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Making It Work

Timing the Return to Work

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 2 March-April 2000 pp. 64-66

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.


I am pregnant with our first baby and will need to return to my full-time job at some point after the baby is born. Fortunately, my company has a generous leave policy. I have heard conflicting information about the best time to return to work if you want to maintain breastfeeding. Some moms advise me to stay home as long as possible, but others say it only becomes more difficult for the baby to get used to a bottle the longer she nurses. But one friend told me that although her baby took a bottle to begin with, he started refusing them after a while. It seems like everybody has a different idea about what works. What has worked for others?


I returned to work full-time when my son was eight weeks old. We introduced the first bottle of expressed milk when he was about five weeks old. He took to it right away, as long as my husband fed him and I wasn't in the room (I would pump the next night's bottle while my husband fed our son.) We gave him a bottle every night for about a week. Once it became apparent he wasn't going to object, we went to just one bottle a week or so to keep him familiar with it. Although he would take the bottles while with his caregiver, he preferred to hold out for the "real thing." While formula-fed babies were routinely taking eight-ounce bottles, he never took more than two to three ounces in a bottle. I would nurse him over my lunch hour, and he nursed every hour from the time I picked him up after work until bedtime, and then every two hours all night. I didn't get much done in the evenings, and I didn't get quite as much sleep as I would have liked, but it was worth it. He was exclusively breastfed until he was a year old and is still happily nursing at two and a half. Good luck to you! It can be done!

Lisa Sell
St. Michael MN USA


I was in your situation exactly three years ago. My advice is to take as much leave as your company permits. You are fortunate to work for a company with a generous leave policy. It will be difficult to leave your baby no matter when you return to work. A longer leave will allow you more time to establish a good nursing relationship. I returned to work full-time when my son was ten weeks old. I feel that the extra four weeks (beyond the typical six-week maternity leave) really helped us both become more comfortable with our nursing relationship. What worked for me was to introduce a bottle filled with breast milk at four weeks, at dinnertime. By this time, we had worked out most of the early nursing difficulties. Have Dad give the baby the bottle, allowing baby to learn to accept nourishment from someone other than you. My final suggestion would be to consider sharing sleep with your baby. I truly believe this is the only way we survived those early months. It got to a point where I didn't even wake up when my son would nurse in the night. I also think this helped my son catch up on the mommy and daddy time he missed during the day. Good luck. You can successfully return to work and have a good nursing relationship.

Kristin N. Kazenas
Itasca IL USA


I had to return to work three months after my now nursing three-year-old was born. At the time of Beth's birth, three months seemed like a long time, but it passed all too quickly. I would suggest taking off as long as financially possible initially. Beth took the bottle only if it had one particular type of nipple, was at body temperature, and then only if she was very hungry. She made up for it in the evening and at night. I think everyone has a different idea of what works because every baby is different. A friend's baby absolutely refused the bottle. So each day at lunch, she went to nurse her baby. She relished those times, since she was able to spend precious moments with her baby that she would have missed had her daughter adapted easily to the bottle. I believe making breastfeeding and working successful depends on your attitude. With a good pump, determination, and wonderful support, it can be done.

Michelle Peel
Hayneville AL USA


The advice to "stay home as long as possible" could apply to breastfeeding moms as well as moms who are not breastfeeding. Your return to work will depend on finances, your own comfort level with leaving your infant, and finding the right caregiver for your baby. Once your baby is born, you may even find yourself not wanting to return to work at all and making financial adjustments in order to stay home. During pregnancy, many women will make plans that just don't mesh with the life that they find they are leading after the baby is born. Whatever you decide, I encourage you to follow your heart. You know your family better than anyone else does. The usual recommendation is to wait until breastfeeding is well established before introducing a bottle. Many mothers will wait three to four weeks before starting to express their milk and offer their baby a bottle (or having someone else offer the expressed milk in a bottle.) There are tips for encouraging a baby to take a bottle in many LLL publications. Luckily, many babies continue to nurse long after they have used bottles during their mothers' absences. Having bottles when mommy is at work does not have to mean the end to breastfeeding. Many mothers find that their babies nurse more often when they are together (and may wake in the night to nurse) and will not accept substitute feedings or comforting in the presence of his mother. And mothers who are separated from their babies during the day relish the re-connection that breastfeeding provides. Nursing your baby is the one thing that only you can do! Your baby may not want to take bottles from you (after all, she knows that you have her favorite milk in the soft, warm packaging that she has always loved), but this does not mean that she will not willingly take bottles from her caregiver. Babies are smart this way—they learn to adapt to their situation. I hope that this helps! Happy Mothering!

Lisa Jones
Wellington FL USA


After your baby is about six weeks old, it will be important to introduce him to the bottle. After each of our daughters were six weeks old, my husband gave them a bottle several times per week. I felt more confident about being able to return to work because I knew that my baby could still receive breast milk and all its benefits even when I wasn't around. The occasional bottles did not seem to harm our nursing relationship in any way, so it worked well for us. I chose to take five months off with my first child and six months off with my second. These maternity leaves were longer than those of most of my colleagues, many of whom also continued to breastfeed. I recommend that mothers take off as much time as they are comfortable with and then ease back into the work environment. Working part-time or from home may ease the transition for both mom and baby. I have a friend who worked part-time for just a few weeks and then felt ready to go back to a full-time routine. She worked and pumped with great success. After returning to work the first time, I worked part-time for three months. This time, I am still working part-time after more then six months. What is really important is that everyone is comfortable with the routine.

Cindy Newberg
Rockville MD USA


How smart of you to be thinking these things out ahead of time! Your expectations also sound pretty realistic. It gets confusing and frustrating, though, when everyone gives different suggestions. For me, part of the challenge in becoming a mother after spending so much time and energy on my career was that babies don't work "by the book" and that they change at lightning speed. Once I had my son figured out, he changed. I hadn't done as much thinking ahead as you have about working and breastfeeding. I introduced the bottle at about five weeks, and my son would have nothing to do with it—and continued to have nothing to do with it. I was not comfortable with the suggestions I got, such as "Let him get hungry enough, he'll take the bottle." We ended up looking into alternate feeding methods like small cups and finally, altered my schedule so I could nurse him either on breaks at work or by making a quick trip home (we lived very close). I was lucky enough to have a flexible workplace and a supportive caregiver (my husband). I never would have planned that solution, but considering our family's situation and my son's high level of need for nursing, it worked out.

Kathleen Whitfield
Riverside CA USA


Stay home as long as possible. Take at least six weeks off from your outside job. No one can predict if your baby will take a bottle or not, but there are other routes for baby to be fed, for example by cup or eyedropper. Or maybe baby can be brought to you at work to breastfeed on your breaks. I also had to reluctantly return to work outside of the home. I am a registered nurse and usually work 16 hours per week. After my first child was born, I could take only six weeks off. When I became pregnant with baby number two I started mediating for an extended maternity leave. When Zachary was born I took 17 and a half weeks off work, and the transition back to part-time was much smoother. We were more settled as a family and more settled as a nursing couple. Be sure to attend LLL meetings and breastfeed on demand when home. Happy Breastfeeding!

Vera Lynn Richardson
Chillicothe OH USA

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