How do I return to work while still breastfeeding?

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Your question

I need to return to work soon for financial reasons, but don’t know what to do about my four month old baby. I’ve breastfed her from birth and she’s never taken bottles. I want to carry on breastfeeding but don’t know the best way to plan this. How do I introduce bottles and manage the expressing/feeding etc?

Our answer

This is a problem that affects many mothers and I am often asked for my advice on how best to go about it. First of all I should say well done for breastfeeding for so long, and you have my sympathy if you are if you are in a position where you have to return to work sooner than you would like to.

The number one rule is not to feel guilty and please be reassured that you may well be able to carry on with a mixture of breast-feeding and bottle-feeding once you are back at work.

Check your baby is happy with a bottle

The first thing is to establish whether your little girl is happy to feed from a bottle – and you need to do this well before you go back to work.

Choose a time of day when you know your baby is hungry and you have plenty of time to devote to the feed. Ideally the first bottle you offer should contain your own expressed breast milk, but formula milk is also fine.

In my experience, most babies don’t really mind what is in the bottle and if they do make a fuss, it is more likely to be the bottle that they are objecting to rather than its contents.

Only offer a bottle for 24 hours

It is much easier to teach a young baby to take a bottle than an older one, so at four months I would hope your baby takes to it quite quickly. But if she doesn’t, I suggest you set aside 24 hours when she is only offered the bottle and you do not give in and offer her the breast.

This sounds harsh, but in my experience the ‘softly, softly’ approach of offering a bottle on a regular basis will often make the problem worse rather than better.

You might also find it helpful to read the section on ‘refusing bottles’ in my book Top Tips for Bottle-feeding, which gives detailed advice on milk temperature, which bottles to try, how to hold your baby etc.

Work your feeds around your schedule

Once your baby is happily taking the bottle, it’s one less thing to worry about when you are back at work. The next step is to decide which feeds you are willing or able to do around your work schedule.

Some mothers give a breastfeed before they leave for work in the morning and another when they get back in the evening, while others find that they need to be a lot more flexible than this.

Express milk at work

Whatever you plan to do, a breast pump will be invaluable! If you take it to work, you can then express some milk whenever your breasts become engorged and you can also use it to stimulate them if your supply diminishes.

Good luck with your return to work and I hope this advice makes the transition less painful – in every sense of the word!

Clare Byam-Cook is author of What to Expect when you’re Breastfeeding… and what if you Can’t? 

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