The needs of mothers who bottle feed are being neglected, potentially risking the health of their babies, suggests research published ahead of print in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
The evidence shows that most infants will receive some formula milk during their first year of life, even if their mothers have opted to breast feed.
Variations in bottle feeding practice can have long term consequences for health, say the authors.
Most research carried on bottle feeding has looked at the reasons why mothers choose this method, in a bid to come up with activities to promote breastfeeding, rather than looking at how best to protect the health of bottle fed babies, they say.
The authors base their conclusions on a systematic review of published research on attitudes to feeding methods, which included 23 studies involving more than 13,000 participants and their opinions about infant feeding.
Despite the variations in the design, context, and focus of these studies, several consistent themes emerged, the authors found.
Some mothers who bottle fed their babies, either because they could not breast feed or because they preferred to bottle feed, frequently experienced a range of negative emotions.
These included guilt; worry about the impact on their baby and what healthcare professionals might say; uncertainty about how to proceed; a sense of failure; and anger as a result of feeling under pressure to breastfeed.
Some bottle feeding mums said they received inadequate information on how to bottle feed correctly and consequently did not feel able to make decisions about whether they should bottle feed, or the frequency or quantities required.
Mistakes in the preparation of bottle feeds were common. Incorrect preparation can boost the risk of infection, promote excessive weight gain, or undernourish a child, say the authors.
Some bottle feeding mothers also felt that hospital midwives spent far more time with breastfeeding mothers than they did with bottle feeding mums.
The research also indicated that some mothers felt “relieved” when they started bottle feeding, either because it made things easier or that their baby was now getting enough feed.
The authors emphasise that it is important to promote breastfeeding, as the evidence shows that this is the best way of ensuring optimal health for mother and baby.
But they say: “It is also necessary to ensure that the needs of bottle feeding mothers are met...Inadequate information and support for mothers who decide to bottle feed may put the health of their babies at risk.”
If healthcare professionals don’t provide this, mothers will turn to friends and family, increasing the risk of incorrect practices being handed down, they add.
[Mothers’ experiences of bottle-feeding: a systematic review of qualitative and quantitative studies Online First Arch Dis Child 2009; doi 10.1136/adc.208.151910]
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Source: Medical Research Council