Bottle to Breast

Moving beyond a rough start to breastfeeding: getting the baby off the bottle & back to breast

by Sue Petracek, IBCLC

Sometimes things just don't go as planned. You have a c-section when you counted on a natural birth, your baby had to stay in the hospital for a few days after you went home, your nipples got too sore for you to be able to nurse that first week at home. Every day I hear moms say, with disappointment in their voice, Well, I guess I can always pump my milk and at least the baby will have that advantage.

And that is true. You can always pump so the baby gets your milk. But that isn?t the only alternative...and it doesn?t even have to be the most likely alternative. It is possible to get a baby to go back to exclusive breastfeeding, even after lots of bottles early on.

There are a variety of specific problems that may need to be addressed: healing your nipples, making sure your milk supply is adequate or at least evaluating the status of your milk supply, teaching baby to latch properly, waking a sleepy baby...and many more. The key is these problems are solvable.

Your baby's basic instinct is to breastfeed. He likes the taste of your milk far better than the taste of formula (who wouldn't!). He would much rather cuddle up to mom than to something hard and cold. He may just need to be reminded of these things if he's been exposed to lots of bottles.

The most important way to get baby back in touch with all these instinctive behaviors is to spend as much time "kangarooing" as possible. This is skin to skin time: baby's bare chest right next to mom's bare chest, right between her breasts, if possible. Feeding the baby his necessary bottle right there beside the breast is one opportunity. Napping with baby is another. Watch TV with baby on your chest while lying in the recliner. Get creative. The more the better.

Another opportunity is to take a leisurely bath with baby. After your baby's cord has come off, fill the bathtub a little more full that usual, lay back and let baby lay on your chest with his feet and body touching the water. You can even move him around in the water a bit, holding his body with your hands but letting him feel a bit of the bouancy of being in the water and then next to your body. This is all reminiscent of his pre-birth experience and another time to tap into his instinctive urgings.

You don't have time for all this you say? This time is an investment in saving time down the road. You have surely already discovered that pumping and then feeding your baby from a bottle is triple work: pump, feed, wash all the bottles.

All of this will prime your baby to go back to breastfeeding. Get help from a lactation consultant to work through the specific problems, keep working on the skin to skin, and most of all, believe it is possible to have your baby breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding and working: Tip of the month

  • It's not always easy to stop what you are doing to pump, but try to get yourself into a routine. When you begin pumping, take a few deep, slow, relaxing breaths and think of your baby. Carry a picture of your baby in your pump to help you focus. Some moms even carry a blanket or undershirt that smells like their baby. Music or sounds of your baby may help. Try not to watch the clock or the contents of the bottle; sometimes the more you try to hurry the process, the slower it seems to go.