Establishing or Re-Establishing a Breast/chestfeeding Relationship with an Older Baby or Toddler
Updated: Dec 20, 2022
I find a lot of parents assume that if baby doesn't latch in the very beginning, then there is no hope for them to have a breast/chestfeeding relationship with that baby. That's just not true!
There is no expiration date to when you can start breast/chestfeeding. Yes, it gets trickier as the baby/toddler gets older, but it's always possible. And, yes, the process can be challenging, but with patience and dedication, you can successfully establish or re-establish a breastfeeding relationship with your child.
Steps to getting your child back to breast/chest:
One of the first steps in getting an older baby or toddler to breast is to try and figure out why they weren't at the breast from the start. Were there latching issues? Weight gain issues and supplementing? Potential tongue tie? These are all things that need to be talked about and assessed before diving back in.
Next, you want to make sure that you are committed to the process because it's going to require that you make lifestyle changes, such as increasing the amount of skin-to-skin contact you have with your baby, adjusting your schedule to accommodate more frequent feedings, and finding ways to make breast/chestfeeding more comfortable for both of you.
Once you’ve committed to the process, the next step is to establish a routine. Most babies and toddlers respond well to routines, and having a regular breastfeeding schedule can help make the experience more comfortable and enjoyable for both of you. It’s important to be flexible, as your baby’s needs may change over time. If your baby is used to taking a bottle or pacifier, you’ll need to gradually wean him or her off of these items. Try to keep most of the sucking at the breast/chest instead of a pacifier. If baby is older, you can try replacing the bottle with a cup like a sippy cup or tiny cup.
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This can be done gradually over a number of weeks, depending on how comfortable you both feel with the process.
It’s also important to be patient and understanding during the process. Your baby may get frustrated or upset at times, so it’s important that you remain calm and supportive. Sometimes your baby will take the breast, and sometimes he or she won’t. That’s okay. You will try again later.
Make sure you're reading your child's cues. Offer the breast/chest a couple of times but never force it as this can sometimes develop into an aversion with breast/chestfeeding.
Tips & Tricks
A trick that I like to try is feeding in motion. This works great with baby-wearing! If you have never fed while baby-wearing, try watching videos on how to adjust your carrier to feed. If we are working on milk supply at the time using an SNS (supplemental nursing system) at the same time, feeding with baby in a carrier can help baby latch without even realizing what they are doing because they're distracted by movement.
Other ways to help engage baby's primitive reflexes are to offer the breast/chest when baby is starting to wake up from sleep or when baby is sleepy.
And finally, making time for a "breast/chestfeeding vacation". Take a day or two and have nothing planned expect to spend time together. This may look like a lot of skin to skin time, bathing together and just being together with no distractions. This can do wonders for re-connection and getting your child back to breast/chest.
Reach out for help
Finally, if you’re having difficulties, don’t give up and don't hesitate to reach out to a lactation consultant for support and guidance.
Getting a breast/chestfeeding relationship established or re-established can take time and patience. Remember that this is a new skill for both of you. But with your commitment, it will be worth it. I have seen babies and toddlers go to breast at any age!
Kelsey RN, BSN, IBCLC