For mothers who are going back to work full-time within the first few months of the baby's life will most likely use a bottle. But for women who are taking a longer leave or may not be returning to the workforce for a year or more, it's important to note that *neither a bottle nor a breast pump is an absolute necessity.*
My first daughter used bottles to feed back breast milk during the first few months as my milk supply recovered from a problematic start. But after those few months, when I had decided not to return to work, she never had a bottle again. My second daughter never used a bottle – not once, ever. How did we do this? Did it mean that I had no freedom? Simply, no.
Most breastfeeding mothers know that, if possible, it's best to avoid any artificial nipples such as bottles or pacifiers for the first month, or until breastfeeding is well-established. However, if a bottle will be necessary (for going back to work at 12 weeks full-time, for example), it should be introduced by around 4-6 weeks, and then continued at least once every day or two to ensure the baby will continue to accept it.
If a mother will be away from her baby at only sporadic or irregular times, or isn’t going back to work until the baby will be 6 months old or later, a bottle may be totally unneeded. Breastfed babies tend to do really well with straw cups, sippy cups or even regular small diameter drinking cups (shot glasses work really well). If the mother is going back to work full-time, a good electric double pump is probably a good idea to ensure that milk supply is maintained. However, for only occasional absences or short times away, a small, inexpensive hand pump will likely be just as effective for pumping any needed breast milk.
If the baby is older, and will likely be supplementing with foods, the food along with small amounts of expressed breast milk will most likely get the job done. Water or juice may even be appropriate by that age on the advice of your pediatrician or health-care provider. By 9 months, the frequency of breast milk feedings may be reducing (although this varies from child-to-child) where occasional, or regular but short, absences may not even require milk expression.
While bottles and pumps may be the most traditional image for allowing for absence between a mother and her nursing baby, it is far from a rule. If you are planning to breastfeed exclusively, leave the breast pump and the bottles you receive at your baby shower in the box. Or return them to the store and get other items you know you will need… you can always repurchase them later. A small hand pump and one or two storage bottles is a good idea to have around just in case you need to express milk unexpectedly or relieve pressure on the breast while milk supply is adjusting, but an expensive double-electric pump or a cabinet-full or bottles are likely purchases that can wait.
Here's a great manual handpump:
Older breastfed babies do great with straw cups:
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