CONNECTICUT, USA — When the formula shortage recently became a concern, advice soon became for mothers to "just breastfeed the baby instead of using formula."
But, that path is not an option for some moms who aren’t already breastfeeding or are unable to nurse.
The formula shortage was made worse during the past two years as there has been a drastic drop in breastfeeding rates. That drop can be attributed in large part because of COVID-19.
With so many people staying home during the height of the pandemic, many people assume that more moms would be breastfeeding, but that was not the case, said experts.
“Unfortunately, the opposite is true. At 30 days postpartum, only 54% were exclusively breastfeeding, whereas, before the pandemic, 76% of women were still breastfeeding at the 30-day mark. So that's a big decrease,” explained Robin DeGemmis.
DeGemmis is a lactation specialist and mother to six children. She has spent the last 35 years helping moms and babies on their breastfeeding journey.
The drop of 22% in two years is a major decline, reversing a decades-long trend.
DeGemmis says the drop is most certainly related to COVID-19 and the loss of crucial support for mothers.
“Moms went home [from the hospital] and didn't have access to in-home lactation help, lactation consults were canceled – I know I personally had a weekly moms group, which was a lifeline for many moms to get together with other moms and get that support. It was almost like weekly therapy for many moms,” explained DeGemmis.
DeGemmis also saw drastic personal changes due to the pandemic. She lost her job with a hospital and medical group because in-person consults were eliminated.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months with continued breastfeeding for one year.
“The longer that a baby gets breast milk, the greater the benefit, but any is better than none,” explains DeGemmis.
While the AAP said breastfeeding should be continued for a least the first year of life and beyond for significant health and developmental benefits for both child and mother, the number of one year olds nursing has dropped as well during the pandemic.
In 2020, 34% of moms were nursing their one-year-old, but in 2022 that percentage dropped down to an estimated 14%.
However, DeGemmis believes that the current formula shortage will encourage moms who are nursing now to stick with it for longer.
“They're scared. It's all over social media – moms are desperate to find formula for their babies," said DeGemmis. "And so if you know that you have a never-ending supply of your own milk for your baby, and you don't have to worry about that… that's a huge relief."
For moms hoping to breastfeed in the near future, lactation support available through health care providers and an in-person class is the best way to prepare.
“And then, after you have your baby, find your village," DeGemmis said. "Moms need mother-to-mother support. They need professional help. Lactation consultants are back to in-person [sessions] now. So if you're having trouble, the support is there. And that's what keeps moms going."
If you'd like to learn more about DeGemmis' services, head to her website.
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