Researchers randomly assigned 38 infants who had lost 5 percent or more of their weight in the days after birth to either breast-feeding alone (the controls), or breast-feeding along with a supplement of formula at the end of each session.
At 1 week of age, all were still breast-feeding, but 9 of 19 infants in the control group were now using formula, compared with only 2 in the group that had used formula at the start. By age 3 months, 79 percent of the early formula users were breastfeeding exclusively, compared with 42 percent of the controls.
The researchers emphasize that they used a careful procedure — small volumes of formula and careful administration with a syringe to prevent confusion between breast and bottle nipple.
"Most babies don't need formula," said the lead author, Dr. Valerie J. Flaherman, a pediatrician at the University of California, San Francisco, Benioff Children's Hospital. "But some kids are at risk for weight loss, and this could be an option."
Image: Baby bottle, via Shutterstock