrients and antibodies that their babies need. During this time in the hospital, babies can often lose weight and new mothers might be worried that their babies seem to be fussy or hungry. "Many mothers develop concerns about their milk supply, which is the most common reason they stop breastfeeding in the first three months," said Flaherman, "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.”

The main goal of the study was to help the mother keep breastfeeding for as long as possible because breastfeeding is widely said to be the best technique for feeding infants. For some infants with high, early weight loss, this study leads the way in proposing that infant formula used at a very specific time in life and in limited quantities, may help achieve the desired goal of long-term breastfeeding.



  • Valerie J. Flaherman, Janelle Aby, Anthony E. Burgos, Kathryn A. Lee, Michael D. Cabana, and Thomas B. Newman. Effect of Early Limited Formula on Duration and Exclusivity of Breastfeeding in At-Risk Infants: An RCT. Pediatrics, May 13, 2013 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-2809
  • University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) (2013, May 13). Early formula use helps some mothers breastfeed longer. Science Daily.