Switching from breastfeeding to formula feeding and vice-versa 

Everything changes when you’ve got a baby, and they change most of all as they grow, which means there are a hundred reasons why new parents might need or want to switch from one way of feeding to another.

Whether it’s because you’re returning to work, because an illness is coming or going, or just because it fits your family’s day to day patterns better, switching the way you feed Baby can be an adjustment, especially if their language skills aren’t quite up to understanding your explanation of the change. 

Breast milk to formula

You know Baby best, so you’re the best judge of whether they will appreciate more of a gradual transition, or whether a cold-turkey switch is the way to go. If you’re switching from breastfeeding to formula, though, a more gradual transition can be easier on your body, and can cut down on instances of engorgement as your supply starts to slowly go down.

Switching breast milk for formula one meal at a time is a fairly standard way to make the switch, but you can make the change even more gradual, or do some troubleshooting if Baby rejects a bottle of formula, by starting by offering breast milk expressed into a bottle, and then mixing formula into bottles partially filled with expressed breast milk to help accustom Baby to the new flavor.

If your little one is especially resistant to the change, and they're used to breastfeeding when they're with you, they might be more willing to try out bottle-feeding when it’s offered by someone other than you the first few times, to make it very clear that bottle-feeding is a different experience than breastfeeding.

On the other hand, some parents of reluctant bottle-feeders find that making feeding time as much like breastfeeding as possible, at least at first, with the same parent, same hold, and same smells is the best way to make formula feeding seem safe and familiar.

Formula to breast milk

Perhaps a more complicated switch, and a less common one, is the switch from formula feeding to breastfeeding. If you haven’t been nursing or pumping, the first step is to induce lactation (read more about inducing lactation or relactating here). Even once you’ve started to lactate, though, introducing a bottle-fed baby to the breast is its own kind of challenge.

Starting in a quiet, dim space without a lot of distractions is a great place to start, so that you baby can focus all of their attention on learning to breastfeed. From there, hold them up to your breast, and encourage them to open their mouth before using your hands to gently express some milk into your baby’s mouth. With a little luck, they will close their mouth around your nipple to swallow, kickstarting the nursing process.

Switching over to breastfeeding after bottle-feeding can be an adjustment for babies, especially since breastfeeding means using different motions, and depending on the bottle they have been feeding from, the flow of milk may be slower than they are used to. 

  • “Breastfeeding…after your baby has been formula-fed.” HamiltonHealthSciences. Hamilton Regional Lactation Committee, Mar 18 2003. Web.
  • Ivy Ngeow Davis. “Back to the breast.” llli.org. La Leche League International, Aug 6 2012. Web.
  • “Breastfeeding FAQs: Some common concerns.” KidsHealth.org. The Nemours Foundation, 2017. Web.
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