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Troubleshooting Switching Between Breast and Bottle Feeding


It can be a real challenge for a mother and baby to successfully switch between breast feeding and bottle feeding. Many mothers run into problems when they are breastfeeding and need to return to work, or simply want to get some time away from baby and need to use a bottle.


Problems Switching Between Breast and Bottle:

To the dismay of their mothers, many baby’s develops what is referred to as “nipple confusion” when they switch between breastfeeding and bottle feeding. Nipple confusion occurs because the mechanism which the baby uses to get milk from the breast is quite different from that needed to get milk from a bottle. Because of this, baby can develop the following bad habits that make breastfeeding difficult.


-Clamping Down:

Because a bottle nipple allows milk to flow more easily than the breast, babies often get overwhelmed with the amount of milk flowing from the bottle and clamp down to slow the flow. When baby then switches back to the breast, he is confused and will continue to clamp down out of habit.


-Nipple Frustration:

Especially with younger infants, switching from breast to bottle and back can be very frustrating. Because the flow of milk from a bottle is fast compared to breastfeeding, a small baby might get overwhelmed with the amount of milk he is getting. He might splutter, cough and cry while he tries to figure out how to control the flow of milk. If he then gets used to the faster flow of milk, he might have the opposite frustration when returning to the breast, and wonder why he cannot get as much milk from his mother. This usually results in unlatching and cries of frustration.


-Sore Nipples:

When a mother and baby first learn to breastfeed, they are taught proper positioning so that baby can comfortably latch onto the breast. When a baby takes a bottle there is no proper position, as long as the bottle nipple is in the baby’s mouth, he can get milk. When baby switches from breast to bottle he gets confused and forgets how to properly latch onto his mother’s breast. This can cause sore nipples for the mother and much frustration for the baby.  


Tips to Fix Nipple Confusion

Though switching between bottle and breast can be frustrating, with some practice it is possible to successfully do both.



The most important thing a mother who wants to breastfeed can do, is to wait. The first 6 weeks of a newborn’s life are the most important time for establishing a healthy breastfeeding relationship. Breastfeeding is a learning process for both mother and baby. It is important not to introduce artificial nipples into the mix until mother and baby have learned to successfully breastfeed. Usually after 6 weeks, both mother and baby have worked out all the kinks and are successfully breastfeeding. After this point it is easier to add in bottle feeding.


Choosing the Proper Bottle Nipple:

When introducing a baby to the bottle, it can be very helpful to use a nipple designed specifically for breastfeeding mothers. Many bottle companies have developed just such a nipple. These nipples are often much wider than a traditional nipple, resemble a breast and mimic breastfeeding. Using one of these nipples will help your baby transition back and forth more smoothly; and eliminate some of the nipple frustration that can occur with traditional nipples.


Avoiding Frustration at the Breast:

If you find that your baby is frustrated with the slower flow of your breastmilk, hand express some milk until “let down” (the faster flow of milk that happens after baby begins to nurse) occurs. Then latch baby as your milk lets down, so that the flow is stronger and baby is more satisfied with the flow of milk. 


Retraining Baby to Nurse:

If the worst should happen and your baby develops nipple confusion, don’t despair, your breastfeeding relationship does not have to end here. With a little hard work you can help your baby relearn to breastfeed.

If your baby is clamping down when he begins to nurse, simply unlatch him, using your pinky to gently break the suction by pulling on the corner of his mouth. Tell your baby, “No!” and then re-latch with his mouth as wide as possible. Repeat this process until he gets the message that he cannot clamp down on you.

If you are getting sore nipples when you nurse after bottle feeding, check your baby’s latch. Your baby’s mouth should be wide open, with tongue down when he latches. Make sure that as much of your areola is in his mouth as possible. To do this, compress the areola, making a C shape with your hand, while baby latches on. When baby is latched on, there shouldn’t be any pain. If there is pain, unlatch and then try again.

Sometimes a baby with nipple confusion forgets where to place his tongue once latched on. Baby’s tongue should be forward in his mouth, between your breast and his lower gums. If you are having trouble, have someone gently move baby’s lower lip and look for his tongue while he is latched on. If it’s not there, baby may need help remembering how to place his tongue. Before you re-latch baby, place your clean index finger into his mouth and let him suck on it. As he sucks, gently use your finger to pull his tongue forward. After you have practiced with him, try retching.


With practice and time, your baby can learn to successfully switch between breast and bottle with no complications. Don’t give up!             


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