Breastfeeding: Easing a fussy baby back to the breast

My best friend has a six-week old little girl. Everything went great, nursing-wise, until she got home. She felt her baby wanted to eat, eat, eat all the time and she was exhausted, so she and her husband gave the baby some formula. Unfortunately, while still nursing a little, her baby much prefers the bottle and is very fussy at the breast now. My friend is pumping but is ready to give it all up and use formula. Is there any way I can help her?


Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

It is very difficult to watch our friends experience problems in something that means so much to us. I'm sure you had hoped her breastfeeding experience would be as fulfilling as yours. It can be challenging to families when breastfeeding gets off to a bad start. Moms often feel rejected when their baby seems to prefer a bottle to their breast.

Often when a baby is fussy at the breast during the first week, it is due to poor positioning and attachment. If there has been nipple soreness improper positioning may indeed be the culprit. Improper attachment can also cause a baby to feed every hour or more to get the nutrition they need, since they were not able to properly access their mom's milk.

Often the timing of coming home from the hospital corresponds with a mother's increase in milk supply. This can lead to engorgement and may make it difficult for the baby to feed properly. This may have been what happened in your friend's case.

Artificial nipples may have made it difficult for her baby to go back and forth between the bottle and the breast. Nipple confusion does not happen with all babies, but we encourage moms to avoid artificial nipples during the first six weeks, as breastfeeding is becoming established.

If your friend would like to continue nursing her daughter there a few options. She could try offering supplements by cup, rather than bottle. Bathroom-sized paper cups work well for this. They can be creased to allow the parents to offer small sips. (Even premature babies can be taught cup feeding!) This could encourage her to meet her sucking needs at the breast.

Lots of skin-to-skin contact with a baby is often quite effective in helping to coax him or her back to the breast.

Babies who are fussy at the breast often do better with nighttime nursings. You could recommend that your friend try feeding her daughter when she is sleepy. It is best to breastfeed before a baby is too hungry. If the baby seems very hungry, a few sips of expressed milk may be enough to help her settle in and nurse.

It's great that your friend is pumping her milk to give the baby. Her milk supply will not be compromised when her baby returns to the breast. Even if her baby goes right back to breastfeeding, it will be necessary to gradually wean her from supplementation. Pumping along with "practicing" breastfeeding can be exhausting for moms. Double pumping with a hospital grade breastpump will reduce the time spent expressing her milk. She needs lost of rest and support at this time.

The best thing that you can do for your friend is what you have been doing already -- providing the emotional support she needs to make thedecisions that will be best for her and her family. Best of luck!

Remember, babies want to be at the breast, and a couple of really positive experiences can turn things around quickly.

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