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Returning to Work: Babe Won't Bottle-feed

Megan is returning to work (anxiety enough), but on top of the normal stresses, her son has been having problems feeding off the bottle.  Can you offer any help?

I am hoping that you can help me by either gaining information from other moms about how to handle this issue OR at the very least some comfort that things will work out okay.  My 3 mo old son was taking a bottle w/out too much fuss up until about 2 weeks ago.  He has now decided he will have nothing to do with a bottle and I have to go back to work in 2 weeks...AHHH!!!  I am pumping breast milk and plan to continue to do this while I work, but he still will not take it from me, my husband or anyone else.  We have tried Advent and Gerber nipples so far.  I would love to hear from other working mamas about how they handled this situation.  My pediatrician has assured me that no infant has perished because their mother went back to work and that he will eventually take milk if he is hungry enough, but I am still so anxious about this!  Any helpful hints, success stories or reassurance would be very appreciated.


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I didn't have this experience, but here are two websites I found really helpful while nursing, pumping, using bottles, etc.!

Has a lot of info about breastfeeding and transitions

Good feedback from readers about their experiences, what worked, etc.

Good luck!


As hard as it may be, don't worry, it will work out. I have twins, and returned to work when they were 4 months old. One of them had started refusing a bottle about a month before I returned to work, and it was a huge source of stress. Within 3 days of being at work, he took a bottle just fine. I'm sure that he has absolutely no memory of it, although my husband, who took care of him my first day back at work will never forget how our son screamed refusing the bottle. Here's what my pediatrician told me, and it ended up working well after the first day or so (and one day without much milk while I was at work was not the end of the world):
Use the Gerber NUK nipples. They are shaped the most like a mama's nipple during nursing (kind of a weird thought), and you can find them at Safeway (at least, that's where I found them). They come in both latex and silicone I think, so whatever works for you and your kiddo.
Before returning to work, offer your baby the bottle prior to nursing, so the idea of the bottle isn't foreign. Even if your son refuses the bottle now, at least you know it's not a totally foreign concept when you're at work.
Warn whoever your daycare provider is that the first few days may be rough. That being said however, and as harsh as it sounds, when he's hungry enough, he'll take the bottle. And after a few days it should be totally fine (at least, it was for us). Babies are often (or so I've read) much more willing to take a bottle from someone who's not mom, since they can smell your milk when you're holding them. So if you've been the only one trying to get him to bottle feed and it's not working, it may be a much easier thing when someone else is doing it.
That first day/week back at work may be rough. Hang in there! We're all cheering you on, and I'm sure your son will get the bottle figured out in now time.
Take care!

I had the same problem just b/f returning to work when my oldest son was 4 mos. old. With the advice of a doula, I had to leave the house as dad tried to give our baby boy a bottle. Dad also had to swaddle him tight, so he couldn't move his hands and push the bottle away...W/ that, he started to take the bottle and had no problem afterwards. It was stressful, I know, b/c it was just one more big thing to worry about b/f returning to work. I've heard of other cases where the baby will just wait to nurse when he sees mom after work. Good luck.

Oh boy, I so remember the agony of this worry. We tried so many strategies, basically amounting to "bottle-dates" with grandma and daddy... these went over horribly, and were of course just extra time away when I really wanted to hug my tiny baby and not let go. It was such hell.

But, it's true, once I actually went back to work he figured it out. It took a couple of weeks before he'd drink out of the bottle, but I was only working 4 hour days. I think it would have been accepted sooner if I'd been putting in 8 hours.

So, my opinion is that it will work out. We torture ourselves with all of the preparations, and I wonder if it takes the babe Just as Long whether we bother or not. Maybe now the focus should be snuggles, and on demand breastfeeding, and enjoying the few anxiety-free moments that are left. Easier said than done, I know, but that's what crosses my mind as I look back on it.

We had this problem with our second. As others have said, eventually, with no other options, they'll take the bottle. One thing our caregiver did was take her in a dark room and walk as she gave her the bottle. It was the only way she would take it for a few weeks. It also might make you feel better to go feed your son at lunch for the first couple of weeks.

Good luck...it's stressful, but your babe will be OK.

We had this problem, too - you guys are going to be fine! We tried lots of different types of bottles, including one shaped like a breast, nothing worked. (not sure I'd waste my money on that again - ultimately we ended up with Dr. Browns) Our daycare gals were great and just took their time and were really patient with her - eventually she just got it. Luckily the daycare was close to my office so I could go there and nurse on my lunch hour, which only helped me mentally to know that I could get there if necessary. I only went over there to feed once. I was SO worried about it - and had girlfriends telling me "you have GOT to get her to take a bottle" which freaked me out even more. Please try not to worry - your baby will figure it out and will be just fine! Good luck!

We had the same issue with my daughter when I went back to work when she was 4 months old and she never ever took a bottle...we tried every bottle, even the breastbottle nurser(which is shaped like a breast) and she wanted nothing to do with it. We started trying a sippy cup(the Avent one) when she was 3 months old and she would "sip" from it every now and then, but she would never take a bottle. I would nurse her as soon as I dropped her off and I would nurse like crazy when I picked her up. She started adding a couple of nursing sessions in the evening, which was fine with me--that was just her way of making up for it from not nursing much during the day. Before I knew it, she was 6 months old and starting to eat cereal and baby food. She would eat that at daycare and just nurse then in the morning, afternoon, evening, etc.
I know it is stressful, I remember it so vividly. But, hang in there, that blip of time goes by fast.... Good luck!

I know this doesn't directly solve your dilemma, but it may be an idea that could help you feel a bit better during the transition. It really helped me to have my husband and later my care provider bring our daughter to my workplace for one feeding during the days that I worked. (Dad took time of when I went back to work.) I know that's not possible for everyone, but It sure helped ease my mind knowing that she was getting at least one good feeding. I also think it helped keep the milk supply up, since nursing stimulates milk production more effectively than pumping. It also helped ease that transition into being away from the babe all day long. I know other moms who take their lunch breaks to go to their child's day care center to nurse. One other thing I'll mention: when I went back to work, my daughter's night wakings and night feedings increased, but I just went with them, exhausting as it was, because I felt it was her chance to make up for lost time. Good luck! It's hard, but you'll make it through this transition.

This probably doesn't solve your dilemma, either, but maybe next time around........
We started giving my daughter a bottle early on, at maybe three weeks. Every evening, Papa gave her a bottle while I pumped one for the next evening. That way, he got a chance to bond with her while I had an hour or two with my hands free. Then, when I returned to work, she was used to the bottle already.
She would never take the bottle when I was anywhere near the room, though. I swear she could smell me.

My first took a bottle like a champ and so it never occured to me that my second kid wouldn't. I know how stressful it can be. Like Merry said, soon she was able to eat apple sauce or strained pears so I knew she wasn't going to keel over when I left her.

My cousin also had a baby like Merry's, who decided to reverse cycle when she went back to work--not eating much during the day and making up for it at night. This can be hard on the mama because it sometimes means less sleep. But, hopefully, if that happens to you, it won't last more than a few months.

THANK YOU!!! It is really helpful to hear from other mamma's about this very stressful experience! Good news though- my baby has started taking a bottle from Dad with one week to go before returning to work. Whew! We decided that I have to be nowhere near when we try the bottle. I swear he can hear and smell me anywhere in the house.

We also found a bottle he would take. It is shaped like a breast, soft and supple on top. It is the Adiri nurser and it rocks! Also, it's made 100% polycarbonate-free and bisphenol-A free- which is nice to know with recent studies about toxins in plastic bottles showing up in babies. The only downside is that they are expensive- about $13 a bottle.

I plan to let go of this stress for this next week and just enjoy my baby every moment that I can. That was very good advice.

I am SO appreciative of this site because just hearing from other mom's has really normalized my experience and decreased my stress! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

My son took the bottle from his Dad before I went to work just fine ... but after I went back to work (@ 11 weeks) he would only take little bits, not much sustenance. I never gave him a bottle myself, only his Dad and Grandma. He nursed constantly when I got home. It gradually improved over time, but took several weeks. However, his weight gain, etc, kept right on track.

This exact thing happened to us 2 weeks ago! My daughter had been taking bottles from everyone until one day she decided she would not. We went to the peditrician to rule out ear infection and were left with him saying- I have no idea. So, I decided to try a different bottle and presto! She was happy and loving the bottle again. We had been using Medela bottles and nipples- now we use Avent. I was going to try different nipple flows too if that didn't work.

Have you tried feeding while baby in a bouncy chair? I had that suggested to me too. Also, having the feeder wear something that smells like you.

As if going back to work isn't stressful enough - thinking your baby is starving is the worst. But it will work out! I think baby needs time to adjust to the change. When I went back to work, baby refused the bottle for an entire week. Like others, we too bought numerous bottle types to see if that would work, but no. Our pediatrician assured us that baby would be fine so long and my husband got a few ounces into him during the day (I think it was 4oz - which he squirted into baby's mouth w/ the bottle nipple). After a week though, baby accepted the bottle and drank like a champ thereafter.

So glad to hear your baby is taking the bottle. It must be a big relief for you.
And kudos to you for pumping at work.
You already know just how important breastmilk is for your baby!
Keep up the good job and keep pumping and nursing even after he starts eating.
Keeping up your milk supply will mean you can nurse/bond with him in the morning and during the night. He will need that re-connecting/bonding time with you and nursing will give him that. I can tell you from experience it's the most special bond you can really have with your child during their first few years. Remember, nursing isn't just food for them. It's touching, cuddling, comforting, supporting, nurturing, relaxing and most of all love. While the milk does fills up their tummy, the nursing and time with mom itselfs fills up their mind, heart and soul. From nursing you learn about your child and he learns about you. He will learn that things take time. (to nurse, he has to wait for sit down and to pull up your top and down your bra and get positioned with him). He will learn that biting hurts,that he shouldn't do it (the nipple biting can start during the teething process and after) and that he needs to be gentle to you in order to nurse.
You will learn when he has an ouie or a fever or needs his nails cut, just by slowing down and sitting with him to nurse.
You both will learn that nursing will relax you both and the worries of the day seem to fade when nursing is happening.
Nursing him when you get home will be the time during the day when you can ask him about his day and tell him about yours, when both of your attentions are undivided. Its the perfect one on one moment.
Keep up the good job and keep up the nursing as long as you can and as long as he wants.
It will be hardest and most rewarding thing you can do for you and your child.
The lifelong bond it creates between you two will be amazing.
I am a mother of two boys and I see the long lasting affects of nursing my boys past the age of one.
Good Luck!

Glad it's worked out! My third kiddo would not take a bottle at all either. We worked it out for me to go to her childcare or for her to come to me during the day until she got old enough to go the whole day without nursing (supplementing with finger foods). I really dislike pumping, so this helped take care of that as well!

My son would not take the bottle. He was 4 months old. I even took him out to see my mom so she could work with him. Nada. Nothing. No bottle. I finally gave up until I attended this new moms group and the doula recommended trying the sippy cup nipple that comes with the born free bottles and having someone else give it to him while he was sitting up. He took it the VERY FIRST TIME. I am free, free, free!!!! Plus Born Free has a very safe plastic.

Oh Sandra, all of what you wrote is old hat to me, as I continue to nurse my almost three year old. But it brought some serious tears to my eyes. Thanks for putting all of that down here.

I'd just figure out a way to make it on a single income. No judgement, but I can't even imagine leaving my newborn with a stranger, unless it was a family member. There are some studies that show that you can save money by staying home, if you have a working partner; and it is most certainly better for the bebe. :)

I just wanted to add something that has really helped reduce my stress with a baby who heartily prefers nursing over the bottle- some breastfed babies will choose to drink very little from the bottle, just enough to tide them over, and then tank up when they get back to mom. My daughter will be 9 months old next week. I went back to work when she was 3 months old and she was not taking a bottle in spite of everything we'd tried. 6 months later she still has days when she only drinks 3 ounces from the bottle throughout the day. I usually nurse her in the morning when I drop her off, mid-day, and at pick up time. She is growing just fine, she loves her caregivers and when she is really needing more she will drink more with them, or at home with dad.
Our children are remarkable, resilient people who, when surrounded by caring people who listen and heed their cues, can do a great job of getting what they need and keeping themselves in health.
I'm glad it's working out with the bottle and I wish you a great return to work.

Hi- I have a question for those of you whose babes never took a bottle and you nursed before work, during lunchtime, and right after work. Did your babes cry/fuss between nursing sessions until they started solids? Or did they get into a routine and figure out that would get nursed/cuddled in due time?

I just started back to work after 4.5 months of EBF and my son refuses to drink from a bottle. It's only been day 2 but we've been trying for the past month with every type nipple. The only ones we haven't tried yet are the BreastFlow and SecondNature ones. We tried a Nuby sippy cup and that didn't work either. Right now, I'm nursing him before I get ready for work, during lunch and after work and then all through the night (about 3x).

I went back to work when babe was 18 weeks old and had been refusing the bottle for 11 weeks, countless attempts. We also tried everything. When I first left her at daycare, she didn't cry much but she did learn to love the bottle that first week. She took it easier from our care provider than she did from my husband (who had experience bottle feeding our older child when I was at work). I figured it had more to do with being at daycare vs. at home when she refused for my husband and my mom. Mine still nurses every 2-3 hours at night at 9 months - esp. on the days that I've worked. She doesn't take many daytime bottles. Oh well, at least I'm getting some good cuddles in, right? Good luck.

Mamas, any more suggestions on encouraging bottle feeding? An urbanMama recently emailed:

" I have a 7 week old baby girl. We are breastfeeding and have been unsuccessfully trying to introduce a bottle in preparation for my return to work. Both grandmas and my husband have tried and she won’t take the bottle and gets very upset during the process. I need help! Any suggestions on specific bottles for breastfeeding babies, techniques and tips on how to get our little one to accept a bottle would be greatly appreciated."

My daughter went on a bottle strike around 4 months old, just before starting daycare. After a few weeks of her only taking an ounce or two all day while I was at work, we started using Playtex Drop-Ins bottles with latex nipples on the advice of a friend. She took right too them, and is now drinking a normal amount at daycare. They do produce quite a bit of waste, unfortunately, but so far they're the only things my baby will take. Our DCP said that she's seen several babies refuse all bottles but Playtex Drop-Ins with Latex- go figure...

Good luck!

Just wanted to reiterate some of the earlier comments that she may just wait until you get home, my daughter never took a bottle while I was away - and we tried them ALL! We eventually had my husband (who was staying home) bring her to me at my lunch hour whenever we could. I worried a lot but she was fine and ate a lot when I got home and woke up at night longer than most babies would. She basically adjusted to eating then vs. during the day. Your body will adjust too so it produces more at that time instead of during the day. Good luck and don't worry too much - you can ask your dr. for weekly weigh ins too to help you know she is staying on track.

Mama needs to get out of the house when others are offering baby the bottle - it's not enough to just go in the other room. Take a break - go to a movie - go meet a friend for coffee. Giving yourself a break will help both of you!

And try all sorts of different positions for feeding the baby with the bottle- maybe facing out so she can see the world. Or try different nipples - every baby has unique preferences!

Our childcare provider got my reluctant daughter to take a bottle by offering it to her in a dark room while walking around and bouncing her a bit. It took some patience and strong arms, but it worked.

Hello Mama,

I am a Parent Coach and a Certified Professional Nanny. I’ve worked with newborns in the past, and one of the challenges is getting them to take a bottle when you’re not Mom. I really understand what you’re feeling right now. Here are a few of my suggestions from things that worked for me.

1) If you haven’t already started, feed your baby with a bottle yourself at least half time. He may not realize/ forgot that the bottle is for milk as well. If you use the bottle too, it will remind him there are other milk sources than the breast.
2) Use formula in the bottle. Some babies will take formula from the bottle but not breast milk.
3) Keep trying different bottles & nipples. My personal favorite is the Playtex liners where you can squeeze out all the air. While not environmentally friendly, it worked well for me.
4) Have the person using the bottle feed your son while wearing a sweatshirt you’ve worn and not washed or swaddle your son in your sweatshirt while nursing. Babies are very sensitive to smells, and smelling you may be what he needs to use the bottle.
5) Have another person bottle feed your son while you’re touching him. This may help him understand others can feed him.

I hope these ideas help. If you have questions, or want more information about my experiences and Parent Coaching services, please feel free to contact me.

Good Luck!


Rebecca Magby
Everything Baby, LLC

I had good results using the Adiri bottle. I would nurse my baby for a few minutes, then gently pull him off and hand him off to his nanny who would be sitting on a rocking chair - she would then feed him from the bottle.

The Adiri does not travel well - tends to leak a bit, so after my son got the hang of the bottle feeding we switched to Born Free bottles.

We found switching the stuff in the bottle helped. Getting my picky, fussy young one used to the bottle with formula and even apple juice got her into drinking from it, then she would take breastmilk (stored), but as soon as she started eating food (about 3 months) she was pretty lax on the bottle, and just never went back. I nurse her at night, which supplemented the nutrition, and we made sure her solid-ish food was good for her.

I'm extremely worried about starting a new job on Monday because my 5 month old has gotten very clingy in the last week or so and when I went to the interview on Friday and my neighbor watched her, Baby cried the ENTIRE time. She now cries when my husband holds her when she didn't used to. She also won't take a bottle. I fear she just isn't ready to have me leave. We need the money. I have never felt so torn. I know she will cry for hours and hours when I am gone. Plus, how will she eat? She still only breastfeeds. I don't know what to do.

Lori, is there anyway you can visit her on your lunch break? I went back to work when my son was 4 months & he would not take a bottle. My husband was watching him, so we were able to meet at lunch for the first 6 weeks or so. I'd nurse him in the car, although he was often distracted by the setting & didn't eat much. At least I felt better knowing he had the opportunity. We co-slept and he ate all night to make up for the days. At 6 months he started eating solids which made it much easier to leave him. Other people could feed him! And he would drink water or breast milk out of a cup. On the other hand, I'm sure he would have taken the bottle after a few days if that was the only option. Good luck. Sorry you are having to go through this. I hope you have a child care situation you feel OK about.

Mamas, an urbanMama recently posted on the FB wall:

Help! 4 month old stopped taking a bottle. I'm going back to work soon and need some solutions. We've tried the whole "mom-not-around" and "you must be starving" tricks. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

Offer suggestions here: http://www.facebook.com/pdxurbanmamas

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