Reintroducing breastfeeding after bottle feeding can be challenging. Your success is going to depend, in large part, on how determined you are to succeed. Whatever the reason is that you stopped, I want you to know that it is possible to restart. This guide is filled with lots of different tactics you can try because every mom and baby is different, and what works for one mom might not work for you.
With my first child, I found breastfeeding really difficult. Both my little one and I had a lot to learn, and I found it exhausting, and at times I dreaded the next time he needed feeding. I was fortunate that there was a breastfeeding support group near me. It was a bunch of moms who were all breastfeeding who got together once a week for a chat and to give each other tips and advice. I became a regular fixture and gained enough confidence to start offering advice as well. Much of what you’ll read here comes from my experience as part of that group of moms.
What You Need To Reintroduce Breastfeeding
Depending on how you’ve been feeding your child already, then you might have some of these items already. This is a quick list of everything you might need:
- Slow flow nipples
- Naturally shaped baby bottle
- Breast pump
- Small rimless cup
- Feeding syringe
- Nipple shields
One of the reasons that switching from bottle to breast is challenging is that babies can be lazy. It’s a lot easier to get milk out of a bottle than it is to get it from your breast. So, there are some things you can do, which will tip the scales back towards breastfeeding being a preferred option.
#1 Re-establish Your Supply
If you’ve been pumping milk already, then you can skip past this step. However, if you’ve taken a break from breastfeeding and haven’t been pumping, then you’ll need to establish your supply. It’s entirely possible to do so, even if you’ve completely stopped for a couple of months.
For relactation, you’ll need to stimulate your milk supply. You do this in a few ways. First is by trying to express milk. You can do this by hand or with a pump. If your milk supply is totally dry, then you’ll want to do it around 8 times a day. The best way is to switch sides regularly and keep sessions short.
You will then want to keep your baby as close to you as possible and have as much skin to skin contact as possible.
#2 Switch To A Slow Flow Nipple
As I mentioned before, babies prefer bottle feeding because it’s easier. So, a simple way to change that is by using a slow flow nipple. This will make your baby work a little harder for their milk. It will also make the difference between breastfeeding and bottle feeding less stark.
#3 Choose The Right Bottle
There are loads of bottles out there that are marketed as being naturally shaped. Which is great but don’t just pick the first bottle you find that says that. You need to find a bottle that best matches your shape.
I know this might feel a little weird to do but, it’s a good idea to take a few minutes to actually look at your breasts and your nipples before you go bottle shopping. Then try and find a bottle with a nipple that most closely matches the shape of your body. Things to consider include nipple length and breast shape.
#4 Make Bottle Feeds More Like Breast Feeds
In a lot of ways, bottle feeding is very different from breastfeeding. With breastfeeding, the milk doesn’t flow instantly. The baby has to suckle for a while before the milk starts to flow. The baby also has to keep working to keep the milk flowing. With a bottle feed, the milk flows instantly, and once it’s flowing, it doesn’t take much work from the baby to keep it going.
It’s possible to change the way you feed your baby so that it feels more like breastfeeding, even with the bottle. It’s a technique called paced feeding.
You’ll want to hold your baby in a more upright position than usual. Then instead of holding the bottle so the nipple is pointing down into the baby’s mouth, you’ll keep it horizontally. This means that gravity isn’t helping the milk flow, and your baby has to work to get it out of the bottle.
After around 30seconds of feeding, you tip the bottle down. You don’t take it out of your baby’s mouth. You just tip it so that no milk is coming out. Only bring it back up to horizontal once your baby starts to suck again. Repeat until the baby stops sucking on the bottle.
You may find your baby takes less milk when you use this method. That is absolutely fine. For babies, just like adults, it takes a little while for the message to get to our brains that we’re full. When you eat slower, you realize sooner that you’re full.
Some babies will suck a little bit of air when you use this method. So you’ll just have to burp them a little more afterward.
To help introduce breastfeeding, it can be a good idea to hold your baby against your breast even while you’re bottle-feeding them. This will help them to associate the skin contact with feeding.
#5 Introduce Other Feeding Methods
Breast and bottle feeding aren’t the only options when it comes to feeding your baby. If you’re trying to get them off a reliance on a bottle, it can help to introduce them to other methods as well as reintroducing breastfeeding. It just breaks the dependence on the bottle, which makes it easier to accept a breast again.
Other methods you can try include cup-feeding, syringe-feeding, and even finger-feeding.
#6 Increase Skin To Skin Contact
Skin to skin contact has benefits for both you and your baby. It will help to stimulate your milk supply. For the baby, it stimulates the production of serotonin, which makes them feel happy and relaxed.
If you’ve had some struggles with breastfeeding, just spending some time cuddling your baby against your skin without trying to feed can be relaxing for both of you. It will help strengthen your bond and make it feel more natural for both of you to try breastfeeding again.
Tactics To Try
Once you’re prepared, it’s time to offer your breast to your baby. As a word of warning, it’s not uncommon for babies to strenuously reject your breast when you’re first reintroducing breastfeeding. So if your baby pushes you away or starts screaming, don’t force the issue. Just try again later when you’re both feeling calm. It doesn’t mean there’s no hope.
#1 Express A Small Amount Of Milk First
It can help your baby to latch if you first express a small amount of milk. This means there’s no waiting for the milk, and they know exactly why they’re there. The taste and smell of milk are the best ways to stimulate a baby to start feeding. The easiest way to do this is to hand express a small amount of milk, so your nipple is coated.
#2 Try and Finish A Feed On Your Breast
An excellent place to start is by finishing off a feed on your breast. You need to look out for the moment when your baby is starting to fall asleep. Your aim is to pop the bottle out and replace it with your breast instead.
This means your baby is already in the right frame of mind. They’re happy and content, so they’ll just automatically start suckling again. The perfect outcome is that they’ll fall asleep on your breast. That will help build positive associations and make them more inclined to start a feed at your breast.
#3 Vary Your Timing
There are two good times to try to offer your breast to your baby. Which will work best depends on your child.
The first option is to offer before you pump. This means your breasts will be engorged, so the milk will flow quickly. This is good for impatient babies. If they latch for a few moments, then get annoyed; this will be the best timing for them.
The downside to offering before you pump is that it can be more challenging for your baby to latch while your breast is full. So the other option is to offer midway through a pumping session.
Of course, these options only work if your baby is also hungry at these times, so you might find you need to shift your pumping schedule to match your baby’s appetite.
#4 Try Early Morning Feeds First
The easiest feeds to establish, for most babies, are the early morning feeds. There is a collection of factors that combine to increase your chances of success. First, your baby will be hungry when they first wake up. Second, your milk supply will be primed and ready. Thirdly you are both, hopefully, going to feel calm and rested, so will be in a good frame of mind to try.
#5 Try Feeding When Your Baby Is Sleepy
Babies don’t actually have to be fully awake to feed. If you can catch them in a light stage of sleep and offer your breast, you may find that instinct drives them to latch. A good feeding position for this is to be laying on your side next to your baby. It lets them have a feed and then drift back to sleep.
#6 Try Different Positions
While you and your baby are getting used to breastfeeding, it’s worth trying out a range of different positions. Finding the right position can help your baby to latch correctly. As they get the hang of it, the position will matter less. If you keep breastfeeding for long enough, they’ll just start helping themselves!
The four go-to holds to try are cradle, cross-cradle, football, and side-lying.
#7 Try Nipple Shields
Nipple shields are a bit of a love-it or hate-it accessory. But for babies used to a bottle, they can provide a good transition back to breastfeeding. The plastic of the nipple shield will feel more like your baby’s bottle than your breast does. So it can provide a more familiar sensation for your baby and encourage them to try and feed.
If you’re not a fan of nipple shields, then you don’t have to keep using them. Once feeding is going well, there’s no reason you can’t start phasing them out.
#8 Minimize Distractions
When you’re both still learning or relearning how to breastfeed, it’s best to find a quiet, distraction-free space to feed. This will let you both focus on what you’re doing.
Personally, I found it more relaxing to be in a room alone with my little one while we were figuring it all out. Breastfeeding can make you feel vulnerable, especially if you’re struggling, so don’t feel pressured to feed anywhere you don’t want to.
#9 Offer Your Breast Before They Start Fussing
It might sound odd, but when you’re trying to establish breastfeeding, the last thing you want is a hungry baby. You need to offer your breast before they start fussing with hunger. If a baby is too hungry, they will get fussy and impatient. They won’t be in the right mood to try something new.
Try and keep an eye out for the early feeding cues your baby sends. As soon as you think they might be getting hungry, you can offer your breast for a feed.
Common feeding cues include rooting, clenched fists, rapid eye movements, and fingers in their mouths.
Things To Keep In Mind
One of the most significant indicators of success with breastfeeding is your expectations. If you go into it expecting it to fail, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having a positive mindset can really make a difference. So here are a few things to keep in mind to help you with the challenges of breastfeeding.
It’s Not About You
If your baby rejects your breast or gets upset when you try to feed them, it can be a devastating feeling. It might feel as though they are rejecting you. Try and remember that their reactions aren’t about you at all. It’s often an expression of frustration or confusion. Feelings I’m sure you can empathize with.
So, if your baby rejects your offer, respect that and try again another time, or try a different tactic to help them learn. Breastfeeding is a skill that both of you are learning.
Be Patient and Calm
Let’s set some expectations. It’s going to take some time to establish breastfeeding. There will be days when nothing works. There will be times when it feels like you’re going backward. All of that is normal.
When it happens, take a breath and relax. Your baby will respond to the way you react. So aim for calm. It’ll happen when you’re both ready and not a moment before. Getting frustrated will only slow the process down.
Look After Your Nipples
When you start out with breastfeeding, nipple pain can happen. Especially if your baby isn’t latching correctly.
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was feeding my first was that I got so excited when he was ready to feed that I just let him latch however he wanted. Yes, he got fed, but my nipples were in agony. So please learn from my mistake. Don’t rush to get your baby latched. You need to make sure that their mouth is big and wide so that their lips are sealed around your areolas and not your nipples.
If your nipples are sore, you can buy a few remedies, but the best treatment is actually your own breast milk. When you’re done feeding your baby, just express a small amount more and rub it into your nipple. It will promote healing and keep your nipples from cracking.
It’s a lot easier to face the challenges of reintroducing breastfeeding if your nipples aren’t hurting.
Time To Put It Into Practice
I hope this article has answered the question of how to reintroduce breastfeeding after bottle. I also hope that you’ve found some new suggestions here that you haven’t tried yet. No matter how it’s going, just hang in there, and remember that it does get easier. Please share this article with anyone who might need it and leave a comment to share your experience. It can really help to know that you’re not alone when you’re struggling through this.