Too Late to Breastfeed?

In my last post I wrote about a mother I spoke with who had been pumping and bottle-feeding for 3 weeks.  She was convinced that breastfeeding was no longer possible for her and her baby.

Many mothers think there’s no turning back once they stop breastfeeding.  But because babies are hardwired to breastfeed, it’s always possible for babies to breastfeed later.  In Australia, for example, babies cannot be adopted until they are 6 to 12 months old, but even so, many adoptive mothers report successfully transitioning their babies to the breast, even after a year or more of bottle-feeding.  This makes sense if you think of breastfeeding as a survival skill nature builds into babies.

I remember one mother I worked with during my 10 years in private practice whose 5-month-old experienced neurological damage during what should have been routine surgery.  This mother was pumping her milk in the months since the surgery and produced ample milk.  She scheduled a home visit with me to help her bring her baby back to breastfeeding.  She decided that in addition to the therapy her baby was receiving, he needed the comfort and physical stimulation only breastfeeding could provide.  I pulled out my bag of tricks and—to her joy—before long her baby was fully breastfeeding again.

What tricks did I use?  Putting baby to breast while he slept provided the first breakthrough.  When a baby accepts the breast during sleep, this can be repeated at every nap and night feeding to lower resistance to breastfeeding during waking hours.  Whether awake or asleep, holding the baby tummy down on mother’s body while in semi-reclined positions releases the feeding reflexes that spur babies to breastfeed. (Click on this LINK for examples of these positions.)  These simple approaches can work wonders, as long as the breast remains a happy place and baby does not feel pressured to feed there.

If you’re a mother wondering if it is “too late” for breastfeeding or if you work with new mothers in this situation, don’t despair.  No matter how difficult breastfeeding once was and no matter how long it has been since the baby took the breast, it is almost always possible to make breastfeeding work.  A healthy milk production helps but is not absolutely necessary.  I often remind mothers that babies eagerly accept pacifiers (aka dummies), which provide no milk at all.  The breast provides a place to suckle and so much more!