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Getting baby back to the Breast

By Jennifer Clark, IBCLC. Revised September 2022

Some parents may need support getting baby back to breastfeeding after a period of needing alternative feeding methods, breast refusal, relactation, or sometimes getting baby to breastfeed for the first time. Some babies maybe happy to switch between the breast and bottles/cups but others may get a preference and need more help to get back to breastfeeding.

Tips when trying to get back to breastfeeding:

  • Maintaining or building milk supply. This is really important as many babies will get frustrated at the breast if milk is not flowing. See ‘building your milk supply’ to ensure your breasts get enough stimulation to mimic your baby feeding at the breast.

 

  • Keeping baby fed. The transition back to breastfeeding is usually not immediate. It can take a number of days to weeks or even months to get baby back to breastfeeding. In this time it is important baby is still receiving enough milk (See ‘how do I know baby is getting enough milk’ for more information) if not they will associate the breast with feeling frustrated and hungry. If your baby is being bottle fed a good tip is to do a “bottle-breast sandwich”. This involves giving a little milk via the bottle then trying to latch baby to the breast, then giving the rest of the feed after. This can help get baby slowly back to the breast.

 

  • Try to avoid giving baby bottles for every feed, finger feeding or cup feeding are options as well as a supplementer at the breast.

 

  • Keep baby at the breast as much as possible. See ‘positioning and attachment’ for information about breast shaping and how to help your baby latch to the breast. Having lots of skin to skin, baby wearing as well as bottle feeding at the breast can really help the transition back to the breast. Covering the bottle with a muslin and feeding baby at a bare breast may help your baby start to associate the breast with milk. Supplementing at the breast may also help if baby needs supplements (expressed milk or formula) as you transition to exclusive breastfeeding.

  • Trying to feed your baby at the breast when they’re sleepy and waking up from a nap can get a baby feeding at the breast. Hand expressing milk onto the nipple will help entice your baby. Trying different positions such as laid back nursing can help baby to use their instincts to latch to the breast. With older babies being playful with positions may make them more likely to latch and feed.

 

  • Wearing a sling or carrier can also help keep baby close to you. Having a bath together or ‘rebirthing’ can be really useful in trying to get baby back to the breast. Ensure you do this between feeds as opposed to when baby is very hungry.

  • Nipple shields can be great when transitioning baby from bottles to breast. The teat will feel similar and filling the teat with expressed milk and/or pumping to a letdown can support baby to latch and make that connection between breastfeeding and milk. Many babies will respond well to the flow of milk and continue to feed. Doing breast compressions, compressing the breast with the hand as the baby sucks and releasing when they stop sucking increases the pressure in the breast and moves milk more easily, can keep babies feeding at the breast for longer.

 

  • Getting your baby back to the breast can feel very stressful. Try as much as possible to relax and ensure you give you and your baby time to make the transition back to the breast. Be as patient as possible with this process as it can take some time depending on your breastfeeding journey so far.

 

  • Try to avoid using a dummy as it encourages a different suck to when latching to the breast. Try to have skin to skin and offer the breast (with/without shield) or allow baby to suck on a clean finger to get baby used to the feeling of sucking on skin.

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Pictures - Left picture shows a baby receiving formula by peridontal syringe at the breast. Right - Babywearing

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