How to Go From Bottle to Breastfeeding

Usually if a mother wants to breastfeed, it's recommended that she wait to introduce bottles until the baby is about 3 to 4 weeks old.

If you offer your baby a bottle before he's gotten used to breastfeeding, you might run into problems. Some babies will refuse to take the breast after exposure to bottles in the early weeks.

If your baby seems to prefer bottles and you still want to breastfeed, here are some tips:

  1. Work with a lactation consultant (LC) who is experienced in transitioning babies to the breast after a period of bottle-feeding. Visit International Lactation Consultant Association to find an LC in your area.
  2. Use a high-quality double breast pump to stimulate your milk supply. Offer breast milk in the bottles, rather than formula.
    • Your baby will be more likely to take to breastfeeding if there's an ample milk supply.
    • Pump every two hours during the day and evening, and once overnight, for a total of at least 9 to 10 pumping sessions per day.
  3. When bottle-feeding, tickle your baby's lips with the bottle nipple until he opens wide.
    • Learning to open wide for all feedings is a key skill needed for effective breastfeeding.
    • Stroke baby's lips with the bottle nipple, working from nose to chin.
    • Wait for him to open wide and accept the bottle into his mouth, rather than pushing the bottle into his mouth.
  4. When bottle-feeding, hold the baby against your bare breast in a position that's similar to the one you use for breastfeeding.
    • This helps baby associate pleasant feelings and feedings with being at the breast.
  5. Attempt breastfeeding when your baby is not very hungry. She may be more cooperative and less frantic when not overly hungry.
    • Watch for early feeding cues, such as rooting or sucking on her hand. Don't wait until she's crying to feed her.
  6. Offer a little from the bottle first, to take the edge off the baby's hunger; then offer the breast.
    • In the beginning, you may need to offer most of the bottle before trying at the breast.
    • As your baby becomes more accepting of breastfeeding, slowly reduce the amount you give from the bottle prior to offering the breast, until you are able to breastfeed without first offering the bottle at all.
  7. When using bottles, encourage baby to drink slowly.
    • Place him in a semi-sitting position so gravity does not cause a fast flow from the bottle.
    • Consider trying slow-flow bottle nipples.
    • Take the bottle nipple out of the baby's mouth after every half-ounce to ounce to allow for a burp break, and possibly some sucking on a pacifier or the breast.
    • Slower bottle feedings give the baby more control over the amount taken at each feeding and also more closely match the flow of milk from the breast.
  8. Limit the amount of time you spend attempting to get the baby to accept the breast to approximately 10 minutes or less per feeding.
    • Long struggles at each feeding time often lead to frustration and usually have poor results.
    • Only try to breastfeed if your baby is receptive. Stop the attempt if she seems very uncomfortable or unhappy.
    • Use a low-key, gentle approach.
  9. Be sure you know how to latch your baby effectively. (You'll learn this during your visit to the LC.)
    • When nursing is painful for you, it usually means the baby is not latched effectively.
    • If you have nipple pain or notice a pinching sensation when the baby latches, take him off the breast immediately and re-latch.
    • If the baby is not latched effectively, you will get sore nipples and the baby will not be able to get much milk from the breast.
    • If you allow the baby to stay on the breast with a poor latch, he will get a slower flow of milk, which may increase his frustration with breastfeeding.
  10. Consider using a nipple shield.
    • A nipple shield is like a bottle nipple made of very thin silicone that you wear over your nipple during feedings.
    • A nipple shield makes the breast feel more like the bottle to your baby and may help him to be more accepting of breastfeeding.
    • Sometimes it helps to fill the tip of the shield with your expressed milk or formula, to help the baby get an immediate flow of milk as soon as he latches. This encourages the baby to begin sucking.
    • Always enlist the help of an LC when using a nipple shield.
    • The nipple shield is a temporary device. Your LC will teach you how to wean from it once the baby is taking the breast more consistently.
  11. During the transition from bottle to breast, be sure to monitor your baby's diapers to make sure he's getting enough breast milk while breastfeeding.
    • From age 5 days to 6 weeks, your baby should produce five to six sopping wet diapers and three to four palm-sized bowel movements each day.
    • Read "Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk?" for tips on judging how much milk he's getting when breastfeeding.
  12. Always keep your baby's primary health-care provider informed of your plan to transition to breastfeeding from bottles.
    • Your pediatrician may want to check the baby's weight more frequently during the transition to breastfeeding.
    • Weight checks will help reassure you that your baby is doing well and getting enough milk while breastfeeding.
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