Objective: Most babies receive at least some formula milk. Variations in formula-feeding practices can have both short- and long-term health consequences. We systematically reviewed the literature on parents' experiences of bottle feeding to understand how formula-feeding decisions are made.
Methods: We systematically searched for and appraised relevant English-language papers identified by searching 12 electronic databases, reference lists and related articles and by contacting first authors of included papers. We analysed and synthesised the included studies using a combination of narrative and thematic approaches. Consensus on the final inclusion, interpretation and synthesis of studies was reached across the research team.
Results: Six qualitative studies and 17 quantitative studies (involving 13,263 participants) were included. Despite wide differences in study design, context, focus and quality, several consistent themes emerged. Mothers who bottle-fed their babies experienced negative emotions such as guilt, anger, worry, uncertainty and a sense of failure. Mothers reported receiving little information on bottle feeding and did not feel empowered to make decisions. Mistakes in preparation of bottle feeds were common. No studies examined how mothers made decisions about the frequency or quantity of bottle feeds.
Conclusions: Inadequate information and support for mothers who decide to bottle feed may put the health of their babies at risk. While it is important to promote breastfeeding, it is also necessary to ensure that the needs of bottle-feeding mothers are met.