Q: Is it possible to start breastfeeding now that my baby is 1 week old? She has been formula-fed since she was born, but I am now reconsidering breastfeeding. Is it too late?
A: No, it isn’t too late to make the switch to breastfeeding. Chances are, you still have milk in your breasts–they most likely filled up with the mature milk, even though you weren’t breastfeeding. The two issues you will need to deal with in order to make a successful switch are:
- Building your supply. Even though your breasts may still have milk in them, they’ve already been given the signal that for whatever reason the baby isn’t nursing. Breastfeeding works on the principle of supply and demand. If a baby is nursing at the breast and actively removing milk from the breast, then that’s the signal for the breast to make more milk. If there is no milk removal, the breast will cut back on the amount of milk it makes. You can use this principle to gear your supply up again.
- Getting your baby back to the breast. For a week now, your baby has been getting formula from a bottle. In order to drink from a bottle and not be overwhelmed by the constant flow, baby learns to clamp down on the nipple to stop the flow long enough to breathe and swallow. He holds the nipple in the front of his mouth as well. Neither of these techniques work at the breast! The breast gives milk in response to rhythmic stripping by the tongue. The tongue cups the breast with the nipple well back in the mouth. Some babies are able to switch back and forth from breast to bottle easily, while others struggle to make the transition. It may take patience on your part to help your baby relearn how to breastfeed.
In the meantime, your baby has to eat. You can use a breast pump–preferably a hospital grade electric breast pump–to stimulate your milk supply while your baby learns to nurse again. The milk you pump can be used to feed your baby. Depending on how much milk you still have and how long it takes to rebuild the supply, you may still need to supplement with some formula. Give priority to your breast milk. It may take a week or more to move from total formula feeding to total breastfeeding. Experiment with other ways of feeding your baby. Your baby can learn to take the milk from a small soft cup–you have to control the cup! Sit your baby up and place the edge of the cup on his lower lip and tilt the cup until the milk just touches his lip. He’ll stick his tongue out and start lapping the milk. You can also use a medicine dropper or syringe. In making this kind of switch, it is important to work with someone who can help you with positioning and figuring out how much–if any–you need to supplement. A Board Certified Lactation Consultant (one with IBCLC after her name) or an accredited La Leche League Leader would be extremely helpful. Is it worth the trouble to make the switch? Yes! The health benefits for you and your baby alone are worth it. You’ll also save time and money, and can take pride in doing this for your child.