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Why switching from formula to breastmilk is easier said than done

"We have to be realistic that we live in a society that doesn't support breastfeeding."

WASHINGTON — As the baby formula shortage continues, parents are searching for safe and nutritional alternatives for their children. While we verified last week that there are no safe homemade recipes to replace formula, social media is full of skeptics advocating to “simply breastfeed,” while others claim it isn't that easy.

RELATED: 6 things parents need to know about the baby formula shortage and what to do if their brand is out of stock

THE QUESTION

Is breastmilk always an alternative to formula?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

While experts conclude breast milk is the best option for parents who can do it, breast milk is not always a feasible replacement for formula.

WHAT WE FOUND

Actress Bette Midler caught a lot of heat for a recent tweet urging parents to breastfeed during the formula crisis—but hers was far from the only hot-take.

A mother’s breast milk is by and large the best source of nutrition for new babies, according to the CDC, which recommends nursing whenever possible–but as so many parents know, that’s not always possible.

RELATED: Can't find baby formula? Here's where you might be able to find some

“Breastfeeding is natural. It's a natural biological function of the human body. That doesn't make it easy for everyone,” said Gina Caruso-Rissing, Executive director of the Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington.

That could be because of milk supply or medical issues–but most often, it’s because of life circumstances that make it hard.

“People who are well-resourced are better positioned to breastfeed,” Caruso- Rissing said. “Not to say, of course, that this formula shortage isn't heartbreaking for everyone, but I do think it's important to recognize that those who are already disadvantaged are being hit even harder by it.”

The CDC reports 60% of mothers stop nursing earlier than planned. Caruso-Rissing cited reasons like lack of support and paid parental leave.

“It’s not that people don't want to breastfeed. It is that we are not set up to support breastfeeding, to be quite honest. We need better parental paid leave policies, better health care options. But I do think there's an element of education needed as well.”

The Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington aims to help families access different forms of nutrition for their babies, whether that comes from consultation on switching formula brands, providing access to milk banks or helping mothers maintain and sometimes increase their own milk supply if possible.

RELATED: Moms seeking formula tire of those who say, just breastfeed

Sometimes families use formula to supplement breastfeeding or if they recently weaned off breastfeeding.

“Some babies tolerate it better than others,” said Carusso-Rissing of switching back and forth between breastmilk and formula.

The CDC says breast milk safely donated from another lactating person is a healthy option for many babies. The Human Milk Banking Association of North America describes the process to test and pasteurize donated milk, making sure it’s safe for the baby without losing too many nutrients.

“It goes through a lot of different screening processes before it ever is dispensed,” said Carusso-Rissing.

However, a prescription is required, and it’s much more expensive than formula.

“The fee is not for the milk itself, the fee is to cover all of the testing and pasteurization,” she added. “It is not cheap.”

Carusso-Rissing says she’s glad to hear a push for breastfeeding but hopes it goes beyond this crisis and parents. 

“We have to be realistic that we live in a society that doesn't support breastfeeding,” said Rising. “We do not have the support of our communities, generally.”

To learn more about the Breastfeeding Center, and how to find local resources or become a donor, visit their website here.

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