How to Start Breastfeeding After Bottle Feeding? A Guide to Breastfeeding

By Sofie Jacobs

Breastfeeding can sometimes get off to a rocky start. Even if you’ve had the best intentions, sometimes breastfeeding isn’t possible from day one. If, instead of breastmilk your newborn has started feeding with formula via a bottle or syringe, then there are ways to transition to breastfeeding. Here’s what you need to know about how to breastfeed after starting your little one on formula.

In the beginning

Even if you’ve prepared ahead of having your baby, reading up about latch techniques and breastfeeding schedules, when your baby is finally born, breastfeeding may not go as smoothly as you wanted. Often when a baby is born under traumatic circumstances they can start their feeding journey with formula. This may be because they have to be put into special care, or can sometimes be down to whether mum is physically able to feed. If a baby is premature or if you have twins or a difficult birth, these scenarios all increase your chances of having to opt for formula feeding over breastfeeding in the early days.

Firstly, it’s important to remember that fed is best. Having a hungry baby is the opposite of what any mother wants, so if they have to start with formula, or mix feed, there’s nothing wrong with this. The priority is the health of the baby. That’s not to say it’s not important to follow your own intuition, so if you would like to breastfeed your baby, there are lots of steps you can take to encourage your milk supply and establish breastfeeding after starting with formula.

Encourage your supply

Encouraging your milk supply can be done in several ways. Firstly, see if you can produce some colostrum by massaging your breasts  – a midwife can show you the best technique to do this. If your baby is in NICU or unable to latch, capture any colostrum in a sterile syringe to feed your baby. Even if they are not able to feed from the breast, syringe feeding is a great way to ensure your body is still giving your baby what they need and it sends the right signals to your body to produce milk.

To encourage a healthy milk supply there are plenty of other things you can try. I’d recommend hiring a hospital grade breast pump as these are especially effective. It can be a little daunting when faced with a breast pump, so make sure you get support and advice on when to start expressing and how often. You need to get the balance right between stimulating your breasts enough to produce milk but you don’t want to over-stimulate them and become pathologically engorged.  Most midwives will be able to give you some advice – don’t be afraid to ask – and ask as many times as you need. The art of expressing milk can be a lot to get your head around after giving birth, especially if you had previously imagined your feeding journey was going to be a straightforward case of putting your baby to the breast.

If you want to encourage more milk production, there’s some evidence to suggest that supplements of Fenugreek can help boost your supply, so it’s certainly worth a try.

Latch practice

Remember that breastfeeding is a learning curve for you and your baby. They have to learn how to feed just as much as you need to learn how to feed them. They may struggle to latch, particularly if they were born prematurely, so perseverance is the key. If they struggle to latch sitting up, try lying down or change your position to a rugby hold or lying them across your body. Keep experimenting until you find a position that works well. Even if you have to top up their feeds with formula or expressed milk, that’s not a problem. The key is to pump your milk after each feed, as this will give your body more reminders to produce more milk. You can then feed them expressed breast milk at the next feed or as a top up.


It’s important to realise that you may have to supplement each breastfeed with formula for a while. Make a record of how much formula or expressed milk your baby is drinking and over the course of a week or so you should see an increase in the time on the breast vs. a lower amount of supplemented milk taken.

Support Is Key

It takes a lot of dedication to establish breastfeeding, and even more so when you have had to start your baby on a bottle or on formula. Therefore, getting as much support as possible is vital. Support comes in many forms. Getting professional advice from a midwife or lactation consultant who is in communication with the paediatrician is vital. Joining a local breastfeeding group may seem attractive but going to these meetings takes time and effort and believe me, working towards exclusive breastfeeding is a full time job so let the support come to you. Facebook breastfeeding groups can be useful to get peer support but remember that this situation is one that requires professional support. Figuring out a feeding plan that works for you and your baby is something that requires a great deal of knowledge and experience. You may require a private lactation consultant, but don’t forget practical support too. Your energy and focus should be on you and your baby. You want to outsource as much as possible – for example, having a cleaner and someone to help with shopping and cooking wholesome meals can take a lot of pressure off you in the early days. Equally important is the emotional support of your partner and having a network of people cheering you on and telling you that you can do this. Breastfeeding is not easy, and it’s often even harder when you have to reintroduce the breast.

Nutrition first

Postnatal nutrition is vital for a healthy milk production and to help support your recovery too. I always advise women to start focusing on their postnatal nutrition plan even before they have given birth. Foods which are rich in iron and calcium are particularly important. For postnatal recovery in general, you want to aim to include fibre, protein and healthy fats in every meal as well as up your intake of vitamin C, A and zinc. Don’t forget you’ll need extra calories when you’re breastfeeding, and you’ll need to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Express yourself

Expressing your milk is so important to encourage your supply. Try to establish a regular schedule of expressing your milk after each feed, and don’t be disheartened if there doesn’t appear to be very much milk in your breasts at first. You’re pumping to stimulate your breasts, not striving for a particular amount of mls. Eventually your supply will increase but it takes a few days for your body to respond. Keep going for a few weeks and you should see a big difference.

Take your time

Breastfeeding after starting with a bottle won’t necessarily work out overnight. You need to be persistent and determined, especially if your baby has already shown a preference for the bottle. However, babies are hardwired to take the breast and perseverance often pays off. Take each day as it comes, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You’re doing your best mama.

Happy and healthy

If things are not working out it can be very disheartening, especially when despite your best efforts breastfeeding doesn’t happen the way you would like it to. However, sometimes it just doesn’t work. Whether for a physical or emotional reason, if breastfeeding is not working out and it’s stopping you from enjoying being a new mum, then it is time to stop. Breastmilk for sure is the most natural option, but it is only the best option if it works and if you’re able to enjoy it. There are many factors that can make breastfeeding even more challenging than it already is, you may suffer from a low supply, mastitis or bleeding nipples. Know that every mum has their own threshold of what they can cope with and you will know whether you’re ready to move on from trying to breastfeed. There are many other ways to feed your baby and the focus should really be on whether your baby is growing well. If breast milk is your preference it’s possible to find milk banks, but equally, formula feeding is available for a reason.

Explore your options, try your best, get professional advice from someone you trust and make decisions that you feel comfortable with. Trust yourself, you’ve got this.

For regular expert and peer support in navigating pregnancy, early parenthood and work, join the HATCH community now.

photocredit: Hannah Palamara

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