Caribou Region

Baby formula shortage strengthens breastfeeding option

CARIBOU, Maine – The national shortage of baby formula is creating anxiety for families and increasing the focus on the benefits of breastfeeding. Cary Medical Center’s Obstetrics Unit encourages new moms to breastfeed and had a 75 percent breastfeeding initiation rate in 2021. 

While the rate has trended somewhat lower in 2022, Jen Plante, RN and primary charge nurse for the OB unit said that her staff is doing all they can to support women who choose to breastfeed.

“Our staff is available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week”, said Plante. “Some people assume that breastfeeding is so natural that it just happens perfectly every time. That is not always the case.  Breastfeeding can be challenging and it often takes practice. Our nurses might spend an hour or more with a new mom in her hospital room working with her and will follow up with new moms as needed when they leave the hospital.”

The hospital has a “warm line” that breastfeeding moms can call after they leave the hospital. The line connects the mom directly to the OB unit where staff are available to answer questions and provide support. The OB unit has a number of experienced Certified Lactation Counselors available. 

There are many health benefits to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding decreases the risk for childhood leukemia, decreases chronic respiratory issues such as asthma, reduces the risk of obesity later in life, and reduces the risk of common ear infections.Overall breastfeeding contributes to healthier babies by boosting the immune system to match that of the mother’s. Colostrum and breastmilk are packed with immunoglobulins which fight off antigens and create healthy immunity. Breastfeeding also has advantages for new moms. They may experience less postpartum bleeding, less postpartum depression, reduce the risk of certain cancers and experience better bonding with their baby.

Plante said that there are other more practical advantages to breastfeeding and it is certainly an economic benefit.

“Breast milk is always the right temperature and available on demand. There is no special preparation or cleanup needed. While breastfed babies eat more frequently, they learn to self-regulate and not overfeed, leading to less obesity later in life. Baby formula is expensive and breast milk is the perfect food for new babies.”

While the OB unit strongly encourages breast feeding it may not be the option that some moms may choose. There are some health conditions or medications that may prevent a woman from breastfeeding or they may choose formula feeding for personal reasons. Kacey Soucy, RN and inpatient nurse manager at Cary said that breastfeeding offers numerous advantages to both baby and mom but breastfeeding is a very personal choice for women.

“Breastfeeding can be a wonderful experience for some new moms, and can be a way to avoid stress with the current formula shortage. We also recognize it may not be an option for all women and babies. Ultimately it is a parent’s choice on how they will nourish their child. We want to do all we can here at Cary to support all new moms and we certainly empathize with families as they try and cope with the shortage of baby formula.” 

Plante said she recognizes that the formula shortage is causing concern for families and there are recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics that parents should know about.

“There are stories from around the country where some families are diluting baby formula to stretch out the supply but this is very risky for the baby. Baby formula is constituted with specific nutritional values and diluting it can change its makeup and may cause serious health issues for the baby. Milk banks generally reserve donated breast milk for fragile NICU babies, though there are parents who choose to share personal supplies of breastmilk. With this second scenario, parents need to be aware that there can be medications, drugs, and diseases such as HIV and hepatitis spread through unregulated breastmilk.

Local WIC clinics and pediatric offices may be able to help with samples and supplies of formula. The AAP has other tips on their website including discouraging homemade baby formulas. You can learn more about issues surrounding the baby formula shortage at their website https://www.aap.org. Cary Medical Center will be posting more information on safety issues involving the baby formula shortage along with links to helpful websites.

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