Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
Updated February 2016
Photos: Jen Pan Photography
Mother’s situation: Back to work
My daughter is four months old and I am going back to work shortly. She still nurses all day and refuses a pacifier. I have tried to introduce a bottle, first with formula and then, when she rejected that, with my expressed milk, but she would not take that either. I find pumping really difficult and do not think I’d have enough time to do it during my working day. It had been my intention to wean my daughter, but it is clear to me that she is not ready to give up breastfeeding and I don’t want to stop either. I am wondering what other mothers who have found themselves in this situation have done? Can you please share your tips?
My eldest breastfed exclusively and wouldn’t take a bottle. What I ended up doing was a combination of a) having my caregiver bring the baby to me; b) bringing the baby to work when possible (I was lucky that it worked with my schedule and my bosses were amenable to the idea); and c) nursing a lot when I was not working. Once he started solids (at right around six months), the situation got a bit easier. Since he wouldn’t take bottles, I never did a whole lot of pumping, unless there was no way we could be together during my shift (which was rare).
Kathleen Whitfield, Plano, TX, USA
My daughter also refused a bottle as I returned to work when she was three months old. We did several things to try to make it work, and her daycare provider also had to get a bit creative. We brought expressed milk and four different types of bottles, each with a different nipple. The provider tried them all until she found one to which my daughter was the least resistant. At the beginning, she would only take the bottle from the provider’s husband and only if he was standing up and rocking her as she drank! They tried different positions as well. By ten months, she was eating enough solids that I was able to start reducing the amount of time I needed to pump each day.
Sippy cups instead of bottles might also be something to try. Making time to pump during your working day is challenging. I set reminders on my calendar to block out time and to notify me. I pumped once during my lunch break and then again during morning and afternoon breaks. Pumping every three hours will ensure you have an adequate supply of milk. A hands-free pumping bra can allow you to continue typing while pumping. Some use the pump in the car (wearing a cover) during their commute to and from work.
The amount of time you will be pumping is short in the grand scheme of things. Most babies are reliably on solids by one year and pumping can end (while nursing may continue at home). It was hard to accept, but for about nine months, my work productivity dropped. But being able to come home from work and reconnect with my nursling was not something I would have traded away! There is always more work to be done, but babies are babies for such a short time!
Sarah, Santa Clara, CA, USA
I remember how it felt when I had to return to work when my daughter was approaching 12 months. I was anxious about how Chloe would adjust to not being breastfed while I was at work. I tried weaning her onto a bottle and hurrying her solid intake when she was about seven months old in preparation for this dreaded moment. Just like your daughter, Chloe let me know she was not ready to give up breastfeeding and that it was still her preferred choice of nutritional intake.
We both took it day by day. Chloe soon adapted to not breastfeeding during my work time. I don’t know how easy or hard it was for her during this transitional phase, but I guess what kept us both going was the highlight of our day, our time together, first thing in the morning and last thing at night. In those early months following my return to work she would also wake during the night to breastfeed, like she was “catching up.” I was so relieved that we were able to continue breastfeeding that I didn’t mind too much being woken up, although admittedly it was hard. The weekends were a great help as Chloe was able to breastfeed as much as she liked and I didn’t have to worry about not getting a full night’s sleep. Chloe is approaching three now and is still breastfeeding after all this time, although less frequently than before. I feel it has been a huge success for us despite my worries.
If you were to ask me what was the one influential factor in being able to continue breastfeeding, I would say: my daughter’s determination to keep it going. The strength of our relationship has developed through breastfeeding.
I think that you and your daughter will find what works best for both of you with time.
Emer Martin, London, UK
While I have not been in your situation myself, I can see that you are perplexed about what to do. Your original goals are not lining up with what is happening, and it is wonderful that you are open to changing them to fit the needs you are picking up from your daughter and your own feelings.
Is it possible for your daughter’s care provider to bring her to you to nurse? This would eliminate the need for pumping and her refusal of bottles would become a non issue. Sometimes nursing is faster than pumping too, so it might be easier to work into your busy day.
Michelle Devlin, Portland, TN, USA
Better than trying to get your baby to take a bottle, especially with formula, would be to start her on solids. Although it is said that babies should be breastfed exclusively to six months of age, this is a public health statement and like all such statements, it applies generally but not to every situation. I believe that babies should start eating solids when they are ready, not according to the calendar. Having said that, most babies show readiness (trying to grab food from a parent’s plate) between five to seven months of age.
You don’t say how old your baby will be when you return to work, but if she is eating solids mixed with liquids by then, there is no need for formula or other milk. Some babies by six or seven months of age can drink from an open cup, which is also preferable to the bottle that your baby is refusing.
Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
You don’t say how old your baby will be when you return to work, but if she is eating solids mixed with liquids by then, there is no need for formula or other milk.
I returned to work when my baby was six months old. It was a huge emotional wrench to leave him when he was so young and unable to understand what was going on and where I was. I negotiated a reduction in my working hours with my employer. But it was soon apparent that my baby was not coping well during my time away from him. After some stressful months, I gave up my job and started to work part-time from home, which involved downsizing, selling our house and moving to a different part of the country. It was not a step I took easily and appreciate this may not be your solution but it worked for my family. I feel for you. Facing this life-work balance can be tough.
Susan Polmer, Nottingham, UK
I went back to work when my little one was seven months. At that point he was breastfeeding every two hours around the clock. He didn’t take a pacifier or bottle and I could only express about an ounce of milk in 60 minutes of pumping. I used a double electric pump and felt my breasts and a mental block rather than the pump were to blame.
I made plans to go to feed him at the nursery during my lunch break. However, it upset his day so I fed him just before dropping him off and when I picked him up. He went without my milk for eight or nine hours. Every day when I picked him up there was a big cry and he’d bang his head on my chest, then I’d sit down to nurse him before we set off home.
Today he is nine months old and still breastfeeding, but he does have a bottle of formula a day. He will not take a bottle from me. It’s hard to go back to work and not give your baby every ounce of your milk. You have done well to breastfeed and going back to work need not mean quitting your breastfeeding journey. Best of luck.
Vita Ramsey, Isle of Man, UK
My third child was exclusively breastfed until six months and wasn’t really interested in food until he was 12 months old. I held off going back to work until he was 15 months old. I had the flexibility to stay home with him and don’t regret doing so. After all, he needed me and we are much the closer for it.
Bri Duga, South Berwick, ME, USA
I felt very stressed returning to work. I love breastfeeding my son and he so obviously wanted to continue. I have the added problem of only being able to feed off one breast. In fact, it has been easier than I thought it would be. Firstly, I explained to my manager that I would be returning to work as a breastfeeding mother and asked if I could have a longer coffee break in which to express. She used her discretion to allow this and lent her full support. I gained advice from my doctor who was breastfeeding her own child, and discussed my worries with LLL mothers. They taught me to trust in my baby, my breast and my milk flow. I got a little hand pump, a collecting pot to store my milk in and an ice pack.
I have been back at work for over six months now. My breast gives just the amount of milk that my baby needs. I can now express 3 oz in ten minutes as my body has adjusted to the routine. I then latch my son on as soon as possible after I have picked him up from the childminder and we reconnect. I don’t think he is desperate for the milk at that point, but we both need the closeness after our separation. I breastfeed on demand the rest of the time.
I think the most important thing is belief in yourself, your body and your baby. Be strong in what you want to do. If you want to continue breastfeeding while working, you can.
Wendy Cain, Isle of Man, UK
I had a similar situation with my daughter. I worked an odd schedule and would be home for days, then gone for ten hours on a workday. My LLL group helped me brainstorm solutions. Pumping was difficult, as I worked at various locations. I bought an adaptor and pumped in my car, but I had difficulty getting milk from one breast—it was her favorite side, so I knew there was milk there. In the morning before I left and when I got home, I would nurse her on that breast, while at the same time pumping on the other side. I would set up my pump at night next to the bed so that I could just grab it when she woke up in the morning. I was able to pump very little or not at all during work.
My daughter would never take a bottle from me, but would occasionally from her care- giver—it seemed like she knew I was gone. With one babysitter, however, she never took the bottle and just waited for me to come back, I nursed a lot in the nights on those occasions. In the midst of all this, it seemed like the problem-solving and the situation would go on forever. But it only lasted six months. By the time she was a year old, she was much less reliant on nursing, and I needed to pump much less or not at all. I was glad that I was able to work through the problems, because she has nursed well into toddlerhood—a very happy and healthy little sweetie. Good luck with your challenges! I’m sure you can find solutions that will work for you, too.
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
I had this issue at five months and the stress of it really took its toll. It took time for my son to develop a trusting relationship with his caregiver. For the first few days I had to go on my breaks to the daycare center and nurse him. Eventually he learned to take the bottle. Some days he would only drink five ounces and then make up the calories by nursing at night. He never loved the bottle. Good luck! I know how stressful it is.
Libby James, M.A., State University, AR USA
I went back to work after two months and I breastfed. Since my baby had to stay at home with her nanny, I made sure I had pumped quite a lot of milk. Mixing any formula supplement you may decide to introduce with your milk helps your baby get used to the taste of the formula. You are entitled to pumping time at work.
Mutinta R. Maimbo, Lusaka, Zambia, Africa
My daughter was just two months when I went back to work full time and she also refused the bottle at first, and has never taken a pacifier. When she didn’t drink enough during the day, she made up for it at night. Follow your instincts, mama. If you and your daughter aren’t ready to give up breastfeeding, you don’t have to. I also found pumping to be difficult and extremely tiresome, but I did it for almost a year, even though at seven months I began having to supplement with formula while I was at work. I’m proud to say that my now soon-to-be 15-month-old is still nursing, even though I have since happily hung up the pump. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Brandy Welin, San Antonio, TX, USA
Contact a La Leche League Leader about how to increase your supply of pumped milk. It is not a bad thing for your daughter to refuse a pacifier. Babies can live fine without them.
Janice Prosterman, Omaha, NE, USA
I really hated pumping at work my first days back. I felt alone and intimidated and that someone was taking something away from me. I only dared pump on one side at a time—not sure why, but that felt better. One day I pumped while looking at photos of my baby, which helped. A pumping bra saves time too. My boss and teammates are aware of the situation.
Try it a couple of times and talk to someone in HR to find a convenient place to pump.
I think it is wonderful you are trying to continue nursing your daughter! My advice is to let her nurse as much as she wants when you are home. Many babies of working mothers “reverse cycle” to get most of their milk this way, which may involve more night-wakings, but if you co-sleep or room-share this will minimize disruption to your sleep.
If you want to pump at work, perhaps practice now and build a small supply if you are able. Renting a hospital-grade pump that has reliably good suction may also be a big help. Check the laws in your state for possible accommodations that can be made for pumping while working, and if you do decide to do it, talk to your employer about your goal and how important it is to you and your daughter.
Michelle B, Plainsboro, NJ, USA
Ultimately I quit my job. Not sure that’s helpful but I’ve done this twice now, realizing I was too committed to breastfeeding to do it successfully any other way. By the time my firstborn was six months old, we’d managed to incor- porate a bottle so I was able to return to part-time work outside the home. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity as many moms don’t have this choice and must feel conflicted.
Janene M. Gier, Lawrence, KS, USA
Bottle-feeding a breastfed baby
Drinking from the breast requires a different technique to sucking from a bottle. Bottles may confuse a baby if he hasn’t yet learned to feed well at the breast. This is less likely to be a problem once breastfeeding is well established, although some babies will always be resistant to bottle-feeding. The longer you can wait to be separated from your baby the easier it is to avoid bottles altogether.
These tips may help you to introduce a bottle when you want to continue breastfeeding.
- Choose a slow-flow teat that is similar in size to your own nipples. Avoid “orthodontic” nipples—they can be detrimental to breastfeeding.
- Watch for early feeding cues rather than following a rigid schedule and offer the bottle before the baby is too hungry.
- Hold the baby snugly in a fairly upright position, similar to that he breastfeeds in, to give him control.
- Place the teat across the baby’s lips, with its tip at the ridge between the upper lip and nose.
- Don’t push the teat in. Allow the baby to take it into his mouth himself.
- Tip the bottle just enough to provide a gentle flow so the baby can stop and start sucking when he pleases and isn’t overwhelmed with milk.
- Switch sides at least once to prevent a preference for being on one side.
- Allow the baby to decide when the feeding is ended, which isn’t always when the bottle is empty.
- Wrapping the baby in something that smells of his mother, like her t-shirt, can help, as well as moving rhythmically.
For more tips and information see The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding 8th edition, Schaumburg, IL: LLLI, 2010, page 425–426.
Mother’s new situation: I want a natural birth
The birth of my first baby, who is now two years old, was traumatic. I didn’t progress at the expected rate during labor, which led to a cascade of medical interventions resulting in a cesarean. I felt really out of control and frightened. I am now pregnant again and am exploring the options open to me for birthing my baby naturally.
Can mothers who have given birth without pain medication and/or at home perhaps offer me some ideas about how best to have a normal birth? I am also quite nervous about reading a book that might scare me while I’m pregnant. Which books would you recommend?
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