Back to Work and Transitioning to a Bottle
My baby is 3-months-old and I must go back to work part-time in a few weeks. We have tried pumping and introducing the bottle, but she wants nothing to do with it! How can I begin introducing a bottle at 3-months-old?
How to Best Begin Introducing a Bottle to a Breastfed Baby
Your baby is being normally selective when being introduced to a bottle, and many mothers have this issue with their breastfed babies. It helps to think about introducing a bottle from your baby’s point of view. (In fact, one of my earliest lessons in mothering was to get behind the eyes of my baby and try to imagine if I were my baby what I would be thinking. This often explains why babies act the way they do.) Your breastfed baby associates her milk with you. To her, you and milk during breastfeeding are a treasured unit. The combination of mother’s face and voice, the softness and warmth of mother’s breasts, and those delightful caresses are all part of the package of the cuisine of breastfeeding.
Keep in Mind the Strategy
During bottle-feeding, even though it’s your milk, to your baby’s rapidly-growing brain there is a missing person during this meal. So, she rejects the bottle. Yet, take heart, because the hunger drive is so forceful and the milk in the bottle is still delicious, most babies will take mother’s milk from a bottle when mom can’t be there. But there is a strategy to first introducing a bottle.
- Once Baby has passed the six-week mark when your milk supply is being established, and to avoid setting up a preference for the bottle nipple (milk flows more easily) have dad or grandmother or a friend offer her an occasional bottle-feeding with your pumped milk.
- Have that person hold your baby the same way you hold her during breastfeeding, perhaps even in the same rocking chair, and try to duplicate the “nursing,” even though bottle-feeding. Remember, “nursing” implies comforting and feeding; “breastfeeding” is, well, breastfeeding. Some babies do better face forward because the usual nursing position is so conditioned to be followed by latching. Some babies are willing to accept the bottle nipple if the caregiver walks around with them, distracting them somewhat.
- Use a nipple designed for the breastfeeding baby. It may help to get the nipple to drip a bit of mama milk to entice Baby. Offer the bottle before Baby is fussing to feed.
During the transition to a bottle, breastfeed your baby before you leave for work and then soon after returning home from work. Make that eagerly-awaited return from work to feed your baby a “happy hour.” Put on your favorite music, nurse in your favorite place (such as in your rocking chair next to a window), and enjoy your reunion.
On days you don’t work outside the home – I call them “tank up days” – breastfeed your baby more often, especially to keep your milk supply ample, because it’s usual for milk supply to dwindle a bit during this transition to a bottle. Therefore, many mothers who work full time outside the home find their milk supply is lowest on Fridays and highest on Mondays after enjoying a “tank up” weekend with baby.
Focus on the Positive
An extra word of caution: while you’re pumping, please don’t think about your baby not taking the bottle. On the contrary, imagine her loving and savoring your milk while you’re away, even though it comes from a bottle. Positive thoughts encourage more milk flow while pumping. I remember going through this breast-to-bottle transition with our first three babies as I worked part-time as a nurse during Dr. Bill’s internship and residency and the early days of his pediatrics practice.
If All Else Fails
As an end note, there are some babies who just won’t take a bottle no matter what strategy you use. In that case, another way to get milk into Baby’s tummy is to use a small cup (soft and flexible, shot-glass size) held up to her mouth as she sits supported, facing forward, in the caregiver’s lap – she can learn to lap up the milk, and with practice, very little spilling.
For more information on breastfeeding and refusing a bottle, you may want to consider The Breastfeeding Book as a helpful resource!
Martha Sears, RN
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”